CAPE TOWN - “Go Lisa” - shouted Lisa Hahner’s supporters, as the well-known German athlete passed by towards the end of the race in her attempt to run faster than two hours and 30 minutes at the 2015 Frankfurt Marathon.
Somehow the loud support gave new energy to the slightly-built 27-year-old long-distance runner, who lifted herself out of the inevitable marathon fatigue and accelerated away in the final kilometres to record a personal best time of 2hr 28min 39sec.
Two years later, Hahner will line up in Sunday’s Cape Town Marathon as a strong podium contender, with every chance of walking away with Africa’s first Gold Label marathon title. And if conditions allow, expect Hahner to dip under Isabella Ochichi’s 2015 race record of 2:30:20.
It all started 10 years ago when the teenage Hahner and her twin, Anna, fell under the spell of musician, Joey Kelly of Kelly Family fame. “I love his music, but it was his words which inspired me,” Hahner admitted from her base at the Stellenbosch Academy for Sport.
“He was already involved in running ultra-marathons and Iron Man competitions and he said how running had given him purpose and kept him from going off the rails. He said ‘if you want to change something about your life, start now’. And that touched something deep inside and started our running careers. Funnily enough we have kept in touch with him and now he says he is our biggest fan!”
After completing their university studies in Mainz, Lisa and Anna - already strongly on the path to becoming full-time professional athletes - sought out an ideal training base in Germany and now live in the south east near the Black Forest which offers almost all they need to reach their potential in their chosen sport.
However, ever looking for ways to further improve and with a love of adventure, the twins looked to Africa and have spent time in recent years running with both Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes in high-altitude training camps.
“I’ve been to Ethiopia once and Kenya on four occasions,” Hahner said. “I went partly to gain the benefits of altitude training, but mainly to experience first-hand running in Africa with African runners - the best in the world. We trained in Iten - the famous town which has produced so many champions. On arriving we saw a big sign which read 'Iten - the home of Champions'. What an inspiration!
“You are surrounded by runners. When you go on a training run, there are immediately several youngsters who come along with you - aspiring to become what many from Iten have already achieved. I love the African way of thinking - ‘If you can dream it, it can become reality’."
It would be hard to come across another athlete as passionate about running and everything life embraces, and Hahner hopes that she can continue as a professional athlete for at least another decade, hopefully with more visits to Cape Town, a city which is rapidly growing on her as a favourite training venue.
“My goal is to get better each day with a smile and to glow with excitement from running. I want to inspire others - to see happiness in the eyes of runners," Hahner said.
“And I’d like to race the marathon at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and hopefully the 2024 Olympics in Paris. And I’d love to continue running, perhaps on trails and taking on some of the great ultra-trail races. But for now I just want to run as fast as I can and to share that love with my clubmates and friends around me.”
Whether Hahner will have what it takes to defeat the leading east Africans, only time will tell. But if Hahner is in contention 5km from the finish and she hears cries of “go Lisa” from supporters along the route, expect her to finish strongly, carried to new heights of athletic endeavour by the inspiration of people and surroundings.