One of the smallest athletes in the business, with the biggest heart, Kerry-Ann Marshall has proved a fierce competitor. Photo: supplied

CAPE TOWN – Three years ago Newlands physiotherapist, Kerry-Ann Marshall, was the toast of Cape Town. She had just broken Nicolette Griffioen’s record in the 100km Ultra-trail Cape Town, finishing sixth overall in 11hrs 53min 3sec - over an hour inside Griffioen’s mark.

But just 12 months later, following further high-performance action to secure gold medals in the 2016 Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons, Marshall plunged to her lowest ebb when she tore cruciate ligaments in her knee during the prologue of the 2016 Otter African Trail Run, ruling her out of athletics for the best part of a year.

It is not unknown for injured elite athletes to fall pregnant, but when Anna Marshall was born last December, the C-Section procedure resulted in a further three-month delay on mother Kerry-Ann’s return to running. But on Saturday Marshall lines up as part of the strongest women’s field ever to have raced an ultra-trail event in South Africa in the 2018 Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km.

One of the smallest athletes in the business, with the biggest heart, Marshall has proved a fierce competitor, and boasts many high-profile podium finishes in road and trail races around SA. And while she is short of race preparation, the former UCT cross country and road star cannot be ruled out of contention for Ultra-trail Cape Town podium honours, despite a freak home accident which threatened to end her race even before it began.

“I injured myself at home a few weeks ago when I lunged to prevent Anna falling and hurt my foot on a concrete slab,” Marshall explained. “I was unable to run for over two weeks and particularly not on mountain trails. But I had a test run on trails around Lions Head last week and this did not seem to aggravate the injury, so I’m hopeful that all will be well on Saturday. It’s inevitable that something’s going to hurt towards the end of a 100km race, so perhaps this could even work in my favour!”

Three years ago Newlands physiotherapist, Kerry-Ann Marshall, was the toast of Cape Town. Photo: @wildlandsSA on twitter
Three years ago Newlands physiotherapist, Kerry-Ann Marshall, was the toast of Cape Town. Photo: @wildlandsSA on twitter

One concern for Marshall going into Saturday’s high calibre trail race is a lack of “match fitness”. “Yes, it’s true that I have not raced much,” admitted Marshall, “although I have fitted in a few to get me back in the groove, including the John Korasie 30km road race in August and the Run the Berg two-day stage trail race in the Drakensberg.”

Any thoughts that Marshall might have struggled to return to fitness after her long lay-off were quashed by her form in these events. She finished second to Zimbabwe-born Fortunate Chidzivo in 2:11:10 on the rolling hills of the John Korasie in Simon’s Town in her first come-back race, then killed off all opposition in the two-day Run the Berg “extreme” 50km race in the northern Drakensberg in September, winning by over 40 minutes in 5:09:39.

Marshall’s forced recent two-week break would have prevented her making the common error of overtraining prior to a major event and could prove a blessing in disguise. Her strong aerobic fitness and knowledge of the course could see her running through the field in the more runnable second half of the race to snatch a podium position. There will certainly be no more popular prize winner on the day.

@StephenGranger3