Nolene Conrad will be one of the local favourites to win the Salam Cape Town Marathon. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN - She may be the smallest athlete in the field for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in just 10 days’ time, but with the biggest heart, and a generous supply of other physical advantages, Nolene Conrad could be on the threshold of the biggest marathon performance of her career.

While no fewer than five athletes from four countries will go to the start line next Sunday morning with faster marathon times to their name, Conrad is at the peak of her form, has timed her training to perfection and has “home ground” advantage and the support of the crowds expected to line the route to hasten her passage to the podium.

After a minor “niggle” in late July, rehab returned Conrad to full health and she has enjoyed an injury-free training period at a high altitude training camp in Mpumalanga, turning in a few 180km weeks before having successful race preparation in recent weeks.

A solid second place to Zimbabwean Mamorella Tjoka in the high-quality Nelson Mandela Half Marathon in KZN three weeks ago was followed up by a fast 10km in a convincing win over another Zimbabwean, Fortunate Chidzivo, at the Ommiedraai 10km in Wynberg last Sunday.

“I ran the Nelson Mandela 21 as a tempo training run, so did not really race it hard,” Conrad said. “I went straight to the race in Pietermaritzburg from three weeks training at Dullstroom. I was feeling relaxed and in great shape for the Ommiedraai 10km and feeling excited and ready for the Cape Town Marathon.”

The 32-year-old had to overcome chronic asthma and challenging social circumstances in growing up in Blue Downs before she turned her life around, graduating cum laude in sports management at UWC and UJ.

In recent years she has advanced steadily as an athlete while being a part of the Endurocad distance running academy, earning IAAF gold status in January this year through her top 25 position at the world half marathon championships in Spain.

Conrad hopes to follow in the footsteps of her KPMG clubmate, Tish Jones, who won the Cape Town Marathon in 2016. The Cape-Town based British athlete upset the more favoured Ethiopian athletes to win in her best ever time of 2 hr 33 min - two minutes faster than Conrad’s best to date.

Jones has confirmed she will be in the field next week. That will give locals two Cape Town athletes to cheer in amongst the seven elite women, but she has not raced recently and her form is something of an unknown quantity.

Commonwealth Games champion, Namibian Helalia Johannes, is likely to present Conrad’s biggest threat to winning the title, with a marathon PB of 2:26:09, while the Ethiopian pair of Askale Alemayethu and Ayantu Gemechu are the next fastest, with fastest marathon times of 2:29:01 and 2:30:38 respectively.

Aussie Ellie Pashley, who narrowly beat Conrad at the World Half Marathon championships in Spain earlier this year, and Tanzanian Failna Matanga compete the elite line-up, impressive both in quality and diversity.

While line honours will be Conrad’s primary goal, the gold medal for the South African Marathon Championships, which will be run as a sub-set of the CTM, will also represent a major triumph for Conrad, and set her on the path to represent her country at the 2020 Olympics.

Conrad believes that a strong mental approach is vital for success. “My philosophy has always been to dream big, go for what you want and never put a limit to what you can achieve,” she emphasises. And her biggest dream is to win the Cape Town Marathon next Sunday.

Cape Times

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