CAPE TOWN - Just two weeks after breaking an unusual world marathon record, Lindsey Scherf has her sights set on further honours in Saturday’s Two Oceans Marathon.
Just 10 days ago the 31-year-old American psychology and kinesiology Harvard graduate returned to an old happy hunting ground, the Armory Track and Field Centre in New York City, to set a world indoor marathon record of 2hrs 40min 55sec after running 211 laps around the banked 200m track, eclipsing Finnish athlete Laura Manninen’s mark by 1min 35sec.
Twenty years earlier an 11-year-old Scherf set a 3 000m meeting record of 10:21 at the same venue, underlining her prodigious talent which saw her excel as a junior.
“I thought that the indoor race was going to be my most miserable marathon ever,” Scherf admitted. “But because of the energy from the announcer, the music and vibe, my coach, my aunt and friends in the stands, this turned out to be my favourite!
“This ranks among my top-five accomplishments. It’s right up there with my American Junior record for the 10k and my 25k national championship. It was an amazing experience returning to the Armory and incredibly some of the officials on duty last week were there when I ran as an 11-year-old!
“Fortunately I avoided injury in the race - just a niggle in my knee due to the banking of the track. But fortunately this vanished with some stretching exercises and I’m really excited about running my first ultra-marathon this week in Cape Town.”
Scherf has close connections to running circles in New York, starting when she joined her father as a 10-year-old during his training sessions at a local track. Her talent was clear when the 10-year-old ran a 5min 55sec mile at her school meet, beating all the boys in the process!
Her father’s training partner referred her to the Westchester Road Runners Club in New York, where she linked up with a coach to guide her running.
Remarkably he remains her coach and confidant (“a second father and mentor to me”) overseeing her step up to cross-country, road and now ultra-distance racing.
Not unlike Zola Budd, Scherf was a child prodigy, setting US age group records of 17:44 and 29:17 for 5km and 8km respectively at 11 years, times which remain unsurpassed 20 years later.
Added to that was the US junior 10km record of 32:51 and an 18th position at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in 2005 - the highest place ever at the time by an American in an event dominated by East Africans.
As with Zola’s coaches, Scherf admits that her coach and father had their hands full trying to hold her back as a youngster. “But I guess I was stubborn and just wanted to achieve whatever I could whenever there was an opportunity,” she said.
Arguably Scherf has not realised her potential as a senior in the marathon, although her best time of 2:32:19 in 2015 makes her the fastest marathoner in the Two Oceans field in the past five years, with only her American teammate, Renee Metivier Baillie with a 2:27:17 debut marathon in Chicago in 2012 having run faster.
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Saturday will be Scherf’s first race beyond the standard marathon distance and she aims to win. “It would be tempting to go for the record, but my first goal is simply to win, ideally starting conservatively and finishing strongly.
"If I’m feeling great then I would love to try for the 35-year-old USA 50km record of 3:13:51, although the world record of 3:08:39 (set by Frith van der Merwe in the 1989 Two Oceans Marathon) may be out of reach.
Scherf’s passion is in her sport and she hopes to be in it for the long haul.
“My running is very much inspired by my simple joy of the sport. I still want to run even when my competitive days are over and if I live to 90 I want to still be running at age 90,” Scherf said.
And don’t rule out these athletes: Dominika Stelmach-Stawczyk (Poland), Renee Metivier Baillie (US), Salem Alebachew (Ethiopia), Camille Herron (US), Jennifer Koech (Kenya), Tanith Maxwell (SA), Ntombesintu Mfunzi (SA), Aleksandra Morozova (Russia), Samukeliso Moyo (Zimbabwe), Mamorallo Tjoka (Lesotho), Danette Smith (SA), Ulrica Stander (SA)