Gerda Steyn finishes second in the Womens Comrades Marathon. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s ‘smiling assassin’ Gerda Steyn will be brimming with confidence when the gun fires for the New York Marathon (NYCM) on Sunday.

The Two Oceans Marathon champion left for the Big Apple on Tuesday in great shape ahead of one of the marquee world marathon races. 

Steyn received a special invitation to the race as part of a quality field which includes three-time NYCM champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, London Marathon champion and Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, defending NYCM champion Shalane Flanagan as well as 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

“I am definitely in the best shape of my life, but I still believe that I have a long way to go as an athlete,” Steyn told African News Agency on Friday.

“I have been running for about four years now, and I think that I can still improve physically and emotionally. But I am enjoying the process and extremely excited to see what I can do in the marathon.”

Steyn said the support of the running community back home filled her with pride, and hoped to reward that faith with a top performance for the Rainbow Nation.

“Being a part of such a stellar field of athletes in the TCS New York City marathon is an incredible opportunity for me.

“I have never represented South Africa, but I have received such strong home support that it makes me feel like I am running for our country instead of myself. I can’t wait for Sunday!”

Gerda Steyn crosses the line at the Two Ocean Marathon earlier this year. Photo:
Gerda Steyn crosses the line at the Two Ocean Marathon. Photo:

As for her specific plan for the race, her 2:37:22 marathon Personal Best (PB) she set at the Valencia Marathon last year could be under threat.

“My goal in the race is to better my previous personal best over the marathon. New York is known for its undulating route, but I am confident that I will be able to achieve my goal.”

The 28-year-old followed her Two Oceans success with another world class effort at the Comrades Marathon this year, taking second in 6:15:34.

Since then, however, much of her focus has been on racing over the shorter distances.

Steyn’s remarkable rise in South African road running, besides her phenomenal talent, is down to her unique approach to training which enables her to compete with the best in the country in distances starting from 10km.

Recently Steyn finished second at the Spar Ladies 10km race at Mark’s Park in Johannesburg in a time of 34:57 on October 7, and just a week later set a new 10km PB in an impressive 33:36 at the FNB Durban 10k. In Durban, she finished fifth in a world class field and was the third SA woman across the line.

“2018 has been a fantastic year for me. After Comrades I have been training specifically to improve my speed over shorter distances. I surprised myself in the last two months racing against the top runners over 10km and definitely feel like it comes down to the training.”

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The secret to her success, Steyn explains is mixing up the type of training she does which allows her body to better recover from the inevitable strain of road running.

“I am a big believer in cross training - running takes a lot out of your body and therefore I mix my training up with cycling and other exercises. I find that it not only keeps me less prone  to injury, but also makes my training more exciting.

“I stayed in Johannesburg for the majority of my preparation which is at an altitude of 1600m and also went to Lesotho in a training camp where the altitude is more than 3000m above sea level.

Not many athletes follow the same training strategy as I do, but I think that the most important thing is to believe in your training, and to to stick with what works for you.”

One thing is clear, Steyn has found out what works for her and her career in elite road running will likely take another swift stride forward on Sunday.

African News Agency (ANA)

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