Kerry-Ann Marshall in action in last year's Ultra-trail Cape Town. Photo: Stephen Granger

CAPE TOWN – Ultra-distance star Kerry-Ann Marshall has achieved remarkable success on both road and trails and much more can be expected before the diminutive Newlands physiotherapist calls ‘time’ on her career as an elite athlete.

Saturday’s Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon represents an important milestone for Marshall, a return to one of the country’s highest profile road races following a three-year absence. Marshall raced to a brilliant 3:57:39 sixth place in the 2016 Oceans and followed it up with a Comrades Marathon gold medal two months later before returning to her beloved trail.

Wins at the Bastille Day 15km and the Hout Bay Trail Challenge team event aided her post-Comrades recovery and focused her on another major goal - the Otter African Trail Run in October that year. But a devastating knee injury during the Otter Prologue abruptly ended her dreams.

Never one to allow life to pass her by, the birth of her daughter in late 2017 brought new life to the Marshall home, but the C-section birth saw Marshall on the sidelines for several more months before a gradual return to running.

Learning to combine training with motherhood proved challenging, and resulted in a slower, steadier return to fitness, but when Marshall returned to trail racing, she did so in style, winning in a two-day 50km “Extreme” event in the Drakensberg in September before lining up against a world-class field in the Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km.

Kerry-Ann Marshall in action in last year's Ultra-trail Cape Town. Photo: Stephen Granger

Only a once-in-a-lifetime race by USA-based Zimbabwean, Emily Hawgood, prevented Marshall from regaining the 100km title she had taken in a record-breaking run in 2015, with the Cape athlete finishing a mere four minutes in arrears of Hawgood and four minute ahead of world-class Swede, Mimmi Kotka.

Returning to the road in early 2019, Marshall podiumed at Hohenort 15km, before placing a close third behind Jenna Challenor and Charne Bosman in the Cape Peninsula Marathon. She returns to the scene of the start of her 2016 “gold rush” on Saturday, but with different perspective and goals in mind.

“Two Oceans will be an important training run for Comrades,” explained Marshall. “Ernie (Gruhn - her coach) does not believe it possible to excel at both Two Oceans and Comrades this year, given the late date for Easter and, given my choice to go for Comrades, has put me on a strict time schedule for Oceans, which will now be a hard tempo run as opposed to a race.

“Danette Smith (Comrades gold medallist in 2017) and I will both be well off the pace through the standard marathon but have been permitted to pick up the pace in the final 14km if feeling strong. I think Ernie will kill me if I go out too fast!

“My training has had to undergo a radical revision. Nick (her husband) has had a business trip overseas, so much of my training has been along the Sea Point Promenade with Anna in a baby jogger! I guess I’m getting a good upper-body work-out though! I’m also doing my long runs more slowly and short runs faster and trying to fit in a short gym session each day.”

Kerry-Ann Marshall combines motherhood with an elite athletics career. Photo: Stephen Granger
Kerry-Ann Marshall combines motherhood with an elite athletics career. Photo: Stephen Granger

For Marshall, the Western States 100 miler is the ultimate in her future plans, potentially next year. Incorporating challenging trail sections, extremes of weather and extensive runnable paths and roads, the Californian race appears a perfect fit for Marshall’s skill set.

Who knows? Perhaps the Newlands athlete they call “The Hybrid”, will follow in Ryan Sandes’ footsteps and clinch a second Western States title for Cape Town.

@StephenGranger3