Gerda Steyn: I did not expect last year's Two Oceans win and was not really ready for it. Photo: Stephen Granger

CAPE TOWN – Two of South Africa’s ultra-distance icons have dates with the Two Oceans Marathon next week, with both seeing Cape Town’s biggest ultra as an important stepping stone to major long-distance challenges in June.

Ryan Sandes is a global ultra-trail running legend who embraces road-racing infrequently, primarily as a means to his trail-racing ends, while Gerda Steyn is best known for her exceptional results on the road, but who loves running mountain-trails and dabbles in triathlon.

The two also share a professional qualification - both qualified as quantity surveyors before their full-time running commitments - and will share the elite athlete start line for the 56km race next Saturday.

Each will have their own aims and objectives, but both have a primary focus on races in June.

After more than 10 years of international ultra-trail running competition, Sandes will debut in the biggest road race of his home town and will be aiming to cross the finish line at the University of Cape Town in around four hours.

Steyn’s career has been much shorter, but she has attained much success in ultra-distance running and will be out to defend her title next week.

Sandes, who has achieved outstanding results in his career as a professional both in multi-day events and single-day ultra-trails, once again flies to the United States in June, aiming to regain the Western States 100 mile title in California he won in 2017.

International trail runner Ryan Sandes in his element on mountain trails. Photo: Craig Kolesky
International trail runner Ryan Sandes in his element on mountain trails. Photo: Craig Kolesky

“I’ve always wanted to run Oceans, probably more than Comrades, as it is in my home town,” said Sandes. “The timing worked out this year and I’m delighted to be running the 50th edition of the race. 

The race will be an important training run for me as part of my build-up for the Western States in June, so any rumours out there that I’m aiming for a win are way off the mark! I’ll be happy with a time around four hours (silver medal cut-off time) and perhaps I’ll get lucky and be a little faster than that! 

The spectators along the road create a great atmosphere. We live in Hout Bay, so we tend to be trapped on Two Oceans day. But I will be looking forward to (the) support from my family and friends in Hout Bay, just before the standard marathon mark and the start of the climb up Constantia Nek.”

For Steyn, a Comrades victory remains one of her life ambitions and a primary goal for 2019. After unexpectedly winning the Two Oceans last year, she was the favourite to win the Comrades but, despite an excellent run, was upstaged by an extraordinary performance by Ann Ashworth. She is clearly focused on attending to unfinished business come 9 June.

“The win at Two Oceans last year was premature for me,” Steyn said. “I did not expect it and was not really ready for it. I feel much more ‘in the chair’ now and although it is my second priority for the year, I will be in Cape Town to give it a full go in defending my title. 

I know that leg speed is more important at Oceans than Comrades and have been working at that - my times have come down quite a bit since this time last year and hopefully that will count in my favour.”

 Steyn: I will be in Cape Town to give it a full go in defending my title. Photo: Stephen Granger
Steyn: I will be in Cape Town to give it a full go in defending my title. Photo: Stephen Granger

Steyn’s times over shorter distances have been a revelation, with her Olympic qualifying 2hr 31min 04sec in the New York Marathon last November particularly impressive. And her 33min 34sec 10km personal best sets her apart from her rivals in the Two Oceans - with one exception.

“Irvette van Zyl’s ultra-marathon debut is certainly interesting and she could be my major opposition at Oceans,” said Steyn. 

“She is currently the fastest in South Africa over 10km and the half marathon and I’m sure she will be competitive over 56km.”

@StephenGranger3