Comrades Marathon Up Run champion and record holder Gerda Steyn came agonisingly close to breaking the South African marathon record when she finished seventh at the 50th London Marathon at the beginning of October.
Steyn completed the elites only race in a Personal Best Time of 2:26:51, just 16 seconds short of Coleen De Reuck’s 2:26:35.
Though disappointed at not having broken the record, Steyn was nevertheless delighted with her fantastic run on the looped course around London’s St James’s Park in difficult wet and cold weather conditions.
She spoke to Comrades Marathon 2018 and 2019 Top Journalist Matshelane Mamabolo immediately after her race.
MM: Gerda you had a fantastic run today.
You must be super chuffed. Please share with me what it felt like crossing that finish line.
GS: Thank you Jakes. Crossing the finishing line at the London Marathon for the first time was a great experience. It was a real dream come true for me. The finish line was a great sight even though I’d gone past it about 19 or 20 times but crossing it at the end of the race was really special. It definitely made me want to run the traditional London Marathon in the near future.
MM:You ran your PB, that must have been a delight.
GS: Yes, I ran a PB and it was definitely a great delight. I’m very pleased and honoured to have run PB’s in all the distances from 5km, 10km, half marathon and now the marathon. And in a difficult year like 2020, I don’t think I can be ungrateful for that. I am very, very happy that I was able to run my best time in the marathon.
MM: The weather conditions were pretty rough. How hard did that make your run?
GS: Yes, the conditions were not perfect at all. All weekend it was stormy and raining so we kind of knew what to expect. It was far from perfect but to be honest in a marathon with weather conditions like that I should always have an advantage. It was an advantage because I can withstand such conditions and keep on going whereas the world’s best and fastest marathoners lining up are used to training in better conditions. So when I looked out the window as we left for the start and saw it pouring I just told myself to focus on placing high. And it actually turned out like that.if course the weather made for a tough run because the road was soaking wet so it was harder but not impossible. At the end I was delighted with the entire experience.
MM: Running a marathon in those loops must have taken some getting used to. Tell me about that experience.
GS: This was the first time I ran a marathon or any race in small loops so yes it was something to get used to. But I had incorporated it into my training by doing short loops during my tempo run so I could get mentally used to going past one spot over and over. The corners at the race didn’t bother me much though. I had to try cut the corners because it’s important to run the shortest line as it was easy to make the long turns and end up running too long. I think this kind of runs could work going forward in that it could make it easy to have bigger crowds for the races after Covid.
MM: Late in the race, Brigid Kosgei bumped you when she overtook. Your reaction was one of shock and a bit of anger even it seemed. Tell me about that incident.
GS: Yes you are right, Brigid Kosgei came past me in the last lap for her just before she turned to the finish and we bumped into each other. I really didn’t see her or expect her to go past. It was just a little bump of the arms. My reaction was more of shock than anger. I was just shocked to see someone go past me that close because I was in the moment, in my zone and was not expecting that. Luckily it was not too bad because none of us stumbled or fell.
MM: When, during the race, did you know you were going to run a PB and when did you realise the national record was out of reach?
GS: They had big, digital LED screens on which you could see what your predicted finish time is. You could even see where you were positioned in the field and how many laps you still had to run. So I was very much aware of what my finish time would be more or less. In the beginning of the race my finish time was below 2:25 at a certain point and that was when I was still running in a pack and we were helping each other. It was a fiery start, we ran at a fast pace but later on I did slow down to a point when I knew that the marathon record would be a matter of seconds whether I get it or not. I was thinking I could still speed up on the last two laps to make up for the time I lost but also I knew that my PB was still going to be broken and that it would take a massive blow up for that not to happen. I would almost had to be jogging for me not to get a PB. At that time I just did not want to be overtaken because I wanted to maintain the seventh position that I was in. I tried to speed up for the record but it didn’t work out. It was just a near miss and that’s how the sport goes. I know my form and I know that on a different time in a different race and different conditions I will go for it again.
MM: You have now had two great runs at Major Marathons. What is your next big goal?
GS: Of course I have done New York twice and now London. My next goal for the near future? Well, everything is uncertain now so it is hard to plan for anything. Even race dates almost change on a monthly basis. At the moment we have no idea really what’s going to happen. But of course 2021 is the Olympic year and I am looking forward to that. In the near future I have to focus on first going back to recovering and then start from scratch. I have to work myself back up from the shorter distances. I will get the speed back in the legs and get ready for fast races in shorter distances first and eventually work my way up into the marathons. I am really looking forward to the Olympics because it will be my first time and I am sure a great experience participating in such a huge event.