'Reach for the stars and then land on the moon' says Gerda Steyn as she looks towards the Olympics
When one considers that she only started running for fun in 2014, Gerda Steyn's achievements are truly astonishing and speak of a supremely gifted athlete. Just seven short years after taking up the sport as a way as a way to meet people when she moved to a new country, the girl from Bothaville is now the fastest South African woman to have ever run a marathon after smashing Colleen de Reuk's 25-year old record by almost a minute. Steyn's new mark of 2:25:28 set at the the Xiamen Tuscany Elite Marathon race in Sienna, Italy on Sunday has left experts asking about the secret to success of this remarkable late bloomer.
"My training has been going really, really well. From the beginning of the year I had been preparing for the RAK Half Marathon (which was canceled). I've been working hard on that leg turnover and getting faster," said the first woman to run the Comrades Marathon UpRun in under six hours. "I have been fortunate to have two men; one from Kenya and one from Morocco who have been helping me with some of my tough training sessions. It's the first time I have had regular training partners, it's been such a pleasure and a new experience for me training with two guys," she said on her way from Italy back to her home base in the United Arab Emirates where the running bug first bit her when she shocked her new running mates by finishing the Dubai Marathon (her first attempt at the 42,2km distance) in 3 hours and 11 minutes in January 2015.
Four months later Steyn her maiden Comrades (the 2015 Up Run) in 8 hours and 15 minutes which signalled the start of a journey from Weekend Warrior to Top Runner. The Nedbank Running Club athlete broker the hallowed 3 hour marathon barrier at the end of the same year and by 2017 she was the owner of a 2:37 personal best, which was followed by back-to-back victories at the 2018 and 2019 Two Oceans Marathon races.
While her running talent was beyond doubt, her initial success over distance above the 42km saw her dismissed as a talented but ultimately slower athlete better suited to the ultra marathons. But a 13th place finish at the 2018 New York Marathon in a new PB of 2:31 followed by a 2:25 clocking at last year's postponed London Marathon to come within 16 seconds of de Reuk's record had pundits pontificating about the possibility of a first Olympic Marathon medal for a South African woman.
"First and foremost I want to be an Olympian and represent South Africa in the best way possible. I do feel like this performance has given me some confidence leading up to the Tokyo Olympics," she told #TheTopRunner. The 31-year old feels she is in with a chance because the race scheduled for the 21st of July could at the Sapporo Dome could take place in hot conditions. "We will have to see a little closer to the time, planning with my coach (Nick Bester) in terms of my fitness. The marathon in Sapporo will be quite a different game. I feel as though it will be a game of strength instead of speed."
For the woman who believes anything is possible, her athletic achievements over the last seven years are bettered only by her mental ones. For training, tactics and talent can only take you so far. Steyn's success has been underlined by tenacity and a simple love for running. "I started as a social runner. I feel like everybody has got some story. I started late. I got to love running for what it is rather than the winning and the medals. I feel like I saw a different side to running which I am very grateful for. I feel like it is something that makes me unique. I will always try to aim as high as I possibly can, reach for the stars and then land on the moon," she giggled.