Van Zyl says cross training was key as she comes back from knee op to set new 50km world record
Just six weeks after setting a new marathon personal best of 2:28:40 when she took thirteenth place at Xiamen Tuscany Elite Marathon in Italy, Irvette van Zyl shocked the world by smashing the 50km world record. In near perfect conditions in the coastal city of Gqeberha, the 33-year-old clocked 3:04:23 to obliterate the previous mark (3:07:20 set by Alyson Dixon of Great Britain in Brasov, Romania in September 2019) by almost three minutes.
But yesterday's run at the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km World Record attempt has left some questioning just how she was able to recover and perform so soon after that demanding effort on a cold and wet day in Italy. "Last year was a very tough year for me," she explains. "We decided to get a knee operation that was long overdue. Coming back from that we weren't sure that the fitness is gonna come back to be what it was before the operation. But seeing what I did in Italy and under the new management of a new coach (Nick Bester) that helped me to get there, I'm very happy where we finished in Italy," she shared.
1991 Comrades Marathon champion Bester is famous for advocating for the incorporation of other disciplines such as cycling, canoeing and hiking into his athletes' marathon and ultra marathon race preparation - as a means of maintaining fitness while avoiding injury created by the pounding that running delivers on one's body. And it was no different for his newly adopted charge whom he encouraged to cross-train as she returned from injury.
"After the knee operation I only could do cross-training. After three months we started doing cross-training and that kept me sane actually because I could just focus on the fact that I wanted to make a comeback. I wasn't backpacking with rocks, I was backpacking with my youngest child and he's about twelve kilograms. So I had what I call a baby pack," laughed the mother of two.
The results of a 2020 spent cross-training after surgery have been quite remarkable. The three-time Soweto Marathon champion only began serious running training this January, revealing that she has Bester's philosophy to thank for her amazing improvement during the first half of a year which also saw her qualify for her second Olympic Marathon.
"Just trying to get back to fitness on the cross-training side, I think it definitely helped. In my case, I think it was a blessing in disguise that I got to Nick and he helped me with the programme because otherwise I wouldn't have reached the time I did," she reveals. For those asking if a new 42,2km PB and a 50km world record just eleven weeks before she is due to race the marathon at Tokyo 2021 is too much for the Nedbank Running Club star, I think the answer is clear; cross training will be part of the recovery and preparation for that big day in Japan.