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by Michelle Carnegie
19 November 2017

The performance of two South African female elite distance runners at the Valencia Marathon in Spain yesterday is a clear indication of the fantastic talent currently within the ranks of women’s distance running. If the performance of Gerda Steyn and Nolene Conrad is anything to go by, 2018 is set to be a highly competitive year amongst SA’s female distance athletes.
Both Gerda (Nedbank Running Club) and Nolene (KMPG) smashed their previous marathon PB’s. Gerda took 14 minutes off her previous best to finish in 12th position in a time of 2:37:19. Nolene smashed her previous PB by 12 minutes, finishing 9th overall in a time of 2:35:19, making her the fastest SA female marathoner of the year. These fantastic performances now rank Nolene and Gerda as 1 and 3 on the 2017 SA Marathon rankings. Gerda has had a massive jump from 10th to 3rd.

All in all an incredible day out for both these promising young runners.
Dream run
Gerda, who placed 4th at this year’s Comrades Marathon, described her race in the beautiful city of Valencia as “incredible” and something she was still trying to take in.
“I am speechless and could not have asked for a better race! I am super stoked and happy about the entire race. I felt strong from the start and managed to run within myself as I planned. I knew I was capable of running 2:40:00 but sped up when I felt good and finished in 2:37:19,” said Gerda.

Though it was the first time she started a marathon in the Elite pen of a big European city marathon, she was quite calm at the start. “I thought that I would be more nervous, but I just felt relaxed.”

Nolene was just as elated. "Today I am the happiest person. I put my trust in God and He delivered. I had a beautiful marathon experience this time around and it is all thanks to my support team. It has been a hard couple of weeks, filled with sacrifices, hard work and discipline, but it was so worth it," Nolene said last night in a Facebook post, thanking her support team. 
Racing conditions
Racing conditions were superb with a cool 9°C at the start. The route went through shaded streets of Valencia with loads of crowd support along the way. “The course had lots of turns and twists, which made it very easy for spectators to support in multiple spots. The finish was really special and just how I imagined it to be.”

Gerda’s partner, Duncan Ross, supported her along the way, and helped her keep her eye on the goal. “I got to see Duncan at least four times on the route and I was surrounded by so many runners. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone aiming for a fast time on an IAAF accredited course.”
Around 19 000 runners lined up for the 37th edition of the race, which was awarded IAAF Gold Label Road Race Status in 2016, and is often referred to as the fastest marathon on Spanish ground. 

Gerda knew from the start that she was in for a good day on the road. “I went through halfway in 1:20 as per my plan. I managed to increase my pace and ran 1:17 for the second half. I felt better as the race went on and managed a strong finish, so I think climbing four flights of stairs to get to our apartment after the race is high on the list of hardest parts of the day.”
Looking ahead
Gerda plans to take 1-2 weeks off to recover properly as she believes recovering and looking after her body is just as important as training. “I will make sure I eat nutritional food and only start running again when I feel fresh.”

Training till end of December will involve a lot of cycling, cross training and snow shoeing. “I am quite tempted to sign up for a short duathlon but I will have to see how it goes. Last year I trained throughout the whole of December and got injured shortly after. This year my plan is to maintain my fitness, but just run to feel and again, mainly cross train. 
I want to start 2018 on fresh legs.”
Comrades 2018
Gerda spent the best part of this year travelling and training internationally, but she plans to spend the first semester of 2018 back in South Africa, both for training and racing. “It has been a year full of travels but it is always great to spend time at home.”

As far as training for Comrades 2018 goes it is difficult to say what lies ahead. “Comrades has become such a common thought and discussion for me, it almost feel like I started the day after finishing this year. Comrades is my target race but I break it up in blocks of training. Since June this year I focused on short distance training with the goal of getting quicker on ultra distances. January to March 2018 will again not involve pure ultra distance training, but after that, distances will increase and training will be purely focused on the big C.”

She has lots of hopes and dreams for 2018. “But most importantly take what I’ve learned from this year and build block by block.”
Gerda’s sister, Estie, joined her in Valencia and also ran the marathon, finishing in a fantastic time of 3:23, especially after it was only two weeks after she ran the Soweto Marathon. After some post marathon celebrations with friends last night, Gerda and Estie will be exploring and travelling around Barcelona for the next week. For now it is time to kick back, celebrate and savour a superb performance!

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