The Soweto Marathon has a special place in Irvette van Zyl’s heart.
It is this affection that has prompted the 31-year-old long-distance runner to return to the popular race, in which she is the defending champion – having been the first South African winner of the gruelling 42km event since 2009 to claim the title, after René Kalmer.
Last weekend, Van Zyl clinched her fourth consecutive win in the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge race in Johannesburg. This after giving birth to her second child in June.
Van Zyl told City Press that the “Soweto Marathon is definitely on the cards”.
“The last two races were fitness-level testers,” she said, referring to last Sunday’s Spar race as well as the FNB Joburg 10km CityRun – two events she won within just 12 days.
“I am really looking forward to capping off my year with the Soweto Marathon,” added Van Zyl.
“It’s always a race that is close to my heart; a really special race that I would love to win again,” she said, her right hand placed over her heart.
“There is always a nice vibe. I am not from Soweto, but on race day I feel like I am from there.
"It’s so encouraging to hear people shouting your name on the streets and getting splashed with a hosepipe to help us cool off in the heat ... people really go out of their way to make it a race for you to enjoy. You don’t get this at other races. I am up for it this year again.”
The Nedbank Running Club athlete won last year’s marathon in two hours, 41 minutes and six seconds, more than three and a half minutes ahead of Soweto-born Mapaseka Makhanya, who finished second in her debut in “the people’s race”.
The men’s 42km race was won by Tshepo Mathibelle of Lesotho in 2:19:41.
“Soweto is a bit more hilly. You have to have run it beforehand to understand it because the last 10km are tough.
"At that stage, you’re already ‘dying’, but it’s all worth it when you cross the finish line,” explained Van Zyl, who debuted in the 42km contest of the popular kasi race in 2011 but withdrew in the latter stage.
This year’s edition, on November 4, starts and finishes at FNB Stadium with a R220 000 first prize purse up for grabs for the woman who breaks the tape.
“Last year, I ran while pregnant; this year I will be a bit lighter,” chuckled Van Zyl. “But no pressure on myself seeing where I am coming from. I’ve just had another baby.”
The champion admitted that it had been tough juggling motherhood and running: “I make it look easy, but it is not that easy. Some days you don’t sleep well – four hours a night. You can only have so much training.”
The organisers have confirmed that entries for all distances – 5km, 21km and 42km – of the marathon are sold out. The event is limited to 30 000 runners.