Cape Town - South Africa’s golden girl of long distance running, 2018 Two Oceans champion and Comrades Marathon gold medallist Gerda Steyn, has been invited to join the elite women’s field at this year’s New York City Marathon.
The women’s field is seen as one of the most competitive ever to compete in the Big Apple.
This is also the reason why Steyn will not be competing in the World 100km Championships as she committed to the New York City Marathon soon after Two Oceans and her training was already structured accordingly three weeks after the Comrades Marathon specific for New York.
“I am so thrilled about this! The organisers of the New York Marathon contacted me after my Two Oceans win earlier this year. They invited me to run this year’s NYCM and I accepted their invitation after discussing it with my coach Nick Bester. On Tuesday the elite start field was officially announced so the excitement is really high right now. I have already started with my initial preparation and really want to make sure that I will be in my best possible shape when I line up come November 4,” said Steyn.
She will be part of a star-studded women’s open division that includes the likes of three-time NYCM champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, London Marathon champion and Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, 2017 NYCM champion Shalane Flanagan as well as this year’s Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.
What makes Steyn’s inclusion in the elite field of a race such as the NYCM even more remarkable is the fact that she only started running about five years ago.
In 2017 Steyn, who is part of the Nedbank Running Club’s (NRC) Green Dream Team, surprised herself and others by finishing fourth at the Comrades Marathon, before following it up with a win at this year’s Two Oceans Marathon and a second place finish at the 2018 Comrades Marathon. Her rise in long distance running has been nothing short of remarkable. She has been guided and coached by a former Comrades winner himself as well as the National Manager of the NRC, Nick Bester.
Steyn will be among a women’s open division that features 10 Olympians and three World Marathon Majors race champions.
“This year’s New York City Marathon is stacked with some of the most competitive women’s professional athlete fields ever to compete in New York,” said Peter Ciaccia, president of events for NYRR and race director of the New York City Marathon.
“In the open division, the best group of American women marathoners will be assembled since the 2016 US Olympic Trials, and along with Mary and Vivian, the competition will be fierce.”
Steyn admits that at first she thought her invite to the NYCM was a mistake or a joke.
“I didn’t even pay proper attention at first, but after reading the message out loud I realised that it was real. At the time I was still taking in all the excitement from the Two Oceans Marathon so the invite really made all the hard work that went into my Two Oceans preparation even more worthwhile,” said Steyn.
Until the elite field of the NYCM was officially announced she was not allowed to make her inclusion known.
“Keeping this to myself was like torture. I only shared the news with close friends and family, but was not allowed to share it with the media.”
Steyn, who is well known for complementing her running with a lot of cross training, took a good break after Comrades in June, and only started getting back into the mix of things in July.
“From there on I started building up slowly, and just enjoyed running on trails and hiking in the Alps,” says Steyn, who does a lot of training in France. She will be heading back to South Africa in September for her final stretch of marathon preparation.
“I have had a fantastic time in France but now I am looking forward to enjoying the warmer weather back in SA. I will also be doing some shorter distance races leading up to the marathon.”
If possible, her fiancé Duncan Ross, a pilot and runner himself, will accompany her to the NYCM.
“I have heard that the race organisers take incredibly good care of the athletes and that I will have nothing to worry about upon my arrival,” says Steyn.
Her goal is to better her current marathon best time of 2:37.
“I will assess my form and decide on a race plan closer to the time. For now I will just have to prepare myself for the type of race as the women have a separate start, which means that I might have to run on my own for most of the race.”
Knowing that she will be competing against and meeting her all time running hero and Boston Marathon winner Des Linden still feels very unreal, says Steyn.
“I love Des Linden’s training/running approach and have admired her since I’ve seen her determination at the Rio Olympics.”
In her fairly short running career Steyn has participated in races in Valencia, Dublin, Nice and Dubai, but she has never been invited to anything on the scale of the NYCM.
“I am excited and over the moon. I have never been to New York and the marathon has certainly been a must-do race for me. I never thought that I would get the chance to be a part of it this early in my career so I am really honoured.”
Steyn will be up against a stellar field. Keitany (36) is the women’s only marathon record-holder who finished as runner-up at the 2017 New York City Marathon after having won the race each of the three previous years.
In 2016, she had a dominating performance in which she surged ahead at mile 14 to finish the course on a solo run in 2:24:26.
Her 3:34 margin of victory was the greatest in the women’s race since 1980, and she became the first able-bodied runner since Grete Waitz to win the event three years in a row.
Keitany is a two-time winner of the World Marathon Majors, taking the series titles in 2012 and 2016.
In April 2017, she won her third career London Marathon, breaking the women’s only marathon record in a blistering time of 2:17:01.
Earlier this year in New York, she won her third NYRR New York Mini 10K in a time of 30:59, the fifth fastest time in the event’s 47-year history.
“I was disappointed not to defend my title last year, but I was not 100 percent healthy and Shalane ran a strong race. I am happy for her historic win. When I came back to New York to win the NYRR New York Mini 10km in June, I showed that I am still in top shape. I will train harder than ever to win my fourth New York City Marathon title in November,” said Keitany.
Her compatriot from Kenya Vivian Cheruiyot will be making her first appearance in the New York Marathon.
“I know as the London Marathon champion, the other athletes will be watching me and it will not be easy, but I aim to keep my marathon winning streak alive in New York,” said Cheruiyot.
Another challenge is the blockbuster line-up of American women that includes: Flanagan, Linden, three-time NYC Half champion and 2016 New York City Marathon third-place finisher Molly Huddle, 2018 Boston Marathon runner-up Sarah Sellers, 2016 New York City Marathon runner-up Sally Kipyego, and 2017 New York City Marathon fifth-place finisher Allie Kieffer.
“Running a marathon is always a special experience, but I’m really excited to line up with such a great group of American women in New York this year. I’m so inspired by what Shalane and Des have accomplished over the last 12 months, and I’m eager to add my name to that list,” said Huddle.
Top Professional Women - Open Division:
Under name, country, personal best marathon
Meseret Ali Basa, ETH - 2:40:41
Serkalem Biset Abrha, ETH - 2:31:40
Samantha Bluske, USA - 2:31:55
Kelsey Bruce, USA - 2:34:03
Stephanie Bruce, USA - 2:29:35
Brittany Charboneau, USA - 2:36:26
Vivian Cheruiyot, KEN - 2:18:31
Jessica Chichester, USA - 2:46:52
Adriana Da Silva, BRA - 2:29:17
Mamitu Daska, ETH - 2:21:59
Sydney Devore, USA - 2:32:39
Carrie Dimoff, USA - 2:30:53
Sara Dossena, ITA - 2:29:39
Belaynesh Fikadu, ETH - 2:39:01
Shalane Flanagan, USA - 2:21:14
Bizuwork Getahun Kasaye, ETH - 2:38:15
Kaitlin Goodman, USA - 2:32:08
Roberta Groner, USA - 2:30:37
Netsanet Gudeta, ETH - 2:29:15
Molly Huddle, USA - 2:28:13
Mary Keitany, KEN - 2:17:01
Allie Kieffer, USA - 2:29:17
Do-Yeon Kim, KOR - 2:25:41
Sally Kipyego, USA - 2:28:01
Desiree Linden, USA - 2:22:28
Askale Merachi, ETH -2:30:18
Angela Ortiz, USA - 2:42:55
Charlotte Purdue, GBR - 2:29:23
Beverly Ramos, PUR - 2:36:31
Sarah Sellers, USA - 2:44:04
Gerda Steyn, RSA - 2:37:22
Maor Tiyouri, ISR - 2:42:22
Rahma Tusa, ETH - 2:23:46
Aliphine Tuliamuk, USA - 2:33:18
Eva Vail, USA - 2:45:54
Lisa Weightman, AUS - 2:25:15
Eva Vrabcova, CZE - 2:29:41