Johannesburg - South African middle-distance specialist Mapaseka Makhanya is gearing up to face one of the biggest challenges of her career when she competes in her first international marathon, early next year.
Makhanya, who won the women's 21km race in the Soweto Marathon over the weekend, said she was both nervous and excited at the prospect of competing at the 2015 Hannover Marathon, Germany, on April 19.
"I'm looking forward to running my first international marathon next year, but I'm just slightly scared of the unknown," Makhanya said on Monday.
South Africa's Lusapho April set a course record in the men's race at the 2013 Hannover Marathon, winning in a personal best time of two hours, eight minutes and 32 seconds (2:08:32).
Makhanya said she hoped to come close to matching the current women's course record of 2:27:07, set by Ukraine's Olena Burkovska.
"I'm definitely going there for a sub 2:30. Anything more will be a bonus," she said.
"I really want to do well because it will also open many doors for me internationally."
In 2013, the track athlete made a strong transition to road events and has been consistent in her performances.
In the Spar Women's Challenge, she tackled the 10km distance against South Africa's top runners.
Her race victories in Durban and Pretoria put her ahead of the pack and she was crowned 2013 Grand Prix series champion after finishing top of the log with 105 points. This year, she finished third on the log with 78 points.
Makhanya ran her first half-marathon at this year's Two Oceans marathon in April, where she finished fourth.
She followed that race with another fourth place finish in the Mattoni Half-Marathon, in the Czech Republic in June.
She secured her first victory over the half-marathon distance in Sunday's Soweto Marathon.
The 2013 South African sportswoman of the year ran her first 42km race at last year's Gauteng marathon.
She won and improved the women's course record by six minutes.
She completed her second marathon in the same event this year, finishing second, while also setting a new personal best of 2:36.
"After my good performances last year, I think a lot of people wanted me to win all races this year, which of course I didn't, but I still feel there was improvement on my side because I bettered my personal best at the Gauteng Marathon," she said.
"Next year I'll do a few track events so that my speed can pick up and hopefully improve and maintain my current form."