Two-time defending women's Two Oceans Marathon ultra-marathon champion, Gerda Steyn, has confirmed her return to the race in 2021.
According to the official Two Oceans Marathon website, this will be no ordinary return as the current Two Oceans Marathon queen has left it in no doubt that her intention is to "defend her title".
In other words, one of the finest - male or female - long-distance athletes South Africa has produced is setting her sights on a hat-trick of Two Oceans Marathon wins come Easter Saturday, 3 April, 2021.
Steyn was of course gunning for a Two Oceans Marathon treble at what would have been the 51st edition of the race on 11 April, 2020.
Alas, like so many sporting events scheduled to take place, the 2020 edition of the race had to be cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.
Steyn potentially joins a super-elite list of runners
Should Steyn be victorious once again in 2021, she’ll become the first athlete to win three titles in a row since Lesotho's Angelina Sephooa did so between 1997-1999.
Steyn would also join a small group who have won the Two Oceans Marathon three times or more.
First to win three titles was Beverley Malan in 1982, 1983 and 1985
Monica Drogemuller claimed the title in 1990, 1991 and 1992
Angelina Sephooa won in 1997, 1998 and 1999
The Nurgalieva twins, Olesya and Elena, claimed victory in 2008, 2010, and 2011; and 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2012, respectively
“I simply love this race,” said Steyn.
“I have to come back and try and make it number three in a row.”
Steyn almost causes women's Two Oceans Marathon ultra record to tumble in 2019
Steyn won her first Two Oceans title in 2018 when she defeated Dominika Stelmach by just over two-and-a-half minutes.
Her victory in 2019 was decidedly more emphatic.
Twelve months ago Steyn clinched victory by an astounding 10 minutes ahead of runner-up, Irvette van Zyl.
In the process, Frith van der Merwe’s 30-year course record nearly tumbled as Steyn crossed the finish line only 52 seconds outside of the time (3:30.36) Van der Merwe set in 1989. Steyn crossed the line in 3:31.28.
A meteoric rise
Steyn's rise has been nothing short of meteoric. As a former social runner, Steyn's first 'serious' run happened as late as 2015. Since then, she has dominated the ultra-marathon scene, bringing her marathon time down to 2:27.48 at last year's New York Marathon.
Her time in New York was enough to see her qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, the Tokyo Games did not escape the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and have been postponed until July 2021.
Looking forward to her participation in the 2021 Olympics, Steyn reflected on how far she has come.
"I started as a social runner and had no idea I would end up being able to compete at Olympic level. Running has just changed my life."
In formidable form
Steyn is the in-form athlete in South Africa and will be difficult to beat come next year's Two Oceans Marathon should she maintain this form.
At her training camp in Lesotho in early March 2020 - at an altitude of 3 220m - she ran an effortless 50km, averaging 4:30/km.
The next day it was an easy, hour-long run for Steyn.
“I can’t feel yesterday’s run in my legs at all. I feel so fresh,” she said afterwards.
Ominous signs indeed for her competition next year should Steyn remain healthy - the first wish of any athlete - that she’ll surely be hard to beat.
The 30-year-old has an affinity for tougher courses as her victories at the Two Oceans Marathon, the Comrades Marathon and her performances in New York have shown.
"It suits my running style. I am strong on the hills, but can also manage the jarring on the legs on the downhills, so I am very fortunate."
2019 - Steyn's year of Personal Bests
Steyn's versatility is remarkable and if the 50km run does not make people sit up and take notice, then her two personal bests over 10km and the Half Marathon earlier this year should get their attention.
In her first race of 2020, on 24 January, Steyn competed in the Dubai 10km, taking 41 seconds off her previous best of 33:05. With her new personal best 10km time now at 32:24, this makes her the sixth fastest South African female athlete ever over the 10km distance.
Only the below five women have ever set a better 10km time than Steyn, namely:
Elana van Zyl-Meyer
Colleen de Reuck
Irvette van Zyl
To prove this was no fluke, less than a month later, Steyn took 59 seconds off her Half Marathon personal best when she raced to a time of 70:55 at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates.
This Half Marathon personal best puts Steyn in fifth place on the SA all-time best Half Marathon performances list.
Ahead of her are only the following:
Elana van Zyl-Meyer
Colleen de Reuck
Danger woman with the killer smile - will Frith’s record fall in 2021?
Given that in both the above rankings those ahead of her are not ultra athletes, this puts Steyn's runs into perspective.
She’s a phenomenon, ready to re-shape the South African road-running scene for a while to come.
Frith van der Merwe's 30-year-old women’s Two Oceans Marathon record is in danger - grave danger in fact - should the reigning queen take on the 2021 field in the form she's currently in.