Gerda Steyn is the winner of the 2019 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and the 2019 Comrades Marathon winner and ladies up-run record holder. Aside from being an incredible athlete, her upbeat attitude and bubbly personality have made her the darling of the SA running community.
Run Life asked Gerda a few questions about her running journey.
When did you first realise that you had a talent for long distance running?
I started running in 2014 and immediately noticed big improvements in my fitness and soon after I started to follow a more structured training program. I was just running socially but my improvement was rapid and I was determined to keep improving. I ran my first marathon in January 2015, and then decided to sign up for the Comrades marathon in the same year. Since then, running has become a massive part of my life and I am now a full time athlete.
What are your running PBs?
5km – 15:45
10km – 32:24
21,1km – 1:10:55
42,2km – 2:27:48
56km – 3:31:28
Comrades – 5:58:54
What does your typical training week look like?
I run every day of the week. I prefer to run early mornings, especially when I have a tough training session for the day. I also do a lot of cross training every day – I ride my bike, do gym exercise and go on long hiking expeditions when I’m in the mountains. Most weekends I would do a long run which is my usually my favourite run of the week!
You seem to be a talented runner at every distance, but which distance is your favourite and why?
It’s really hard to pick one distance – I feel like I’ still busy exploring the different distances. But if I had to choose one, I’d say that the marathon is the distance than excites me the most.
What mentally keeps you going when a race gets tough?
I prepare myself mentally during training to make sure that I’m ready for when I get into the difficult stages of a race. I use different methods of mental preparation such as visualisation and pushing through discomfort during training. By doing this, I build confidence in myself to know that I won’t just give up because it’s getting tough, but rather finish the race to the best of my abilities, just like I did in training.
What is your biggest vice and how do you balance this with your training?
I love doing low intensity, long endurance training and I would do that everyday if I could, but luckily I have a great coach and husband to keep me on the right track and make sure that I do quality training and avoid injuries.
One of the things that makes you stand out is your consistently positive attitude, even during the lockdown. How are you staying motivated during such challenging times and how are you coping with the disappointment of all the race cancellations?
Running is my passion and even though there are no races at the moment I still crave that feeling of running and pushing myself. I miss races and the focused preparation leading up to important events but there is a sense of freedom to be found in just running at no specific pace or set workout. I also remind myself that this will not last forever and that the situation is out of my hands. I aim to focus on what I can still do, instead of what I can’t.
What are your future running goals and ambitions?
I have a long list of ambitions/goals and winning the Comrades down-run is certainly at the top of the list. I also want to improve on my finish time at the Two Oceans Ultra marathon as I finished within a minute of the record in 2019. As I mentioned before – the marathon (42,2km) really excites me and I feel like there is still room for improvement! I know that my goals are ambitious but I still feel fairly new to running and therefore believe that I’ve got more years of running and improving ahead of me.
What do you think about while you’re out on the road during a big race?
Racing and training is very different when it comes to my thoughts and mindset. During training I am much more aware of my surroundings and think about all different things which may or may not even be running related. But in a race, it all changes. I concentrate only on the very moment – how I feel, what I need, and whether I’m running at my target pace/effort. I try to switch off from everything that might interfere with my focus and just make sure that I’m running as comfortably as possible in the situation that I am in.
What’s the one thing you look forward to in the off season that you wouldn’t necessarily allow yourself during the peak of training?
I look forward to things like traveling with my husband and allowing myself to have more than one glass of wine without it affecting my training. I still allow myself these things during training but it often comes with a price when I’m training hard!
What do you like to do when you’re not running and training?
I like to travel, explore new places, catch up with friends or go for coffees. When I’m relaxing at home, I like watching Netflix or races from previous years on YouTube.
What’s the best training tip that you could offer to other runners?
My best training tip that really helped me when I started running, is to follow a training plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated or specifically worked out by someone, it can even be your own created plan. Be creative and mix up your training by incorporating some quicker interval or fartlek sessions. Getting up in the morning with a set goal in mind makes it a lot easier! Also, even though we can’t train in groups at the moment, I do recommend finding a running group or club where you can connect with other runners. When running becomes a part of your social life it will become a habit and you will get drawn into SA’s amazing running community very quickly!
Follow Gerda Steyn on social media:
Facebook – @gerdarun
Twitter – @gerdarun
Instagram – @gerdarun
Read some of our Q&A’s with other running legends