Late bloomers in distance running the pride of SA
Considering that the careers of most sports stars tend to fizzle out by the time they reach their thirties, local distance running has an unusual number of late bloomers in the women's ranks.
Gerda Steyn, who is looking to defend her Two Oceans Marathon crown in Cape Town on Saturday, is the youngest of the current crop of autumn flowers on SA's roads.
She took up running as a means of finding friends after moving to Dubai for work just more than four years ago.
The quantity surveyor joined a club and quickly found she had talent. "When I started training with the group immediately I saw improvement," said Steyn, 29.
"I was nowhere near elite level, but compared to the others around me and my training partners I started to improve way more than they did."
She clocked 3hr 11min in her first marathon in January 2015 and at the end of that year she dipped under three hours in her second 42.2km haul.
Steyn, the runner-up behind Ann Ashworth at last year's Comrades, is hoping she will be fresh enough to have a full tilt on the Durban-to-Pietermaritzburg route on June 9. "Hopefully if my recovery goes well. I'll only be able to assess after Two Oceans."
Charne Bosman, the 2016 Comrades champion, is not expecting to repeat her Two Oceans third place of last year, saying her focus is Comrades. "Two Oceans is going to be part of my training for Comrades ... we're just going to try to pick the pace up in the last few kilometres," said the 43-year-old.
Bosman started running at 17 after her family moved to Pretoria. She has represented SA many times, in cross-country and road, and was seriously thinking of chucking it in after missing out on the 2012 Olympics, her second failed Games attempt after 2008.
"That was the only thing I wanted on my CV still ... and then I decided let's try doing ultra-marathon running."
She ran her first ultra at 37 years.
Ashworth, 35, started distance running in honour of her late father Roy who, contrary to her university coaches, had insisted she was better suited to road-running than track racing. A week after turning 22 she finished 23rd in her first Two Oceans.
With her focus on Comrades this year Ashworth isn't doing Two Oceans, though both she and Steyn are eager to try to get to the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Coach Lindsey Parry believes Caroline Wostmann, who took up running to lose weight after giving birth and ended up winning the Two Oceans twice and a Comrades, has helped to kickstart what he hopes is a revival in women's distance running.
He's noticed that more women are running good times in marathons and ultras.
"I'm very hopeful and that's where I think Gerda and Ann can play a very big role [inspiring others]. I believe it can happen."