In one of the most epic Two Oceans Marathons ever run, Nedbank running club’s Irvette van Zyl ran the race of her life on Sunday, just coming short of an emphatic victory in the women’s race, but still running a time that eclipsed Frith van der Merwe’s 1989 course record of 3:30:36, with her finish of 3:30:31.
With the race starting off much earlier than normal, a pack of 5 women set off at a very fast pace, in a pack that consisted of van Zyl, Nedbank RC teammates Shelmith Muriuki, Amelework Bosho and defending champion and former teammate Gerda Steyn. Already running at a projected finish time of 3:23, Bosho and Muriuki started to pick up the pace as they made their way through Sun Valley and on their way to the halfway mark.
Bosho and Muriuki crossed halfway in 1:41:54, the fastest time ever set at the mark in the women’s race. Van Zyl crossed 47 seconds later, running her own race and a well judged one. Pundits suggested that the leading two would soon falter with the fast pace being set once they started the climb up the tough Chapman’s Peak but it was not to be as the pace continued.
Van Zyl bid her time and once through the marathon mark in Hout Bay, had closed the gap to 31seconds with the tough Constantia Nek climb up ahead. It was on this climb that finally showed the chink in the armour of the lead two as van Zyl started closing in fast. It was at the 45km mark that van Zyl caught her Nedbank RC teammates and did not look back.
A gallant Muruiki hung onto the shoulders of van Zyl for a brief stint but by the top of the climb at 46km, van Zyl was ahead and picking up the pace. Going through 50km, van Zyl held a lead of 25 seconds over Steyn who had moved into 2nd now.
On the final climb and with only 3km to go, van Zyl was caught by Steyn and the victory slowly crept away, but a gutsy effort saw her finish 2nd with a silver lining consolation of also finishing under the old record time.
“I gave it everything I had and left it all out there and it was an amazing race,” said van Zyl afterwards. “I have no regrets at all, and I am blessed that I was part of such a remarkable race.” Sponsors of the race Totalsports also blessed van Zyl with a bonus of R50 000 for also going under the record. “That brought me to tears and id like to thank Totalsports for such a gesture.”
In the men’s race, an extremely fast pace set out front saw Phantane’s Anele Dlamini enjoying a lead of over 10 minutes at halfway. By this time, Nedbank running clubs Bernard Chirchir surged ahead of the main pack in pursuit of Dlamini. It was at the 40km mark that Chirchir overtook Dlamini and held the lead towards the tough Constantia Nek climb.
Behind him, ultra-marathon debutant Onalenna Khonkobe was running a dream debut as he split the chasing bunch down to 3. Chirchir navigated the climb up Constantia but was being caught fast by Khonkobe who was now flying. At 49km, Khonkobe went into the lead but only 500 metres later, crashed into the elite athlete’s water table, bringing him down to the ground. No sooner had he fallen, Khonkobe got up and sprinted after the two athletes upfront, surging past them yet again and back to the lead, but at 51km inexperience to the ultras caught up to him as he relinquished the lead and faced a very tough road home.
Dropping back, Khonkobe held on to finish 6th and earn a well-deserved gold medal. Teammate Jonas Makhele came through towards the end to finish 10th and collect not only the final gold, but also finish as the first veteran. Chirchir ended up 11th after a very tough last 5km.