Gerda Favourite To Win Women’s Race But Can She Break Frith’s Record?

All eyes on the Steyn Train for Comrades 2023

RW Reporter |

Having already broken the ‘Up’ Comrades record in 2019, and twice broken the Totalsports Two Oceans record, who would bet against Gerda Steyn breaking one of the most legendary records in South African running at Comrades 2023?

In 1989 Frith van der Merwe shocked the world of ultra running, and a lot of elite men, finishing 15th overall and establishing a record ‘Down’ run time of 5:54.43 that has yet to be challenged. Until this year. The phenom that is Steyn is arguably the greatest marathon and ultra runner this country has ever produced and all eyes will be on her on race day.

Here’s a breakdown of all the contenders for Comrades 2023.

Gerda Steyn (Phantane Athletics Club)
Steyn is back for the 2023 Comrades Marathon and has to be the favourite for not only a win but also a shot at the long-standing record of Van der Merwe. Steyn has already smashed the Up Run best time when she finished 17th overall and clocked 5:58:53 – some 11 minutes faster than the previous best time set by Elena Nurgalieva (6:09:24).

Steyn missed the 2022 race as she was focusing on the New York Marathon which was only three months after Comrades (August last year). But she has made no bones about the fact she will be back this year and has only one objective, to make a massive statement.  If she does break Van der Merwe’s record she will have taken the second of Van der Merwe’s long-standing best times after winning Two Oceans in 2022 in a new record time of 3:29:45. Steyn boasts a faster marathon time than Van der Merwe in her heyday (2:27:36). Steyn ran the SA Record of 2:25:28 in 2021 and has also run under 2:27 on two occasions.

Ann Ashworth (Hollywood Athletics Club)
Ashworth ran 2:39:47 in the Seville Marathon in February this year. It is her second fastest marathon behind her 2:35:47 run in Valencia in 2018, the same year in which she won the Comrades Marathon. An injury-free Ashworth is dangerous. She too has made it clear that her focus for 2023 is the Comrades Marathon and that run in Seville will have boosted her confidence substantially, especially after having struggled with an injury in December. With her 2:35 personal best and her recent 2:39 run in Seville, Ashworth is one of the fastest ladies in the race and has to be a contender, if not a favourite to once again stand on the podium at Hollywoodbets Kingsmead come 11 June. Winning in 2018, Ashworth clocked 6:10:04, more than 7 minutes faster than the winning time of Alexandra Morozova in 2022. That and her 2:39 marathon will give Ashworth a big amount of confidence. Ashworth knows the route well, having lived in Durban for a couple of years before moving back to Johannesburg recently. She will have done numerous training runs on the route during her time in Durban and will use that knowledge to her advantage.

Alexandra Morozova (Russia) 1st, 2022
Last year’s winner was the fastest in the field in 2022 over the marathon and ran a well-judged race to win the title, crossing the line in Moses Mabhida Stadium in 6:17:48. She let the inexperienced Adele Broodryk go in the early stages of the race as Broodryk was in fact on record pace. In the second half of the race, Morozova passed both Broodryk and Dominika Stelmach to win The Ultimate Human Race in four attempts. Her previous three attempts saw her finish second on debut in 2017, third in 2018 and second again in 2019. Morozova boasts a marathon personal best of 2:32:44 and she and Ann Ashworth will more than likely be in a titanic battle for a spot on the podium. Morozova has an insatiable appetite for racing which could cost her. In 2022 between January and Comrades in August, she raced the marathon four times. So far in 2023, she has already run in the Buri Ram Marathon in Thailand on 21 January (2:36:20), the Khon Kaen Marathon, a mere 8 days later and clocked 2:49:07. This after running two marathons in a week in December (all in Thailand). All this racing could well cost her in the long run.

Carla Molinaro
Carla Molinaro (Massmart)
After her third place at the Two Oceans, the experienced Molinaro is arguably the biggest dark horse for this year. Molinaro has completed many ultra distance events, representing the UK at the 100km world championships and having established a world record of 1327km over 12 days and 30 minutes for the Lands End to John O’ Groats challenge.
After Oceans Molinaro focussed on her Comrades build-up and could well run under 6.15, setting her up as a serious podium contender, if not an overall win, should Steyn falter at any point. With solid times over shorter distances, the diminutive Brit, who also works as a running coach and personal trainer, seems to be at the peak of her powers.

Dominika Stelmach (Poland) 2nd, 2022
This will be Stelmach’s third attempt at The Ultimate Human Race after a 5th in 2019 and second in 2022. The Polish athlete is another tough runner who fights to the last. She too loves to test herself. What makes her second in 2022 so remarkable is that Comrades was her 7th major race for the year. All of them ultramarathons, everything from a 24-hour race to 100 miles to 80km. In fact that 80km race, the Ultramarathon ChudyWawryzniec 80km was a mere 15 days before Comrades. One wonders what she could have done had she been on fresher legs. Already in 2023 Stelmach has run a 24-hour race, the
Spartanion 24-Hour Race (ISR) on 5-6 January, where she finished 10th. Stelmach boasts a marathon best of 2:36:45 run in 2021. So she too will be a close contestant to Ashworth and Morozova and the battle for the women’s podium may well be more intense than that of the men, so closely matched are the women.

Adele Broodryk (Nedbank) 3rd, 2022
Third on debut at the Comrades Marathon takes some doing; but that is exactly what Adele Broodryk did in 2022. And one wonders what she could have done had she not shot off like the proverbial bolt in the early stages of the race. Broodryk will no doubt be much wiser in 2023 and has been very public about her desire to win the race; just as in 2022, when she won the Om Die Dam Marathon.

Not quite as fast as in 2022 where she was seconds off from breaking the record (Broodryk ran 3:23:48), but still fast enough to make a statement that she is once again in shape. The 32-year-old finished in 3:31:10, ten minutes ahead of Annerie Wooding (another contender for Gold in 2023). It has already been a busy season for Broodryk though after she finished 7th in the Nedbank Runified 50km (3:18:03) and she has confirmed she will be racing in the Two Oceans Marathon. With Comrades back in June as opposed to last year when it was in August, the recovery time between the two premier ultramarathons in South Africa is substantially closer than in 2022. How Broodryk manages that will be of interest but you cannot write off the woman who was the first South African across the line in 2022.

Galaletsang Mekgoe (Nedbank) 5th, 2022
Mekgoe could be a serious challenger to improve on her 5th from 2022. Entering as a novice in 2022, Mekgoe was part of the training group of Dave Adams who masterminded the clean sweep in the men’s race. At 26, Mekgoe has lots of time to improve on her 5th from 2022. What also needs to be noted is that her performance is the best by a black woman since the race was opened to all in 1975. Mekgoe’s secret to her success was the visualisation she employed in her training as she saw her male compatriots speed off in the distance. Mekgoe was 11th at this year’s Runified 50km, clocking 3:33:23. It may be a bit slower than her time of 2022 (3:30:24), but then Comrades is in June this year as opposed to August from last year, so her preparations will be slightly different. She will no doubt take heart from her run in this years Runified. All indications are that she will once again line up undaunted and will look to make history again.

Camille Herron (USA) 6th, 2022
You just cannot discount the American to finish in the top ten. A former winner (2017), Herron is a legend in the ultramarathon world, racing in Ultra Trail, Ultra Road and on the track. Her most recent endeavour on the tracks was to set a world record over 48 hours. Herron covered 435.336km in the allotted 48-hour period at the Sri Chinmoy 48 Hour Festival in Australia from 23-25 March. In so doing, she not only set a Women’s World Record but also bested the Men’s US 48-hour record. Herron may be competing more and more in the 100mile and beyond arena, though that doesn’t mean she should be discounted from picking up one of the 10 gold medals on offer at this year’s Comrades Marathon.

Caitriona Jennings (Ireland) 3rd, 2019
The Irish woman is another who will be in the running for a gold medal and even challenge for the top placings. Third in 2019, Jennings as recently as August 2022 set a National Record in the 100km, clocking 7:07:16. Jennings can regularly be found on the podium at the races she enters. In 2022 she competed in 5 ultra races, ranging from 50km to 50-miles to 100km. On each occasion she found herself on the podium, with two wins, two runner-up positions and one 3rd place. Included in those wins were the European 50km Championships and the 100km World Championships in Berlin.

Other Contenders:

Annerie Wooding (Murray & Roberts) 9th, 2022
Wooding finished second at this year’s Om Die Dam, always a good indicator of who will be in the mix for The Ultimate Human Race. Wooding finished 9th in 2022 and will be looking to improve on this in 2023. Helena Joubert finished in 7th position in 2022 and like Wooding, she will once again be looking for a top 10 finish and all has the pedigree to deliver come race day.

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