By Mark Etheridge
Former national steeplechase champion Nolene Conrad raced to a personal best marathon time in Valencia, Spain at the weekend.
The tiny Stellenbosch-based athlete ended ninth in the Valencia Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label marathon. Her time of 2hr 35min 19sec was a big 12-minute personal best over the 2:47 she ran at the Cape Town Marathon two years ago.
‘I’m really chuffed with my time,’ the KPMG Club athlete told Team SA from Valencia. ‘I was actually aiming for 2:34 but I’m happy with a 2:35 and it was only in the last three of four kilometers that I lost my 2:34!’
Conrad’s efforts were all the more commendable considering she had a rough week leading into the race.
‘I had a bad experience with food poisoning and was in bed for three days and I only started feeling better the day before the race.. But I always had faith and had to be mentally tough, sticking to my plans and giving it a good go. I had great support from friends and family as well as from Elana Meyer and her Endurocad team. And my coach Ernie Gruhn, called me every day to check how I was.’
As for the race, Conrad (pictured with her medal, above) says it was world’s apart from her two previous attempts at the 42.2km distance, in Hanover, Germany and Cape Town.
‘I only felt a bit of pain in the last three or four kilometres but the race was a beautiful experience and the vibe was awesome.
‘What helped was that I learnt from the two previous marathons, worked on my diet/nutrition, my iron levels, sorted out my strength, so it was a question of working on my weaknesses. And it helped having great training partners like Warren Landridge, Sibusiso Madikizela and Raydon Bailie.’
She’ll now take a two-week break from running. ‘I’m going to have some fun in Spain for the next few days and then it’s hopefully on to bigger and better things. I’m just a happy girl today and it was great to have the opportunity to run this beautiful marathon.’
There was more success for South Africa when Gerda Steyn finished just two places behind Conrad.
Like Conrad it was only her third marathon and also a big personal best. Prior to the weekend, her best was the 2:51.31 she ran in Dublin, last year and after Valencia she boasts a best of 2:37.19.
A specialist ultra-distance athlete, the Nedbank runner’s new-found speed will certainly make her one to watch at next year’s Comrades Marathon down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Last year she was fourth in the up run.
Overall women’s winner in Valencia was Aberu Mekuria Zennebe in 2:26:17.