Ultra-marathon champion Gerda Steyn uses her time under lock-down for indoor training

As the World Health Organization officially listed the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, races from across the world got canceled or postponed until the fall. Ultrarunning Champion Gerda Steyn was ready for Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but unfortunately, the event got postponed to next year leaving her heartbroken, “It was heartbreaking, but after hearing the news of some of my other beloved races being canceled, I am quite relieved that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided to postpone and not cancel the Olympic games.” While talking to Story of Fitness, the running champion spoke about the challenges faced by the athletes whose source of income depends on participating in different races. But she is also wise enough to understand that her problems are very small compared to what many in the world are facing now. The South African athlete only started running in 2014. She started training with a running club in Dubai and was surprised to see rapid improvement very early on. In 2017, she decided to quit her job and focus purely on running. 

The winner of the Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans Marathon spoke to us about how she is coping up with the lock down, her nutrition due to limited access to fresh foods, how to keep up fitness in an urban environment with no garden and why one should avoid running 42.125 KM during the quarantine.

Gerda won the 2019 up Comrades Marathon in a record time of 5 hours, 58 minutes and 53 seconds, becoming the first woman to complete the up run in under six hours’s.

 Gerda Steyn: The Golden Girl of Running 

How are you coping with the lockdown and not being able to run outside?

I really miss running outside. I miss the freedom and the feeling of the sun on my skin and pushing my body but I know that this lock-down is for a bigger cause so I am just trying to be optimistic about it all and appreciating the fact that I am still healthy.

This must a difficult time for athletes whose income depends on running different races. 

It most certainly is. Athletes like myself rely on prize money, appearance fees and sponsorship deals to make a living and with no races taking place, it is not possible to make an income, even if you are able to maintain your fitness. But this is a worldwide crisis and there will only be a handful of businesses who won’t be financially affected by this. It is unprecedented times but focusing on what could have been won’t change anything. I am however fortunate for sponsors like Nedbank and Nike who still support me financially during these times.

Gerda with her husband Duncan Ross and coach Nick Bester. Her best time for a standard marathon was 2:27:48, achieved in 2019 in the New York City Marathon

How are you making sure that you are mentally feeling peaceful because how does one cope with their sanity when there is a constant stream of news reports about the global pandemic?

I keep my mind focused on the fact that this is temporary and that there will be a day where all of this is in the past. I try to set myself daily targets with my new indoor training regime and that keeps me mentally strong. It is not easy to be unable to run because training is such an enormous part of my daily lifestyle. But I have learned from other situations such as injury in the past that it is possible to stay fit without running and I keep reminding myself that there are many other people out there at the moment fighting for their lives due to this virus and that my “problems” are small compared to that.

From constantly competing to isolation

After conquering Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon, your eyes were set for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Was it heartbreaking to read about the race getting postponed?

It was heartbreaking but after hearing the news of some of my other beloved races being canceled, I am quite relieved that the IOC decided to postpone and not cancel the Olympic games.

You are a long-distance runner, how was it to transition to running shorter distances.

I started to compete in ultra-distance races shortly after I discovered my love for running and since then I have evolved in a more versatile athlete. I don’t limit myself to being an ultra runner. I want to compete against the world’s best athletes in the marathon as well as ultra marathons. It gives me great pleasure to be able to switch my focus from one distance to the next. It also keeps my training interesting and challenging.

Gerda with Ethiopian athlete Tadu Nare

With all races being canceled, many athletes are feeling uncertain and confused. Though the months of marathon training without any race will still leave an athlete in a strong position. Is it wise to continue training till year-end when the races begin?

We are in a very uncertain place at the moment and nobody could predict this situation that we are currently experiencing. We can, however, control how we handle it. Training can take many shapes and one must always remember that no athlete is able to stay at peak fitness all year round. I would recommend doing everything that you possibly can within the limitations to maintain a degree of fitness but not to be overly concerned about letting your body rest. Once this is all over, we will be stronger than ever!!! 

Gerda shares lockdown home workout ideas

What advice would you give to athletes whose training is coming to an end because they getting closer to the 42.195km mark? 

Don’t think of running the entire 42.2km race at the moment. Focus on staying motivated from one day to the next. Try to do some form of exercise every day – whether it’s a home workout, playing soccer with your kids in the garden, or an online pilates workout. Be creative. Your body will thank you once you get back on the long roads!!

How does one keep up fitness in an urban environment with no garden or spacious room?

You don’t always need to have a large open space to support fitness. There is a lot of exercises available that only need your own body weight such as sit-ups, planking, push-ups and many more. The only reason that this might be challenging is that runners want to run. Running is what we love and nothing else can completely take the place of that feeling of putting one foot in front of the other for miles on end. But for now, we need to focus on finding ways to stay mentally and physically strong for the day when we are allowed to do what we love once again!! 

Gerda Steyn is a South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete 

What are your thoughts on the marathon at home (Read here – http://storyoffitness.info/2020/04/05/sports-news/ ) that are happening across the world?

Haha! It’s a great way to keep many runners motivated, but I for one am not planning any marathon distances in a confined space at this moment!

How are you maintaining your nutrition during the lockdown? How do you make sure that you are eating healthy while facing limited access to fresh foods?

I feel like maintaining a healthy diet goes parallel with maintaining my fitness during this time. I have to be careful of not overeating because staying at home all day does make me feel more peckish but I try to keep healthy food in the fridge and place them in front of unhealthy treats. With more time on my hands now I also make sure that I cook more of my own healthy food instead of buying ready-made meals with hidden calories and additives.

Are you training keeping any race in mind? Are there any spring races that you are particularly looking forward it?

At the moment it is really impossible to predict what will happen in the latter part of this year but I will keep an open mind and stay updated with announcements from different races organizers. I believe that once the virus is under control, we will get more clarity on this.

  • Follow Gerda on Instagram – @gerdarun
  • Gerda is sponsored by Nike, Nedbank & Fury Motor Group 
  • Marathon PB – 42.2km: 2:27:48
  • To attend free mental health coaching group, click here
  • How to maintain nutrition during the lock down? We asked an expert. Click here

Arti Danihttp://storyoffitness.info
Arti Dani is a journalist by trade, a traveling runner with 5 international marathons, one ultra marathon under her belt. 100 push-ups a day is a simple job for her, even though she's still working to perfect her headstand skills.
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