CAPE TOWN – Twice winner of the Women’s Day 10km Challenge, Annie Bothma is one of over 500 runners set to make their marathon debuts at the Cape Town Marathon on Sunday.
One of Cape Town’s fittest and fastest, Bothma has several track and road titles to her name, but on Sunday she will be competing over a distance significantly further than she has yet raced. Quite possibly Bothma will turn to South Africa’s most successful distance athlete for marathon inspiration – Cape Town Marathon race ambassador Elana van Zyl-Meyer. In 1994 Van Zyl-Meyer was also facing her marathon debut, at the 1994 Boston Marathon.
“I would have absolutely loved to have run a huge city marathon in South Africa,” said Van Zyl-Meyer at the time. “But you’ve got to be realistic. We have a long way to go before we can compete with the major city marathons around the world.”
The Boston Marathon appealed to Van Zyl-Meyer who clocked the fastest debut, finishing third behind German Uta Pippig in 2hr 25min 15sec – still the fastest by a South African, although Colleen de Reuck’s 2:26:35 at Berlin in 1996 stands as the national record due to Boston not meeting IAAF accreditation standards. Running easily, Van Zyl-Meyer had taken the race lead from Pippig at 30km and was on course for a 2hr 22min marathon when disaster struck.
“The pace felt very comfortable,” recalled Van Zyl-Meyer. “The most difficult part was having to be patient and hold back. So it felt the right time to take the lead. But all of a sudden, I just had nothing left. I was still on 2:22 pace with 5km to go, but then lost all that time and finished third.”
Although the fastest time of her career, Van Zyl-Meyer rates her subsequent Boston Marathon races as superior. “In my debut we enjoyed the wind behind us but the next year, when I was just a minute slower and a close second to Uta (Pippig), we ran into a headwind all the way,” she said.
Van Zyl-Meyer missed the Boston centenary in 1996, where a record number of 35 968 finished the race, but was again in the mix the following year. The 1997 race saw an intense battle in the women’s competition involving Van Zyl-Meyer, compatriot De Reuck, Pippig and Ethiopian Olympic champion, Fatima Roba. Roba took line honours in 2:26:24 with Van Zyl-Meyer just 44 seconds behind in second. De Reuck was a further minute back in third. Years later, the famous “Boston Marathon Monday vibe” would provide the inspiration for Cape Town Marathon’s success.
“Boston will always be a special place and I made some good friends there,” explained Van Zyl-Meyer.
“The event has provided inspiration for the development of Cape Town Marathon and its success in gaining gold label status.”
Van Zyl-Meyer believes Cape Town Marathon now offers everything she was looking for in choosing a city marathon in which to debut. Would the 28-year old Van Zyl-Meyer have run Sunday’s Cape Town Marathon?
“For sure! What a dream – I would have run my legs off! Just as I did in Durban in running 8min 32sec for the 3000m and in Green Point where I set a world 15km record of 46:57 in 1991,” Van Zyl-Meyer said.
Van Zyl-Meyer did not get that chance to debut in front of her home supporters, but Bothma will do so against some of the world’s top marathoners and in the shadow of Table Mountain.