Cape Town - A top class field of ultra-marathon runners is expected on the start line of this year's Two Oceans Marathon, which takes place on Saturday, April 20, and the Kenyan contingent has one goal in mind and that is to break the record of 3:03:44 set in 1988 by Thompson Magawana.
Defending champion Justin Kemboi Chesire and compatriot Abraham Kiprotich who is based in France, have both been training at altitude in the Kenyan foothills with this specific goal in mind. It's about breaking the record, something many of the past champions have aspired to do, but it's also about the R1 million bonus incentive offered by Old Mutual if the record goes.
While Chesire has the experience to win, Kiprotich has the fastest marathon time in the elite field with his 2:10 marathon, which he ran in Istanbul late last year. He boasts a marathon PB of 2:08 (Daegu, 2013) but the question that remains does he have what it takes to race the last 14km which take the runners up Constantia Nek, the steepest part of the route. Then there is Chet's Hill, a short incline along Union Avenue up to the finish at the University of Cape Town.
Both Chesire and Kiprotich recorded some decent training times in the lead up to the race posting 3:20 for their 54km training run at altitude.
Another top Kenyan Melly Kennedy Kiptoo brings experience to the event with two gold medals, sixth in 2017 and fourth last year, so he definitely has what it takes to place on the podium, and experience is an element that will be needed come race day.
In the women's event, Irvette van Zyl has to be one of the favourites, despite it being her first attempt at the 56km event. Her sole focus is the Two Oceans Marathon and she is not treating this as a training run for any other upcoming race.
"I'm excited but also nervous for the ultra and have done quite a bit of my training on the route. The distance scares me as the toughest part of the course comes after the marathon mark. I'm used to racing a marathon so that will be fine, but I need to make sure I have enough in my legs for Constantia Nek," said Van Zyl.
"I'm far more suited to the hilly courses and enjoy running the hills so I will definitely give it my all. It's going to be an interesting race and definitely the first of a few ultras," she added.
Polish marathon champion and last year's runner up, Dominika Stelmach, is looking forward to racing the ultra again as she feels she has some unfinished business. Stelmach led the race until shortly after the marathon mark and was passed on the climb up Constantia Nek by the eventual winner Gerda Steyn.
The 24km trail event has attracted a record field of runners with last year's winners Kane Reilly and Megan Mackenzie both returning to defend their titles. Both athletes are looking in great shape with Reilly coming off the back of another win at the Hout Bay Trail Challenge in March. Megan has recently returned from the Canary Islands where she won the Las Palma Gran Canaria 32km Trail setting a record in the process.
Prodigal Khumalo has opted to run his first Two Oceans Trail event instead of the Ultra Marathon. Khumalo is no stranger to trail having won Ultra-trail Cape Town in 2016 and 2017, but is more suited to the longer distances so 24km may prove to be too short for his trail skills.