Unfinished business: Flashy Irvette has Games in her sights


Irvette van Zyl’s road to marathon success does not necessarily follow a smooth route. There have been a few pitfalls that threatened to derail her, but the Pretoria long-suffering still pushes forward.

Even faster. Even stronger. And all the better.

Just last Saturday in Cape Town, she once again underlined her underachieving skills when she completed the Two Oceans ultramarathon in a dazzling time of 3:29:30.

Van Zyl fell early in the race when one of the other runners accidentally stepped on her in the pack. But she got up, dusted off her knees and tackled the 56 km route between Newlands and Rondebosch; only a flying Gerda Steyn was faster than her.

“I am very satisfied with my time. I wanted to run faster than 3:30 (two years ago’s 3:30:31 was her previous best Twee Oceane time) and I am very happy that I was able to do that,” she told RNews.

Looking back on her performance now, she would like to be better competition for Steyn.

The eventual winner improved her own record time to a blistering 3:26:54 and she was particularly strong in the darts of the race.

“I regret that I couldn’t hold a candle to Gerda on the downhills, because I felt really strong on the uphills. She built up a good lead at Chapmanspiek, but I was able to fight back again at Constantia-neck. But later the gap got bigger again and I hit the proverbial wall – the last six kilometers were very hard.”

The strong wind made matters more difficult, while her knees also didn’t want to talk nicely after the earlier fall.

Howling wind and sore knees are not the first obstacles she has had to overcome in her running story. In 2011, a car hit her when she was training in Ruimsig, while she had also been on the operating table several times.

A few years ago, she underwent an operation to improve blood supply to her left leg after it was determined that a vein was being pinched.

This leg still becomes paralyzed at times.

“It happened again after only eight kilometers at the Two Oceans and it then looks as if you run for a few kilometers with an injury. But then it mercifully goes away again.”

In between everything, she is one step closer to the Olympic Games after everything did not go completely according to plan for Dominique Scott at the Boston Marathon.

Scott’s final time of 2:32:31 is slower than Van Zyl’s marathon qualifying time of 2:26:11.

“I have to wait another two weeks to hear if I can pack my bags for Paris. So far things look very promising.”

If she has done enough, the sporting spectacle in the French capital will be her fourth Olympic attempt.

Van Zyl will be the first to admit that she has not been at her best at the Games; in her previous three performances, she has not been able to finish the race even once.

“If I qualify, I will prepare in such a way that I will be at my best in Paris. I want to make my Olympic dream come true and say that I have crossed the finish line.”

She celebrates her 37th birthday this year, but there is no talk of retirement yet.

“I’ve thought about it, but I want to retire on my own terms. The job is not yet done and I honestly approach every race as if it were my last. I have so much love for the sport and I feel that I undoubtedly still have the necessary drive.”