“I feel like a little hare amongst the lions.” This was the way Hungarian Simona Staicu expressed her feelings at the pre-race media conference, the day before the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon.
Flanking her were three of the favourites: the Nurgalieva twins, Yelena and Olesya, and defending champion Tatyana Zhirkova, all Russians.
But there were two other Russian “lions” waiting in the wings, and the next day they took first and second in their first attempt at South Africa’s second-biggest ultra marathon: Madina Biktagirova and Liliya Yadzhak.
At 42 Biktagirova, who won in 3:35:11, became the oldest champion since – in a different era altogether – Janet Bailey won at age 46 in 1978.
Like last year, the women’s race was again the more exciting, with only 51 seconds separating the first four, Biktagirova, Yadzhak, Yelena and Olesya Nurgalieva.
Biktagirova came into the race as the fastest marathoner ever to enter, owning a PB of 2:24:46 from 1997.
She won the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon last year in 2:28:21, with Yadzhak second in a PB 2:29:22, and was eighth in the Boston Marathon (one place and 10 seconds ahead of Olesya Nurgalieva).
Her winning time is the second fastest ever in the Two Oceans, 4:35 behind the brilliant course record set by Frith van der Merwe in 1989.
The first four runners all ran faster than Zhirkova’s winning time of 2006, relegating her to sixth on the all-time list.
Zhirkova never looked like she was going to repeat her win, and finished seventh in 3:49:36 – more than 13 minutes slower than last year.
Biktagirova smashed Maria Bak’s veteran record of 3:49:21 by more than 14 minutes.
In the accompanying half marathon Namibian Helalia Johannes defended her title successfully in 73:16 – breaking her course record of 73:35 by 19 seconds.
Behind her South Africans René Kalmer (73:42) and Zintle Xiniwe (74:52) both set huge PBs.
Former world marathon record holder Tegla Loroupe was fifth in 77:40, and said she had been traveling too much to expect a better result.