South African Nolene Conrad will face some of the world’s best at Osaka Marathon

Nolene Conrad faces a defining moment in her impressive running career on Sunday when she lines up against some of the world’s best at the start of the Osaka Marathon in Japan.

Japan is right up with Kenya and Ethiopia in women’s marathon running, boasting four athletes in Sunday’s race with marathon best times faster than two hours and 24 minutes. And with several top east Africans also in the mix, a top-15 finish in a personal best time would represent an outstanding result for Conrad.

The diminutive athlete from Blue Downs has risen to the top echelon of South African distance running in recent years and led her compatriots home at last year’s world half marathon championships in Spain, where she earned IAAF gold label status for her top-25 position.

But an elite standard marathon time still eludes Conrad, although her 2:34:39 at last year’s Cape Town Marathon came close.

Her half marathon best of 1:11:44 suggests that a five-minute improvement, which will lift her into world-class sub-2:30 territory, may not be beyond her.

“I’m definitely aiming for a big improvement on my best of 2:34:39 I achieved in last year’s Cape Town Marathon,” admitted Conrad. “My coach (Ernie Gruhn) believes that I can get close to 2:30. 

I was rather cautious at Cape Town, not wanting to risk anything. That earned me a solid performance, but perhaps not quite what I could have achieved.

“I’m adopting a new fierce approach for Japan. I’m going for it - let’s see how it works out. I should be comfortable going through half way in 75 minutes, which will be a few minutes slower than my half marathon best. The course is pancake flat, so hopefully I’ll be able to hold on in the second half.”

posted Thursday January 24th