Jennie Stenerhag defied all the odds to defend her Swedish national marathon championship title for the sixth consecutive time in Motala, Sweden, on Saturday.
She crashed, fell and “tore my hamstring muscle completely off the bone”, Stenerhag recalled.
“I then had surgery in Cape Town two days after the race and the doctors even told me I must forget about even thinking of taking part in the Swedish champs,” she told In the Bunch.
“I’ve just been doing rehab since then, over the last five months. For me to have defended my Swedish title was just unbelievable.
“The healing process of this type of injury usually takes up to a year,” she added.
She went over to Sweden at the end of May and only took part in her first race since her layoff in another Swedish race, the Fjällturen on July 8, which she also managed to win, despite having battled through the debilitating injury.
A month later, at the Swedish champs, her injury had still not subsided.
“I was getting into really good form before the injury, because I had set my main goals on preparing for the Epic,” she said.
“It’s obviously going to take time [for the injury to get better]; I’m not back in that form yet. It will take another month or two at least.
“I’m currently still doing my rehab and I’m still quite sore. I’m actually still technically injured. I still have a long way to go.”
The CBC/Åbro rider said she was “very nervous” and understandably unsure of her form heading into the 82km national champs race.
“I really wanted to keep my jersey, but I had a lot of doubts, simply because I knew I wasn’t in any good form.”
She said after the first King of the Mountain challenge, which she won, she and another rider broke away before a third rider joined them at the front.
“With about 30km left, the third rider was dropped. I was trying to stay with the initial rider but that’s when I started getting tired and my leg began paining, yet she looked strong.
“Then on a slight downhill single-track section in a forest I went in first with her on my wheel. At the end of the section, I looked back and she wasn’t there.
“I had to dig very deep to stay away. I just thought I would go until she catches me again, but she never did.
“I was so surprised and very relieved. It was definitely my most satisfying victory of all my Swedish champs titles.”
With a field of 16 women, Stenerhag admitted the standard of racing in the SA national marathon championships was “probably tougher” than in Sweden, despite the fewer numbers.
“The other two girls who finished on the podium are pretty good, but they are not really racing internationally,” she said.
“In South Africa there are normally quite a few more international riders, including myself.
“I would think the SA champs, or racing in SA in general, would have probably been a bit tougher but overall it is actually very similar.”
Stenerhag will now turn her focus to yet another Swedish race, the 94km CykelVasan, an event she described as “the biggest mountain-bike race in Sweden for the year”.
She plans to return to South Africa at the beginning of October, after which she will prepare for the Wines2Whales Race, which takes place from November 2 to 4.