Valley Rest Camp – The 11th running
of the Otter African Trail Run took place on South Africa’s pristine Garden
Route on Saturday.
Warm, sunny skies welcomed runners at the start
at Storm’s River Mouth, and temperatures continued to increase over the course
of the morning making well executed hydration and nutrition strategies
especially critical. The top 24 men and 16 women made up the Abangeni runners,
who took off from the start at 07:00.
Classic Otter, run from East to West, starts with incredibly technical, rocky
and uneven terrain as runners make their way along the coastline towards the
first overnight hut.
In the men’s race 2017 Otter winner, Christiaan Greyling,
who struggled with injuries earlier this year, set the pace from the start with
the front of the Abangeni pack doing their best to stick with him.
However, after the
first technical section Kane Reilly and Johardt van Heerden took over
the lead, breaking away from the rest of the field and extending the gap to
13 minutes by the Gu Munchie Table at the halfway point at Oakhurst.
Behind the two
leaders, Greyling and Mvuyisi Gcogco dropped into a similar pace.
“Me and Kane
broke away at Ngubu hut, just running together and having a ball of a time. I
think we were both running within ourselves, not thinking too much about the
record, just enjoying it out there. We were alternating setting the pace, so
really working together until Munchie Point. It was so cool running together.
He really knows the trail so well, he knows how to pace himself, so I used him
as a pacer not to overcook it in the first section,” said Van Heerden.
Bloukrans, Van Heerden was on Marc Lauenstein’s sub-4 hour record pace, and had
created a gap between himself and second placed Reilly. The low tide gave the
elites an advantage, and made the crossing relatively smooth.
fatigue and cramp starting to creep in, Van Heerden continued to push over the
final third of the course, moving as fast as he could to maintain the record
Greyling left Bloukrans 4 minutes ahead of Gcogco.
“My nutrition was spot on,
but I could feel the cramp starting to set in a little bit from the ups and
downs. The last section was quite runnable, but I could feel my legs were just
not responding as I would have liked. I was on the border for sub-4, but as I
descended towards the beach I realised I was probably going to miss it,” said
Heerden just missed breaking the sub-4 hour mark and finished in a time of
04:02:59, setting the new fastest time a South African has run the Classic
Otter African Trail Run.
Switzerland’s Lauenstein still holds the
fastest time for the Classic at 03:59:29.
“It was such a great day for me
overall, I’m really stoked about the win. Sub-4, well it wasn’t meant to be
(laughing). I pushed really hard; I was still on time until Bloukrans but then
Marc (Lauenstein) must have really hammered this last section to get that sub-4
Reilly finished in second place in a time of 04:19:02, his first words on the
finish line to Van Heerden were, “did you get it?” highlighting the bond
between the community of South African elite runners. An elated Greyling took
the last position on the podium in third place in a time of 04:27:58.
The women’s race was dominated by the four favourites, young guns Toni McCann and
Bianca Tarboton and trail legends Landie Greyling and Nicolette Griffioen.
McCann took the lead from the start, securing her position in the top 10 from
the start line. At the halfway point at Oakhurst, McCann and Tarboton were just
4 minutes apart, with Greyling 8 minutes behind her and Griffioen just 2 minutes back.
Despite the humidity, the four women all looked comfortable in the race.
came into Bloukrans 5 minutes ahead of Tarboton and in sixth position
overall. She navigated the crossing with ease and continued to push ahead into
the final third of the course.
“The last section is supposedly runnable, but
it’s not actually that runnable when you’re tired like I was feeling. There is
a lot of low-grade climbing that really messes with you mentally,“ said McCann.
Bloukrans Tarboton wasn’t letting up, and moved into 10th overall,
maintaining a 5 minute gap between herself and McCann. Running a strategic and
powerful run throughout, Greyling kept her third position ahead
of Griffioen in fourth.
just minutes to spare, McCann hit the final obstacle of the day, the floating
bridge and balance beam, on the finish line, to a cheering crowd.
“I heard the
crowd shouting that I had 2 minutes to make the record and new I had to finish this
thing, but then obviously I face planted in the water before the bridge which
was really classy (laughing). The bridge was a bit worrying but I am just super
happy to have come in under the record. I’m just super happy.”
the balance beam perfectly, she crossed the finish line in a new record time,
becoming the fastest women to win the Classic Otter African Trail Run in a time
McCann broke Kiwi Ruby Muir’s record which was set in 2013.
tougher than last year, but it was beautiful. Bloukrans was incredible. The
first half of the race was definitely stronger than the second half. I’m super
happy with the outcome. It was fun to race knowing that there were people
pushing behind me. I’m definitely happy to have broken the record. I started my
watch late, so I wasn’t sure where I was,” said McCann.
who was racing her first marathon distance race, made it to Nature’s Gate in
second place, but with roughly 3.5km to go, she blew and required emergency
assistance on the trail.
“I didn’t fill up my water at Andre’ Hut and as a
result I didn’t want to eat any gels from then on because I didn’t have any
water to drink them with. I think I basically just had a complete glucose drop.
I tried to push but when I got onto the beach I was feeling super dizzy. I got
onto the jeep track and Tim (Chambers) was with me. He could see how much I was
struggling, and I think he said we should walk, and he helped me, but I just
got worse and worse and in the end I couldn’t actually stand. It was pretty
terrifying. Between Tim, James (Montgomery) and the paramedics I was looked
after. It was a terrible thing to happen, but I definitely learnt a lot and
learnt how to never underestimate the importance of proper nutrition/ fluid
intake because I really messed that up.”
Special mention to Tim Chambers who
stopped to assist Tarboton. He sacrificed his top 10 finish to help a fellow
competitor another sign of the strength and bond between the trail community in
was an emotional Greyling, who had moved up to ninth overall, who came in over
the finish line second in a time of 05:08:52. Her son has just turned one-year-old, and she is in the throes of her comeback to trail, so was ecstatic with
Griffioen finished third in a time of 05:23:03. While she admitted
it wasn’t her best performance, she couldn’t help but comment on the beauty of
the trails and what a privilege it was to be able to run it.
year’s running of the Otter African Trail Run was all about celebrating local
South African trail runners.
“It was an incredible day, the young guns laid it down today. The new
generation have been knocking on the door opened it today. We almost saw a
sub-4 in the men, a first by an African runner. He missed it by 3 minutes which is
phenomenal. In the women’s race, Toni is just phenomenal. She ran such a fast
first half, that she actually slowed down but still did enough to get the
record. It’s a six-year old record held by Kiwi Ruby Muir that has now come
back to South Africa,” said Race Director Mark Collins.
Regarding the Otter and putting on an
event of its nature, he went on to say “we are always mindful. You can get
caught up in all the stress and the excitement of the event but at the end of
the day each for every one of us working on this event and participating – it’s
actually a privilege. It’s becoming more and more of a privilege as the
wildernesses across the world get pressurised. To do something that has a
minimal footprint, and to do it in a way that maintains that footprint is a
privileged. As always, an event of this nature would be impossible
without the support of our incredible sponsors, some of which have been with us
for the entire 11 years. I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to SANParks
and the Garden Route National Park who without, this event would not exist.”
2019 Top 10 men:
1. Johardt van Heerden 04:02:59
2. Kane Reilly 04:19:02
3. Christiaan Greyling 04:27:58
4. Mvuyisi Gcogco 04:31:53
5. Pieter Conradie 04:46:03
6. Gabriel Kriel 05:02:00
7. Matthis Grant 05:06:25
8. Rohan Kennedy 05:10:46
9. Russell Lund 05:11:01
10. Louis le Grange 05:11:16
2019 Top 5 women:
1. Toni McCann 04:52:51
2. Landie Greyling 05:08:52
3. Nicolette Griffioen 05:23:03
4. Julika Pohl 05:49:42