The 2014 Otter Trail run presented by Salomon and Gu, delivered yet another world-class showcase of trail running along the pristine coastline of the Tsitsikamma forest. Now in its sixth year of existence, the Otter Trail Run has established itself as the premier trail running event on the African continent. South Africa’s leading trail athletes descended on race headquarters at Storm’s River Mouth, the setting for what proved to be a beautiful finish to the trail beginning at Nature’s Valley, 42km west of the finishing point. A race that alternates in direction every year, 2014 was the year of the Retto (Otter spelled backwards), the west-to-east run and opposite of the typical Otter Trail route.
On the morning of 22 September, conditions for a fast paced race could not have been better. The Abangeni (the top 24 men and top 8 women, those of whom finished top of prologue the day before) set off first, followed by 200 elite trail runners, all chasing what is commonly referred to as ‘The Grail of Trail’.
Both the men’s and women’s races quickly turned into three-horse affairs. In the men’s section, two-time winner Iain Don-Wauchope, SA Cross Country champion Thabang Madiba (who was fastest in the prologue), and AJ Calitz broke away to battle it out for the podium placings. In the women’s section, international trail superstar and overwhelming pre-race favourite Landie Greyling, as well as previous winner Su Don-Wauchope and prologue winner Nicolette Griffioen raced ahead early on.
Both leading groups set blistering paces along the way and looked on course to challenging for the R100 000 bonus that race organisers had put on offer for a sub 4-hour (men’s) and sub 4h30min (women’s) finish. Leading athletes hopes of achieving those bonuses were scuppered when about halfway into the race, a strong headwind developed and slowed the pace down considerably.
The final kilometers of the men’s race proved to be one of the most exciting finishes to date, with Madiba breaking away with 4km to go. He was to be caught by Don-Wauchope on the rocks with 2km to go. Once going past Madiba, the wise Don-Wauchope was never going to be caught, and raced home to beat his previous Retto record in a time of 4h21min30sec. Madiba was a close second at 4h24min27sec, followed by Calitz in 4h31min17.
In the ladies race, Greyling managed to break away from her competitors, admittedly later than she expected, to race home in 5h11min46sec. Griffioen followed in second (5h14min32sec), and Don-Wauchope completed the podium, coming home in 5h17min35sec.
In addition to the main race, ex-Protea cricketer Mark Boucher and trail legend Ryan Sandes led a team of four runners over the trail to raise awareness for the Castle Lager Boucher Legacy, a foundation created to fight rhino poaching. With an 8-hour cutoff, the team left themselves very little margin, coming home with just 7 minutes to spare. Speaking after the finish, Boucher commented that the Otter was “the hardest thing he has ever done”, it shows that the event is up there with the toughest test’s of physical ability the country has to offer.