Exceptional men’s field to run The Otter

Rarely are there more than a handful of trail runners at any one event with the ability to take line honours. To put this into perspective, most events are a bit like a 100-metre final with Usain Bolt running against seven runners who didn’t qualify for the final. Now, for the first time, a local race will have 10 men with the ability to win the race, at the start. All eyes will be on these runners and the 4:48:53 race record when The Otter – African Trail Run presented by Hi-Tec starts on 30 September.

This 42-kilometre trail run traverses the Otter Hiking Trail, a popular five-day hike within the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. The Otter Run was first held three years ago and Iain Don-Wauchope broke the mythical five-hour barrier to win the race in 4hrs 59mins. Last year the race record dropped when John Collins ran 4:56:43. Collins’ reign as ‘Otter King’ was short lived. 24-hours later Andre Gie, taking part in the Southern Storm Duathlon, which began with the running of The Otter, set a new record of 4:48:53 when he finished only 12-seconds ahead of Don-Wauchope.

Collins and Gie will be under pressure this year, surrounded by a half-dozen runners just as strong, fast and experienced – each with recent wins in credible trail races. They’ll be up against Rohan Kennedy, who won this year’s African X; Mark Preen comes off a win at the Hout Bay Trail Run; Jacques Mouton won the Outeniqua Traverse and Nic de Beer won the 80km PUFfeR. Bruce Arnett has the most distance experience in his legs with endurance honed from experience. Plett local, Victor Gugushi is the lightest of the runners with a speedy road background. If he takes care of himself and paces his race, he could be in contention. Greg Goodall is the dark horse of this race. A dedicated runner, his training has been specific and focused on The Otter, which may be the right formula to get him through the course ahead of the rest. Unfortunately Don-Wauchope won’t be running this year; he’s out with an injury.

For the first time, Ryan Sandes, who has become the face of trail running in the media, comes to run The Otter. With Sandes in the picture, all eyes will be on him to challenge the record. In only three years he has become a high-profile trail runner on the international stage. His performances continue to strengthen as he transforms from a multi-day desert staged race runner to an exceptional ultra runner and his recent win at the celebrated Leadville 100-mile race in Colorado, USA, stands as proof of this evolution. The Otter will certainly be Sandes’ most competitive local race with its gathering of exceptional runners.

“What a field!,” says race director Mark Collins. “The R5,000 reward, offered to runners breaking 4h30, by presenting sponsor Hi-Tec is certain to go to one of these guys. They all have speed, strength and the experience to really excel on this technical route and they’ll push from the start. In good conditions, with so many competitive runners upfront challenging each other, serious damage could be done to the current record making it far more difficult to better in coming years.”

The 42-kilometre stretch of undulating Garden Route coastline is no walk in the park. Participants run above plunging sea cliffs and negotiate rock-strewn trails, sandy beaches, treacherous tree roots, gruelling climbs and at least three river crossings.

The Otter – African Trail Run presented by Hi-Tec takes place on Friday, 30 September 2011. The event can be followed through www.magneticsouth.net.