RETTO Recce – Report by Christine Collins

RETTO Recce - July 1In preparation of the annual Otter African Trail Run Event – Magnetic South does a variety of Scout Runs that involve the Event Management Team as well as Mountain Rescue to guarantee a smooth and safe running of the event.
For the very first time in history of the OTTER, the route will be reversed to the RETTO with the start in Nature’s Valley and the finish at the Stormsriver Mouth.

Apart from safety measures and route markings that we will have to put in place comes event day, we will also provide you with a “pace chart” in order to assist you achieve your wished success and finishing time.

And that is where I came in. My name is Christine Collins, married to John, which should not make you believe that I am anywhere of John’s calibre when it comes to running. I decided to aim for an 8 hours cut-off time (2 previous attempts of the OTTER and 1 of the RETTO – all of which took me more than 8 hours – made me believe that with a bit of an extra push I could do it).

So I headed off at 7am in the morning from Nature’s Valley – equipped with my Hi-Tec Infinity shoes, a bladder full of GU, 10 x GU Roctane (which I used consistently every 45 minutes), my Suunto Ambit to measure my progress, my Otter Buff and a GoPro Camera mounted on my chest to record my journey.

It was the most beautiful day on the Southern Coast and the fynbos of the Garden Route National Park, Tsitsikamma Section, was in full flower. In front of the coast lies the marine protected area – huge swells crashed into the steep and rugged cliffs and one could have spotted the first whales that arrived at our shores.

The feared crossing of the Bloukrans which we reached approximately 1 hour after Low tide was nothing more than a hip deep wade – cold, but nothing to be terrified of. Very relieved I went on.

On the first 20 km of the Run I felt fairly strong and I made good progress – no wonder as the major climbs of the RETTO only come in the second half. My Suunto Ambit gave me accurate readings of distance and vertical ascent and my heart rate averaged around 150b/min – I was in good spirits.

On race day half way mark brings a nice surprise in form of the GU Munchie Point – which was missing big time! I reached half way mark in 3 hours 45 minutes which again made me believe I was going to break my personal record! How wrong can you be 🙂

If I can give any advice – don’t go out too hard in your first half of the RETTO – the second half doesn’t only include the majority of climbs, it also becomes more and more technical and your legs are not getting stronger. Scott Hut to Ngubu Hut – the most strenuous part of the RETTO comes with one hell of a long steep climb from Scott Hut and thereafter many more gradual climbs (& descents) until eventually you reach Ngubu Hut – it just doesn’t want to end.

From there it gets easier concerning the climbs – but the trail surface becomes very technical. 1st of July proved to be very slippery on the rocks – as most of the trail lies on the south facing slope and doesn’t get any direct sun in winter. The Hi-Tec Infinity shoes gave me as much grip as any trail shoe possibly could in these conditions.

I don’t call myself a strong runner, but I do believe that I am quite good on technical terrain – well, it didn’t feel like it on Sunday. My legs started cramping whenever an unexpected muscle movement (and there were many) tried to control my slipping feet on the rocks.
I used hiking poles which helped me with the many climbs and descents – and if you have any concern your knees might give you trouble, and your name is not Ryan Sandes or you are one of these crazy human beings that is trying to get a blue or purple medal (not to mention the black one) – consider to use hiking poles – they proved to be fantastic!

Eventually I reached the Waterfall (which is the turnaround point for day visitors of Stormsriver Mouth) – what an incredible spot – the water was pumping down the falls on the one side and the swell was crashing onto the rocks on the other side!

Another 4 km on technical terrain and then another 2 “short” kilometres alongside the Stormsriver Rest Camp to the finish. As you can imagine the second half of the RETTO took me longer than the first half and I didn’t manage to finish within the 8 hours cut-off. My Suunto indicated 8 hours 25 minutes (with a recovery time of 120 hours) … and to be honest … I couldn’t have done it any faster.

But look at it that way – I had almost 4 hours longer to enjoy the trail than the Ryan Sandes of this world will have! 🙂

Don’t let this “report” scare you off, just train a little bit harder than I did! (I only averaged 3 runs a week of 8-10km with a climb of 2-300 meters – clearly not enough for the RETTO).

The OTTER Trail is fantastic and what a privilege to run/hike the full distance of it in one day!