Running for Wes – the Robs & their Otter races 

Rob Tweddle and Rob Shaff have long been part of the Otter African Trail Run community, contributing to the vibe, energy and competitive field of race weekend. As fans and supporters of this iconic sell-out event, their introduction to the Otter and, more specifically, to trail running is largely attributed to a very special friend, Wesley Sweetnam. 

Rob Shaff said that his friendship with Wes developed on the trails, chasing podiums at the Night Series races. Shaff recalls the heel-to-heel racing that he and Wes shared, and, despite initially managing to hold onto-first place, it was in the final event of the series that Wes passed him. Shaff said he was not sure what came over him, but he shouted out after Wes as he ran ahead, “Go Wes, Go!”  It was Shaff’s cheerleading attitude that the two later bonded over; Wes recounts that never in his racing-career had he experienced such “stoke and excitement from a competitor.” 

While Shaff had his footing in the trail and road running scene, Tweddle was more interested in surfing and lifesaving, with no real interest in running. Nevertheless, his TERREX sponsored and regular-Otter-podium-girlfriend – Bianca Tarboton – quickly converted him into a serial-adrenaline-trail-blazer. With their shared love for the mountain, Shaff brought Wes into their close knit friendship circle; and from there, he said, “the rest was history.” 

Both Tweddle and Shaff said that Wes’ love for the trails was infectious, and even if he wasn’t racing, he would be there in support – “everyone wanted Wes to be on their crew, race nerves didn’t exist with him around, as he always put a positive spin on the day. And he also went the extra mile; one year he drove all the way from Cape Town to Lesotho just to support a mate in a race.” 

Wes and Shaff’s Otter introduction began in 2017, when Wes took to the startline – smashing the Prologue and in his typical cheerleader spirit, supporting and applauding everyone during race day. “It was an iconic first Otter,” said Shaff, with Wes crossing the finish line in 5h27m. As they celebrated that evening, everyone knew Wes’ athleticism would see him defy the realm of what is possible and knock on a 4-hour race.” Especially since after his first-race, Wes admitted to “having a lot left in the tank.” 

Although determined to return and secure a podium finish the follow-year, Wes pressed pause on his 2018-race-plans while nursing an injury. Nevertheless, both Wes and Shaff made the trip up to Natures Valley to play tour guide for the Golden Trail Series’ top-competing athletes. As they drove and showed the likes of world-renowned runners around, the “vibe, banter and competition” fuelled the fire and thirst to go back and race together the next year; encouraging Tweddle to join them as well. 

In 2019 the trio of “all-time-frothers,” headed up to Natures Valley; a trip which signified Wes’ return to running after a raceless-season. Although Wes described his finish time of 5h38m as “leisurely,” – a time that many would envy – this race served as a crucial step in his comeback-plan to eventually achieve the ultimate, a sub-4-hour finish.

Despite the dreams and hopes racing many more Otters, Wesley Sweetnam sadly passed away in a tragic home-invasion murder. His devastating passing completely shocked and rattled the trail running community. He was truly a candle whose light burnt so bright, all too soon. 

In celebration of Wes and the life that he lived, both Shaff and Tweddle have been running after his iconic first-time Otter time. 2020 marked the first attempt to chase 5h27m, but having injured himself a month out from Otter; Tweddle walked from the halfway mark after his “legs seized up,” which meant he couldn’t bend his knee. Hobbling over the finish just before the 8-hour cut-off distanced the dream of achieving Wes’ sub-6 race. While Shaff had a smoother race compared to Tweddle, he still fell short of Wes’ time by 10-minutes, completing the course in 5h37m53s. 

The following year presented even more challenges for Tweddle, with another injury-setback; but determined to race, he put-back 5 anti-inflammatories and hoped for the best. Running most of the race together, with even splits and a steady pace, the two felt like they were on-track to secure the elusive 5h27m goal; but as Tweddle’s legs seized up, Shaff continued on to bring home a PB race of 5h35m45s – although still short of Wes’ time, Shaff thought to himself “I’ll get you one year buddy.” 

Tweddle, digging deep, finished in 5h45h58 with an impressive time-improvement from the previous year; but quickly went from finish-line to medic tent. The two, as Tweddle sat with a drip-bag in his arm, felt that the day had been run in Wes-fashioned; as Wes had always been about “getting people out of their comfort zone.” 

As the saying goes, third-time lucky, and 2022, with a calculated approach to tackling the course, they managed to run every step of the way – dragging, pushing and encouraging each other on – to get Wes’ time by 2-minutes; finishing in 5h25m. 

This healthy, friendly competitiveness is something ingrained into their friendship group; and now that Tweddle and Shaff have Run Wes’ time, they both, in spirit of Wes, will keep pushing the boundaries. The goal for 2023 is to race each other, and while Shaff has a few Otter victories over Tweddle, Tweddle said that this year will be his victory race – adding that “it may not be this year, or the next year, or the year after that; but he is coming for Kane. Aim for the sky and hope to land a sub-4-hour race,” is Tweddle mantra. 

Despite having clocked kilometres over the years, Tweddle and Shaff who don’t consider themselves runners, but rather see the act of running as a beautiful byproduct of playing and being in the mountains. They find their passion and purpose in Otter, a unique and cherished event where running isn’t the sole attraction. The heart of this experience lies in the community that surrounds it, a place where they witness the remarkable achievements of incredible talents, like Tweddle’s girlfriend Bianca. It’s not the act of running itself that beckons them; it’s the camaraderie and unmatched unity that sets Otter apart. The dedication and love poured into this event are palpable, evident in the fervor that drives individuals from all corners of the country to converge. The Otter is their annual pilgrimage, a truly unique and profoundly special gathering. 

To this day, they return to Otter and the mountains, with the stirring anthem “Go Wes, Go!” serving as the rhythm of their footsteps, echoing loudly in their hearts.