by Steven Granger
Three world-class trail athletes this week gave notice of their intention to race in South Africa next year, with a 42km stretch of coastline in the Southern Cape their stated destiny.
England’s Ricky Lightfoot, Ruby Muir of New Zealand and Stevie Kremer from the USA all expressed their determination to be part of the 2015 Otter African Trail Run next October, reflecting both their high regard for the event and their disappointment at missing out on this year’s race.
And with the bar likely to be raised a notch or two, there is every chance of the R100 000 bonus, on offer to the first male or female athlete to better 4 hours or 4 hr 30 min respectively, being won.
There is little doubt that South African top trail athletes regard the 42km Otter African Trail Run as the country’s premier event. Year on year the race along the iconic coastline of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park attracts the country’s best performers, with only injury or illness keeping them away.
The 2014 event sold out in 9 minutes and was arguably the best ever. KZN’s Iain Don-Wauchope took his third title in 5 years in 4 hrs 21 min 30 sec (the fastest time by a South African in either direction), ahead of Johannesburg’s top trail athlete, Thabang Madiba, and pretender to the throne, AJ Calitz, while Landie Greyling edged out Nicolette Griffeon and Sue Don Wauchope in the women’s competition, winning in a new “Retto” record of 5:11:46.
The race, run in near-perfect conditions, had everything – bar the international flavour which had characterised the 2013 event. But all indications are that the world’s best will be beating a path to the door of race commander-in-chief, Mark Collins, to secure an entry in next year’s “Grail of Trail”, as the Otter has become known.
Lancastrian fireman, Lightfoot, won the world long-distance trail race title last year and backed it up with a superb run in the Otter, when he raced away from the start at speed and held a 10 minute gap until crossing the finish line in 4 hrs 15 min to become the first runner faster than 4 hr 20 min.
A back injury in August scuppered Lightfoot’s hopes for a return this year, but he has vowed to be in the 2015 line-up. “I’m hoping to return in 2015 for another crack at the Otter,” Lightfoot said on Thursday. “The 4 hour challenge may be beyond my capabilities but I’m sure there’s someone who one day will go sub 4. It’ll take the right weather and the right athletes to make it a race from the start to achieve the feat.”
Last year’s women’s winner, Kiwi Ruby Muir, was injured in a severe fall at the world sky-running championships at Chamonix in July, which “smashed up the cartilage” in the back of her knee cap and “tore a chunk off” her vastus intermedius muscle which ruled her out of this year’s race. “I was very impressed with the slick organisation of the Otter last year, admitted Muir, also determined to get back to the Otter. “I loved the balance between the fun technical rocky sections, the punishing climbs and faster running headlands.
I had a blast running it last year and felt very welcomed by the South African running community” Muir reflected this week. “ But I feel I have unfinished business and would love to make it back sometime, hopefully next year.”
German American Stevie Kremer shattered the Hout Bay Trail Challenge course record last year, but has not yet raced the Otter. This year she has enjoyed her best ever running season, winning the overall title in the world Sky Running series, and she aims to return to South Africa as soon as she can. “I recently bumped into a South African in Vancouver who recommended I run the Otter Race and I think that may well be the next race on my list,” recounted Kremer, who roomed with Salomon teammate and top South African trail athlete, Landie Greyling, in Europe this year. “The Hout Bay Challenge was an incredible race with diverse and technical terrain, which makes me even more excited to run another race in South Africa! I’ve heard the entire Otter Run has spectacular and breathtaking views, and this, to me, is a must! “I’ve been so fortunate to run a variety of races in places all over the World and the best races for me are the ones with the views. So I’d love to give this famous race a go!”
A contest between Kremer, Muir and Greyling at the Otter would undoubtedly be a trail racing highlight of the year as would Lightfoot’s attempt to go sub-four.
“Looking at the course profile you’d be led to think you’d be in for an easy run,” continued Lightfoot. “But it’s far from easy with its tough single track terrain. I didn’t really recall much flat when I ran the Otter In 2013!
“The Otter African Trail Run is a great race, unique in many ways, which is all down to Mark Collins and his impressive team. Mark makes it an experience not just a race.” While the success of the event owes much to the charisma, drive and passion of Collins, he is the first to acknowledge both his immediate family and his wider support team of SA National Parks officials, mountain rescue, NSRI and others who keep the event in best possible order.
Mark and his brother John, two of the best adventure racers South Africa has produced, met their respective wives, Belen and Christine, through the Camel Trophy adventure sport competition, with Belen competing for Spain and Christine for Germany. All four are integral to the success of the Otter African Trail Run.
But while the future of the event appears assured, with a strong partnership having been built between the Collins’ and the SANParks managers, Collins refuses to rest on his laurels and is always looking for ways to improve the event.