It is no wonder the OTTER African Trail Run has been dubbed ‘The Grail of Trail” by local organisers Magnetic South. This magnificent coastal run traverses the beaches and sea cliffs of the Eden District from Storms River Mouth to the laid-back village of Nature’s Valley, and there is no doubt it will soon rate as one of the most desirable trail runs on Planet Earth.
Two runnings of the OTTER Route are sanctioned by SA National Parks, who open the trail to runners only one weekend every year, and under the most stringent of environmental considerations. “We understand this exhilarating race showcases the natural splendour of one of South Africa’s favourite national parks”, SANparks management said in a statement after signing an historic agreement with event organisers Magnetic South.
The concept of the OTTER African Trail Run was the collective brainchild of brothers John and Mark Collins, key partners in the successful event organising company, Magnetic South. Together with presenting sponsors HI-TEC and GU Energy Gel, they set their sights on the impossible dream of ‘a 42km trail marathon along an unspoilt wilderness coastline’.
Numbers obviously need to be limited, so only 200 athletes are allowed to do both the Race (Friday) and the Ramble (Sunday). It is also most certainly not within everyone’s physical ability to do the Otter Hiking Trail in a single day, but last year Doctor Andre Gie proved a point by setting a blistering time of 4hrs 47min.
The magical 5hr barrier was first broken by KZN runner Iain Don-Wauchope, who set a time of 4hrs 59min. Sedgefield local John Collins followed suit during the second running in 2010, but Gie made sure his glory was rather short-lived. This year, a total of 400 eager endurance runners were given the opportunity to take on both Collins and Gie, and rumour had it that they were gunning for the 4hrs 30min mark …
This year the race, again sponsored by global outdoor footwear and apparel manufacturer HI-TEC as well as GU Energy Gel, saw a star-studded field assembled at Storms River Mouth, including SA’s trail running star, Ryan Sandes. Fresh from his victory at the prestigious Leadville 100 mile Ultra Marathon in the USA, he would for the first time contend with a full-strength trail running field from all over the country.
Perfect weather saw the runners set off along the Otter singletrack just after sunrise, with the front bunch consisting of big guns Sandes, Andre Gie, William Robinson, Bruce Arnett, Greg Goodall, John Collins and development athlete Victor Gugushe, from Plettenberg Bay. No quarter was given as they blasted along the forested coastline, with Sandes and Arnett moving into a 2min lead by the halfway mark at the Lottering River crossing.
From here, the hard graft really starts to kick in, with 3 major climbs and the treacherous Bloukrans River crossing lying in wait. At Bloukrans Sandes had extended his lead over the chasing Arnett to six minutes with the classy field behind these two strung out along the coastal paths.
In the end, Sandes’ superb class was just too good for the rest of the field. He steamed in across the floating bridge finishing in an incredible time of 4hrs 40min, decimating the current record by more than 7min. “In the last 9 kilometres I was feeling it, but what a stunning route and a privilege to run here. Swimming across Bloukrans River was definitely a first for me in a trail race!” said an elated Sandes at the finish. A strong ladies’ field saw Su Don-Wauchope triumph over a tenacious Robyn Ferrar, with Landie Visser claiming a well-deserved third place.
All sub-five hours competitors have their names engraved on the ‘Otter Grail’, a trophy especially designed for the event, but this amazing race is also about the brave endurance athletes further down the field. In the end, ‘The Otter’ constitutes a single day brimming with incredible adventure and memories which will last a lifetime.
“This race never ceases to amaze and humble me”, said Race Director Mark Collins. “Once again, we saw an impeccable display of athleticism and running, especially from those who battled home in a gruelling twelve hours”, he continued. Superb organisation by Magnetic South and their professional crew saw the event unfold flawlessly and without mishap.
“In this our 3rd year of sponsoring the Otter, the race has matured into the most iconic trail race in South Africa attracting the crème de la crème of trail runners, as well as being a ‘must do’ on any runners bucket list.”, said Ian Little, Marketing Marketing of outdoor apparel manufacturers HI-TEC. “Our close relationship with South African National Parks ensures it is a race close to our hearts and that of our customers, who are active outdoor people.”
According to event organiser Mark Collins, the key ethos around the OTTER African Trail Run focuses on environmental preservation. “The only way we can make this event 100% sustainable for competitors, landowners and the outdoor tribe is to be untouchable when it comes to how we treat the environment.
Co-sponsors of the OTTER – African Trail Run include kulula.com, Buff, Protea Hotels and Trail Magazine.
1. Ryan Sandes 4.40.15
2. Bruce Arnett 4.51.51
3. Victor Gugushe 4.53.57
1. Su Don-Wauchope 5.39.42
2. Robyn Ferrar 5.44.52
3. Landie Visser 5.47.00