Battle of Bloukrans
Written by Lisa de Speville
Photos: Jacques Marais
In four years The Otter Africa Trail Run has become a standard ‘bucket list’ item for SA runners. With the start list looking like a South African trail running ‘hall of fame’ register, K-Way runner Andre Calitz was in world-class company as he took on ˜The Otter’ for the first time. Running against other exceptional athletes, including past winners and foreign visitors such as James McMullan (UK) and Sebastian Chaigneau (France), Calitz finished in 4hrs 29min, placing 2nd and breaking the previous course record by more than 10 minutes.
This marathon-distance trail run traverses the Otter Hiking Trail, a popular five-day hike within the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Where the traditional route runs from Storms River Mouth at Tsitsikamma and finishes 42-kilometres later in Nature’s Valley. This year, for the first time, competitors ran ‘up’, following the course in the reverse direction. The race has been dubbed, The RETTO.
The route’s key spots include the challenging Bloukrans River crossing, as well as a series of steep ascents from the halfway mark, especially between Scott Hut and Ngubu Hut.
The Bloukrans River crossing is either a wade or a swim depending on the tide. Front runners reached this point just more than an hour after the start, catching the water at a relatively easy level. This still had them committing to a 30-metre swim, with Calitz braving the icy swell in the company of several other front runners, including previous winner Ian-Don Wauchope, Greg Goodall and Michael Bailey.
The course includes a dozen-odd climbs that are considered ‘significant’
because they ascend more than 50-vertical meters over short distances. Three of these exceed 100 meters of elevation gain, being steep enough to force even some of the strongest runners to walk.
Magnetic South Race Director Mark Collins warned runners at the briefing:
“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”.
Front runners do not have the luxury of going easier or harder as they’re constantly challenged by those behind them, or chasing to catch those ahead.
With 21-kilometres to go -at the Lottering River crossing – Calitz was leading by a small margin, but looked strong and confident. From here, he was banking on his mountain running skills, powering up steep climbs and flying down descents to maintain his chance of a podium finish.
Once past Ngubu Hut, with less than five-kilometres to the finish, there are less steep ascents; but the trail surface becomes very technical with rocks on the well-worn path that could trip up even the most agile runner if their concentration lapses. It was during this latter segment of the race that Iain-Don Wauchope’s knowledge of the route kicked in, and he managed to sprint away from Calitz in a supreme show of force.
“I’ve trained like a demon for The Otter,” said Calitz after the race as he chatted to the media at the finish line. “Maybe I’ve over-cooked it, even, but on a technical route like The Otter you have to take the occasional gamble and go out hard. This time it did not completely pay off, but I think with my knowledge of the route, I will certainly come back stronger next year.”
Calitz will now put his feet up for a couple of weeks before resuming training in preparation for his final few events during 2012. Both he and the South African contingent will take pride in a TOP 7 finish, with the first international athlete, Sebastian Chaigneau, finishing in 8th place.
Legendary US trail runner Krissy Moehl prevailed in the Ladies’ Race, with Jacqueline Haasbroek in 2nd and Landie Visser Greyling in 3rd position.
Results from The Race (competitive event)
Old Course record: 4:40:15 by Ryan Sandes (2011)
- Iain-Don Wauchope – 4hrs 23min 24sec
- Andre Joubert Calitz – 4hrs 29min 19min
- Greg Goodall – 4hrs 42min 18sec
Course record: 5:17:12 by Jeannie Bomford (2010)
- Krissy Moehl – 5hrs 24min 59sec
- Jacoline Haasbroek – 5hrs 27min 14sec
- Landie Visser Greyling – 5hrs 32min 31sec