This race started as a dream several years ago when I hiked the Otter Trail over the normal 5 days. Our bags were light but we were still slow. Even slower than now. Back then I had just started trail running and contemplated the almost perfect 42km. I had not run a marathon but I knew I would sooner or later. Hmm…
The idea sat in the back of my head. I heard rumours about friends doing it in a day. Then I heard more about the Retto… Then suddenly I was offered a spot on the first official Otter Trail Run. I replied by email. Yes I am in!
A quick call to Dion Middlekoop who was also running and I had a lift organised.
6h up the East Coast we arrived at Race HQ to be greeted by Magnetic South’s friendly staff. We were just in time to do the prologue 3.8 km beach / trail run. This was all so that we could be seeded to set off in batches of 4 at 20 second intervals on the single track 42km time trail Otter Trail Run. The problem with this kind of format is that you have no idea how anybody else is doing. (think Lance Armstrong on the time trial day one of this year’s tour). You just got to put your head down, keep your cadence high and hope you don’t blow…
Both Dion and I started in group 4 less than a minute behind the leaders of Ian ……., John Collins, Nick Bester and Rohan Kennedy. Our friend William van Dugteren was just a little way ahead.
Suddenly we were off and Dion disappeared into the distance. “Keep the beers cold” I shouted. Sue…. set a fast pace. I caught up to William after a few minutes and we passed Ngubu hut at 4.8 km in 31min. William was pushing the hills and I did not want to run quite so hard but found that i was fast enough on the downs for him not to pull away. The air was cool enough despite being fairly humid and legs felt good. I was testing a sample of the new Mountain Hardwear Fluid 18 pack (to be released early next year) with bladder filled with 1,5l of Zym mixture. I had two spare Zyms in my pack for a refuel at halfway. I used Perpetuem in a Nathan bottle and a variety of bars as nutrition. All my clothes and extras were in Sea to Summit dry bags for the river crossings. I will give a better breakdown of my gear choices in the next couple of days.
Nutrition was going well and I was drinking a lot. I had decided to only wear the race bib and no T shirt underneath because I got far too hot on the prologue.
1h06 to Scott hut at another 7,9 km. All was going well despite the many hills. The hills are relentless. They are not very long but when you do go up you are virtually climbing a staircase. The down’s are very runnable. It is 95% single track. The rest is a mix of pebble beach, rocky beach and two interesting river crossings.
1h04 to Oakhurst and the half way feeding station. 2h53 or so: we were on track for a 5h45 or so. I was blown away by the food at the feeding station. (Good thing it was all there as I already had thoughts of rations. I could not believe that I was eating so much- how could I get this wrong? – I never have before) The muffin got smashed back in seconds. The rest went into my pack. At some point I lost touch of William who I thought was in front of me.
Somewhere along the way our shoes got soaked the first time when we crossed the Lottering River but this was only ankle deep. Then on to the mighty Bloukraans after 1h26. We were warned of the hectic swim and Mel gave me open water swimming instructions. I tried my best to brush off any nervousness. Jacque Marais was in the water snapping pics of the swimmers. I was lucky to be able to wade across with the water up to my chest!
Scramble out onto the rocks on the other side and carefully make my way across beaches and rock ledges onto the path. 4km and another 41 min onto Andre hut.
Only 7,6 km to go. If I really pushed it I could possibly go under 6h but then the survival instinct took over and I was blown. I could only manage the bare minimum. Walk all the ups and do my best to jog the flats or downs. Somewhere in this haze I caught Dion. He was more blown than me and could not hang on to my horribly slow pace. 1h19 later I was staring at the finish, running across pallets as they sank into the water across the stream. The cheering and shouting was fantastic but my legs had nothing left. I flopped into the water and swam to the shore. Not exactly a sprint finish but at least I had done it! The timing chip beeped for the last time that day at 6h09. Not exactly the best performance but the best I could manage on the day given that I had raced the week before at Baviaanskloof.
Food and drink was what I needed and loads of it. The service and vibe at the end were quite something else. We sat around and chatted for hours comparing war stories and generally hanging out. Much later was the prize giving and a massive dinner.
Then after breakfast the next morning we headed home while the Southern Stormers went onto day 2!!!
All in all this is one of the most professionally organised events I have done. Everything was well thought out and planned. My hat goes off to the Collins’s and their crew. Not only did they look after us at the start and finish but also had 50 super friendly staff on route. The accommodation was great and they even had an EIA done. My hat goes off to the Magnetic South team their sponsors and National Parks for making this event possible!
Now I just need to find a rich aunt who will sponsor my entry for next year.