Landie Greyling (left) and Nicolette Griffioen lead the 2017 Whale of Trail. Greyling will be looking to turn the tables on her Gauteng rival next Saturday. Photo: Stephen Granger

CAPE TOWN – All trails lead to Hout Bay next Saturday (30 March), as the country’s leading trail athletes head south for the Hout Bay Trail Challenge, which this year doubles as the South African Trail Running Championships.

The stakes are high, with places up for grabs to represent South Africa at the IAU ITRA World Trail Running Championships, which will take place in Mirandha do Corvo in Portugal on 8 June. 

With the world’s trail running authorities opting to alternate championship years between marathon and ultra-marathon distance, this year’s event will take place over the former, with the 44km course including 2100m of vertical ascent, making the technically challenging marathon-distance Hout Bay race perfect preparation for the potential Proteas.

Cape Town’s Kane Reilly has ruled the roost around the Hout Bay mountain amphitheatre in recent years, becoming the first athlete to better the 4-hour barrier, his 3 hour 54 minute Hout Bay Trail Challenge victory last year improving by 5 minutes his winning time in 2017.

And Reilly will be hot favourite to make it three in a row ahead of the best in the country on a course perfectly suited to his talents, and given his local knowledge of the course, his past success in the race and a relaxed, injury-free build up to the race, it would take an exceptional performance from one of his challengers or a disaster from Reilly to prevent a hat-trick from the local athlete.

“I’m looking forward to the race – my first real competitive outing of the season,” said Reilly yesterday. “I enjoyed a block of road running at the start of the year, including a couple of races, but now have switched back to trail ahead of SA’s. 

“I guess it’s a bit different from the past two years, when the Hout Bay Trail Challenge has been in July / August and I’ve returned to South Africa to race it after intense competition in Europe.  The competitive element then was not really a factor and I could simply run my own race.

Now it is different, with most of the top guys in the field next Saturday, but I’m planning to race much the same as before without focussing too much on the others.  I’m just making sure I get enough rest leading up to the race and will go out as I feel on the day.”

Landie Greyling in action on the course. Photo: Stephen Granger
Landie Greyling in action on the course. Photo: Stephen Granger

Good news is that former SA Trail and Ultra-trail champion, Gauteng’s Thabang Madiba, appears to have regained his mojo after a solid injury-free training block and will be out to match his friend and rival, Reilly, for as much of the race as possible, with the likes of former champion, Johardt van Heerden, Takalani Ndandani, Rory Scheffer, Mvuyisi Gcogco and Timothy Chambers all likely to add intensity for podium positions and air tickets to Portugal in June.

But two athletes marked “pending” on the entry sheet, have the ability to take line honours if everything goes to plan – former winner AJ Calitz and leading road athlete, Siviwe Nkombi.  

Calitz’ ability to run the toughest mountain trail is not in question, but his current form is unknown. Nkombi’s road times of 30:04 for 10km and 2 hr 22 min for the marathon would make him the fastest in the field, but although the “roadie” has had some success in shorter-distance trail races, he is untested on a challenging marathon-distance course such as the Hout Bay Trail Challenge.

Another athlete reportedly back to her best form is Landie Greyling and the Stellenbosch athlete’s battle up front with leading Gauteng athlete, Nicolette Griffioen, for line honours in the women’s competition could be a highlight of the event, which starts and finishes at the Hout Bay Yacht Club.

Stephen Granger