CAPE TOWN – The most anticipated event in trail running transformed from pub-talk into reality with the series opener at the Zegama Aizkorri trail marathon last weekend.
Athletes now look to Mont Blanc and the French alpine centre of Chamonix, as the Salomon Golden Trail Series moves up a gear with the running of the Mont Blanc Marathon in four weeks.
Last Sunday’s marathon, deep in the Basque Country, proved a success in every possible way with the quality of racing and depth of talent unprecedented.
And the take-home message to athletes who might still harbour hopes of making the top ten in the series’ rankings is “up your game or forget about the prize money, the profile and a trip to the Otter Trail Race in October”.
Only the top 10 men and women at the end of the fifth race of the series in Scotland in September will qualify for significant prize money, support for their chosen charity and the trip to the Otter Trail, which has many top international athletes focused on staying in or breaking into top ten series positions.
Cape Town’s Kane Reilly is widely acknowledged as the country’s most talented athlete over the marathon distance, but he acknowledged he failed to perform to his ability at Zegama, after being in contention with the leaders in the early stages of the race.
“I really enjoyed the race and the experience, but realise if I want to succeed at this level, it’s time to put on big boy shorts and step up a level,” Reilly admitted.
“But last year’s Mont Blanc gives me confidence for sure!”
Reilly placed fifth last year in a strong field and believes the time he has spent training in the French Valley will stand him in good stead.
“I have spent an accumulative seven weeks there over the last couple of years and always feel a little like going back to a second home when I get there.”
With the athlete’s three best races to count for points, Reilly’s Zegama performance can be negated, but he will need to be at his best for the remainder of the series to succeed.
As will fellow Cape Town athlete, Meg Mackenzie, who had an impressive race at Zegama, finisihing 14th to bag 44 valuable points behind Swede Ida Nilsson’s 100 for top position.
“It was definitely the toughest but most incredible race of my running career so far,” Mackenzie said. “The crowds and support were unbelievable.
"The mud proved to be difficult for me, but given the conditions and the competition I’m incredibly happy with my position.
“Looking ahead to Mont Blanc, I’m going to really give it everything. I’ve done well there before and I can’t wait to try for another Mont Blanc top-10 position.”
Former African trail champion, Thabang Madiba, starts his Golden Series campaign at Mont Blanc and will be keen to get off to a perfect start.
“I am delighted do a high profile race against world-class athletes,” the former Two Oceans trail winner said.
“Having had time to prepare will help me. I really need to be 110% prepared so I can be able to tackle the unexpected. I hope that I might get a chance to do four Golden Trail Series races.”