CAPE TOWN – South African trail running is bursting at the seams in 2018 with the promise of global glamour and international competition in the form of the Salomon Golden Trail Series finale and the elevated status Ultra-trail Cape Town in October and December respectively.
It has now received a further boost with the news that four pedigree athletes will be released from their “holding stables” and given full rein to take on the best in the world in some of Europe’s best races in coming months.
Kane Reilly, Megan Mackenzie, Thabang Madiba and Christiaan Greyling, all part of the “Salomon stable”, have been given the opportunity of a lifetime by their sponsor to take part in Golden Trail events in Europe, taking on the likes of Kilian Jornet, Marc Lauenstein and Emelie Forsberg in some of the world’s best-known trail races.
While the Ultra-trail Tour focuses on events over 100km, the “Golden Series” targets marathon-distance races - the equivalent of comparing big city road 42km marathons to the 90km Comrades Marathon.
For the four South Africans, competing in the series offers the opportunity to test their abilities against the world’s best and challenge for top ten places which carry with them substantial prestige and financial reward.
While Madiba will be making his series debut in the second event, the Mont Blanc Marathon, in July, Reilly, Greyling and Mackenzie are all in serious training for the series launch – the Zegama Marathon in the Spanish Pyrenees on 27 May.
Branded as the race with the best supporters on the planet, the small town in the Basque Country of Catalonia comes to life each year with the running of their favourite race.
Thousands of villagers turn out on the day in all weather conditions, lining the route along valleys and ridgelines in support of the athletes and in the hope that their local hero, Jornet, will again prevail.
Norwegian athlete, Stian Angermund-Vik, and Spanish star, Maite Mairora, hold the race records in 3 hr 45 min 08 sec and 4:34:27 respectively.
With a total ascent of almost three times the height of Table Mountain, the race provides a serious challenge to athletes and Greyling has been clinical in ensuring his race preparation has been optimal to enable him to thrive in conditions particular to Zegama.
“This will be the first time I’ve raced Zegama,” admitted Greyling. “I have researched the course and terrain, and believe that there will be opportunities to run the up hills on relatively easy terrain but that the descents are more technical.
“I have identified a route in the Jonkershoek area, near our home, which more or less replicates the course characteristics and have been training there quite a bit. I’m learning to run my up-hills with a faster cadence and have also been developing my skills on technical descents.”
Greyling plans to return to Stellenbosch after Zegama and is likely to tackle several of the local races before returning for the Mont Blanc Marathon in July.
Arguably South Africa’s most talented trail athlete over the marathon distance, Reilly is looking forward to realising a dream in the European summer.
The only athlete to have already gained a top five position in one of the series’ events - he placed 5th in the "Mont Blanc" last year – Reilly can’t wait to race at Zegama.
“We used to talk about taking part in races such as Zegama,” Reilly admitted. “But that was only a dream! Now it has become a reality, and I’m so looking forward to this opportunity.”
Unlike Greyling, Reilly has shunned an over-analytical approach to preparation and has deliberately avoided deeper research on the type of route and terrain.
“I think it suits my style and temperament to be more spontaneous in my approach. My preparation has been thorough with regards to the usual disciplines and strength training in particular and I will find out on the day what the course holds!”
Like Greyling, Reilly plans to line up in the Two Oceans Trail 24km race as his final preparation for Zegama and looks forward to a close contest against some of the best in the country, before training to face those rated among the best in the world.