CAPE TOWN – Stellenbosch adventure race and trail athlete, Robyn Owen, shocked the trail and mountain running world with a superb performance at one of the leading extreme mountain races in the world in Italy over the weekend.
Owen came from nowhere to place second in the Kima Trophy Skyrun, less than two minutes behind American Hillary Gerardi, in 7:39:01, just over two minutes outside the long-standing course record, an astonishing performance in her first attempt at an international Skyrun. Kima is regarded as one of Europe’s most extreme events. It traverses seven mountain passes, each over 2500m, and takes the field of just 300 top mountain runners through ravines, over crags, rocks, exposed ledges and fixed rope pitches.
The South African was scarcely in the top 20 in the early more runable stages, but came into her own over the technical stretches high in the Italian Alps and she took the lead after 38km before being overhauled by Gerardi in the final flat three kilometre run to the finish.
“At the top of the first pass I was with (Nepalese athlete) Mira Rai in about seventh and eight positions,” recalled Owen. “We were told we were 12 minutes behind the lead and six minutes behind third.
Podio femenino del #TrofeoKima, con Hillary Gerardi de EEUU como ganadora, Robyn Owen 2ª (Sudafrica), Mira Rai 3ª (Nepal), Brittany Patterson 4ª (EEUU) y Martina Valmassoi 5ª (Italia) pic.twitter.com/UXxm0c1D2z
“From there on I gradually made up positions and at halfway I moved into second, and was about two minutes behind Hillary. Whenever I looked back on a climb I could still see about four ladies close behind. It was a very new experience for me to run a race in such a densely competitive field!
“On the descent after the final pass I caught up to Hillary. We took turns laughing at and passing each other as we alternately slipped in cow pats or went head over heels when caught by an invisible hole in the muddy grass!
“From about halfway down the hill I lifted my brakes off completely and ran the steep loose trails through the forest as fast as I could. By the bottom I had a bit of a gap and I kept pushing with everything I had left for the final five or six kilometres which are on a road.
“What I had left was just not quite enough to hold off Hillary, who fought back and passed me again with just over two kilometres to go.”
The best trail athletes in the world will now be wary of Owen in this year’s Otter African Trail Challenge in October - the Grand Finale to the Golden Trail Series.