CAPE TOWN - Otter African Trail champion, Stellenbosch trail athlete Christiaan Greyling, faces three significant challenges in the coming weeks, including fatherhood, defending his Otter Trail title against a galaxy of world stars and a high-altitude stage race in the Himalayas leading up to his attempt to regain his 2016 title at the Ultra-trail Cape Town in December.
At last month’s Whale of Trail, Greyling placed third behind Kane Reilly (whom he had beaten at last year’s Otter) and defends his Otter title in October against the best trail athletes on the planet, including the likes of Kilian Jornet and Marc Lauenstein, just weeks after the scheduled birth of his first child.
But the thought of Greyling tackling the high-altitude Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, described as ‘the most scenic race in the world’, just 10 days after the Otter, captures the imagination as another South African epic challenge. The race will provide a significant test of the South African’s ability and endurance.
Aga Khan, ruler of much of India in the early 1900s, had heard great tales of a unique place, high in the mountains bordering present-day Nepal. He had heard this place offered breathtaking views of “the Four Giants” - four of the five highest mountains in the world, namely Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu - and he wished to travel there.
The Khan never made it, but ninety years later, in 1991, the first Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, retracing Aga Khan’s trail, attracted just 13 adventurers. The event has now grown into a premier mountain race of the world.
Greyling’s challenge follows Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel setting the fastest known time for the full Himalayan Traverse across the full width of Nepal earlier in the year. The Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race has attracted runners from all corners of the planet in recent years and has become a bucket-list item for global trail runners and adventurers.
Breath-taking in scenic beauty, the race will also challenge the lungs of unprepared runners, with the race trail winding through sprawling valleys, villages, pristine forests and natural water courses between altitudes of 2000m and 4000m - well beyond the highest peaks in Southern Africa.
The race takes place in an ecotourism hotspot of natural riches, with the trail passing through rhododendron forests which boasts more than four thousand types of flowering plants and three hundred varieties of rare ferns, with yaks, wild ponies, and the Red Panda seen at higher elevations.
“I have known about the race for some years and it is one I would really like to take on,” Greyling commented. “Five days trail racing at high altitude would be perfect training for Ultra-trail Cape Town.”
Last year’s race attracted competitors from five continents, with British athlete, Paul Freary winning the event in 17 hours 35 min - a target for Greyling to eclipse. American athlete, Catherine Blaine, won the women’s contest in 20 hrs 15 min. Fifteen-year-old Brett Baker from UK was the youngest in the field, while his 77-year-old fellow countryman, Rex Whittle, bookmarked the age range at the opposite end.