CAPE TOWN – According to ancient wisdom, earth, water, fire and air represent the essential elements of life – the building blocks of all life on the planet.
Next week’s Otter African Trail Run again offers trail athletes an elemental experience – participants will be immersed in a unique wilderness for the duration of the race, cut off from any sign or symbol of human habitation.
Once a year in October, the popular 42km five day hiking trail between Storms River and Nature’s Valley in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park transforms into South Africa’s most prestigious trail race.
Each year the race takes place in alternating directions.
Next week the event will be run east to west, starting at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and finishing at De Vasselot Camp Site, Natures Valley, with the half-submerged water-bridge finish one of the classic features.
While evidence of modern civilisation, such as brick and mortar, paper, glass and plastic, will be absent from the trail, the ancient elements will be there in abundance.
Earth, water and air will be in plentiful supply, while fire, an element of both life and destruction, raged in the Southern Cape fiercely and tragically earlier this year.
“Fortunately the fire was halted at Keurboomstrand, not far from Nature’s Valley,” Otter race director Mark Collins reflected.
“The fire was the result of the drought – we have had the lowest rainfall in 120 years! The trail, though, is still in pristine condition and participants will again have the privilege of spending some hours in paradise.
“I’ve done the trail many times, but each time I go back I find renewed energy and excitement. Recently I was out there on a recce run, and the sea was so full of – whales, dolphins and sharks. It was incredible.”
With exciting international news in the offing for the 2018 race, next Saturday’s event could be the last significant opportunity for a South African to bag a title.
Salomon athlete Kane Reilly has risen to new levels this year and will be looking to translate his runner-up positions in the past two years to victory, becoming just the second South African winner in the past five years.
Two athletes, however, who have their sights set on better than second, will push Reilly every step of the way.
Christiaan Greyling has paid his dues on the Otter Trail, with his best race of five coming last year, when he finished 25 minutes behind winner Marc Lauenstein, but just two minutes behind Reilly in third.
“I’m definitely going there to be top of the podium,” remarked Greyling.
“It’s good to come in the top 10 at Otter and certainly on the podium, but ultimately there is only one position that counts.
The second athlete who could be a significant threat to Reilly is Rory Scheffer, another who has enjoyed an outstanding year, climaxing in a superb victory over Greyling and AJ Calitz at the Whale Trail in August.