SA’s three leading athletes for Saturday’s UTCT 100 km on the podium at this years Otter African Trail Run - fltr Christiaan Greyling ( third) , Johardt van Heerden ( winner) and Kane Reilly ( second). Photo: Stephen Granger

Two of South Africa’s leading trail athletes are set to do battle with some of the best on the planet in Saturday’s Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100 km race in what marks the start of a new chapter in their athletics’ careers.

Johardt van Heerden and Kane Reilly have dominated marathon and sub-marathon trail racing in South African in 2019, but neither has raced further than 53km – the distance of the Whale of Trail, run in the De Hoop Nature Reserve each year in August.

Both athletes have been unable to resist the temptation to tackle the country’s highest profile international trail race and will lock horns with the best ultra-trail athletes on the planet in Saturday’s testing challenge over and around Table Mountain.

“Yes, it will be almost twice the distance I’ve run before,” admitted Van Heerden. “And I don’t really know what to expect.  But that’s the fun of the adventure of trail running - it’s a chance to try out something different against some legends of the sport.

”Obviously I will not be able to go out at my usual speed over the longer distance, but I don’t think it would work going out too slowly and out of my normal comfortable pace. I don’t know much about tactics racing ultra-distances so will have to wait and see what happens on the day.  It’s great that Kane will also be making his ultra-debut – we will be in this new game together.

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”But I don’t see myself turning to ultra-distance racing yet, beyond Saturday.  I still want to test myself against the world’s best in Europe over marathon distances – hopefully running the Golden Trail Series next year.

”A bonus is that my parents will be coming down from Mpumalanga to watch me run – they don’t often get a chance to do that, so the extra support will be very welcome!”

Johardt van Heerden wins the 2019 Otter African Trail Run. Photo: Stephen Granger

Reilly has the advantage of knowing the route as well as anyone in the race, and better than most. He has been outstanding in many shorter distance races over much of the course, most recently his record-breaking effort at this year’s 44km Table Mountain Challenge.  Another advantage is that he has run close to 100 km in running much of the 13 Peaks Challenge with Ryan Sandes earlier in the year.

”Yeah, I think it will be useful that I’ve actually covered the distance previously,” admitted Reilly. “I’ve had a solid October of racing (which included a second place to Van Heerden in the 42km Otter African Trail Run) and have just been spending an easy time on my legs since early November.

”I’m not sure I’ll go out with the leaders. I’ve an idea of how I’d like to feel at different points in the race and would like to stick to that as a plan. Nutrition will be a huge factor – I’ve been enjoying running on solid foods and plan to eat lots during the race.  If I feel I’m moving too fast to eat well, I’m going to taper off a little.”

Reilly sees French athlete Francois D’Haene as the clear race favourite, but also rates Van Heerden’s chances. “Francois is very good at winning races. He seems to always run well and is very calculated about his running.

I think Johardt is going to be great. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up on the podium.”

@StephenGranger3