CAPE TOWN – Mpumalanga-born and Pretoria-based Johardt van Heerden ran the race of his life to win the Otter African Trail Run in superb style at Nature’s Valley on Saturday.
Although failing by less than four minutes to better legendary Swiss athlete Marc Lauenstein’s course record of 3 hrs 59 min 29 sec for the classic east to west route, Van Heerden became the fastest South African to run the Otter in either direction, racing across the floating jetty spanning the Groot River Lagoon to stop the clocks at 4 hrs 02 min 59 sec.
Cape Town athlete Toni McCann reprised her exceptional run last year, when she placed third in a field of global superstars, this time racing to victory in an outstanding 4:52:51 to better New Zealand athlete, Ruby Muir’s 2013 course record by almost three minutes.
Van Heerden gave it everything to clinch the R20 000 bonus on offer for a sub-4 hour race but found the target just out of reach. “I went for it and thought the record was on after crossing Bloukrans River at 30 km. But this is one of the toughest races and I just could not sustain the pace to the finish.
“I enjoyed running with Kane Reilly in the first half. It is such a privilege to run with Kane. He’s done so much for trail running and is such a good oke - we were chatting to each other quite a bit.
“We got to half way at Oakhurst together, then Kane dropped back a bit on the next climb and I did not see him again.”
The deceptively high humidity, muddy conditions underfoot and steady head wind took their toll on athletes, with many suffering dehydration and other symptoms and failing to finish the gruelling 42 km stretch between Storm’s River and Nature’s Valley.
Robbie Rorich and Bianca Tarboton were high profile casualties, both tipped for podium positions, with Rorich calling it a day at the half way point and Tarboton collapsing less than a kilometre from the finish while running second to McCann.
She was placed on a drip on the route and treated for low blood sugar, before showing immense courage to walk shakily to the finish. Tarboton lost over an hour but still bagged a sixth position to clock 6:13:15.
“I thought I was going to die,” admitted Tarboton, who had never before raced beyond 25km. “I ran short of water at about 30 km, having forgetten to fill up earlier, and was pretty thirsty before I was able to get water at Andre Hut 8km from the finish. But I don’t really remember what happened.”
Cape Town Marathon race ambassador and former track and road elite, Elana van Zyl found the going tough, but celebrated her 53rd birthday by holding on to cross the line in 7:35:46
2017 winner, Christiaan Greyling, chose not to go with the murderous pace up front and was 13 minutes behind Reilly in third at half way, with Mvuyisi Gcogco and Tim Chambers making up the top five. McCann was in sixth place overall, with Tarboton in 8th, three minutes behind.
Six minutes down on Reilly at Bloukrans, Reilly was still moving strongly, but faded dramatically in the last quarter to finish 16 minutes back in 4:19:02. Unlike two years ago when he moved through the field in the latter stages to snatch victory, Greyling also struggled, finishing 12 minutes behind Reilly in 4:27:58, with Gcogco earning his best-ever position in 4th.
Landie Greyling ran consistently running through the half way point about eight minutes behind Tarboton, but moved up to second place in 5:08:52 – three minutes quicker than her winning time in 2014 but 9 minutes outside her best for the classic route.
61 year old Keith Moodie turned in one of the best performances of the day, finishing in 33 position overall to set a 60 years plus masters record of 5:53:30.