The spectacular Otter African Trail Run in October has been chosen as the Grand Finale of next year’s Golden Trail Series. Photo: Jacques Marais

The trail running world is still buzzing as the news spreads of the recently-launched Salomon Golden Trail Series which will bring to South Africa the world’s finest trail athletes.

The series combines five of the world’s most prestigious marathon-distance trail races into a highly competitive world tour. Apart from the prestige of winning the league, the series offers substantial prize money and an added incentive for the top ten men and women of a trip of a lifetime to the grand finale in South Africa.

The 42km Otter African Trail Run, which takes place in October in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, has been chosen as the destination for the league’s climax in 2018.

Several world-class athletes who have raced “The Otter” spoke this week of their excitement of returning to one of their favourite races and taking on the best in the world.

“The trail series is a great concept,” reflected British fire-fighter Ricky Lightfoot, who won the 2013 Otter title three months after winning the world long-distance championship in Wales. “People want to see all the top runners racing together. If the Golden Series achieves this, then that’s great.

“I’ve had a long-term injury since 2013. It deteriorated through stubbornness towards the back end of 2016 which then warranted an operation. So this year I’ve done nothing in racing terms, but I’m getting there now.

“Whether I can be competitive in the series is another thing. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, never mind next October! But of course, I’d love to come back to the Otter. It’s a brilliant race and there will be the best of the best competing next year.”

Twice Otter champion and record-holder, Swiss dentist Marc Lauenstein, can’t wait to return. “To be honest, I missed not coming this year. Both previous years were a great adventure. The course is remarkable and the organisation is top notch. And both are interestingly different from the races in Europe.

“The choice of The Otter for the final of the Golden series was fantastic news for me. This will be a good excuse to return, enjoy the scenery and meet up again with the Otter people! The race is absolutely worthy of a final of the most interesting marathon trail races world-wide. It will be super exciting to have the best athletes fighting it out on this demanding and beautiful course.

“For my preparation for the series, I will try to build a solid foundation during this winter and do my best at every race, without emphasising one over the others. Sometimes you get better days than others, but hopefully over all the races I will get a few good ones!”

Two leading women athletes who have excelled at the Otter in past years hope to return to the Southern Cape race next year. New Zealand’s Ruby Muir beat Landie Greyling in a close contest in record time 2013, and has returned to significant training following an injury-enforced lay-off.

“The series is exciting as a way to bring elite athlete to race the Otter,” Muir said. “I think a series of races of this distance is a great concept as athletes can be in top form and race each other multiple times in a year.

“I am keen to compete in international level races next year against the current big names, but currently I don’t have sponsorship or funds to travel to multiple races so it may be difficult.”

Top American, Stevie Kremer, hopes to be there in 2018. The Colorado-based athlete has unfinished business at the Otter after a thrilling contest in 2016 when she finished a close second to a record-breaking Robyn Owen. “It sure does look like an amazing schedule of events!” Kremer commented.

“I think the Otter Race is an excellent final race, not only for his diverse, changing terrain and technical rock jumping, but the views cannot be compared to any other race. Between the course and the scenery, it sure is a great way to end an incredible series of races!”

Cape Town trail athlete, Kane Reilly, is one of the few locals with a realistic chance of a podium finish at the 2018 Otter. Part of the international Salomon team, he has twice placed second to Lauenstein in the Otter and can’t wait to be a part of the series.

“The series is a great concept! Even in the trail running world, where people often fight attempts to formalise anything, the hype around the series is building fast. The events are iconic and it’s a perfect selection of races. So many top athletes and the international media focusing on a few classic events should create something pretty special... The Otter is the perfect finale race - what a race it will be!

“I think South African athletes have come a long way over the past couple seasons and the potential for some competing for top ten positions in the league could be super exciting.

“I still have a few things to figure out for my racing schedule in 2018, but it looks as though I might be able to compete in the league. Personally I’m psyched at the prospect of getting over to Europe to throw down at those iconic races!”

Weekend Argus

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