South Africa's best known trail running couple, Christiaan and Landie Greyling, look forward to a year of new racing opportunities in 2018, with their sights set on the recently announced Golden Trail Series and its “Grand Finale” climax at the Otter African Trail Run.
The Stellenbosch-based husband and wife team have both won at the Otter.
Given that this year’s event is linked to the new Salomon-inspired global series and set to attract the cream of the world’s trail athletes, the Greylings have placed Otter 2018 on their “mental calendar” in the “not to be missed” category.
The series links five of the world’s most iconic marathon-distance trail races – Zegama in Spain, Sierra Zenal in Switzerland, Marathon du Mont Blanc in France, Pike’s Peak Marathon in the USA and Ring of Steall in Scotland - in a competitive league, with the top ten male and female athletes qualifying to compete in the Grand Finale at the Otter African Trail Run.
The Greylings have strong histories at the Otter and have also competed successfully on the circuit in Europe in recent years.
They both plan to be part of the “Road to the Otter” this year, hoping to qualify for one of the top 10 series’ positions which comes with a bonsella of €5 000, apart from other perks.
Christiaan is the reigning Otter champion, having beaten race favourite, Kane Reilly, last October with a powerful surge in the final quarter.
His time for the 42km switch-back route between Storms River and Natures Valley was an impressive 4:13:15, but he knows there will be little chance that that time will win in 2018.
“Coming across the bridge at the end of the Otter Trail in first place last October was the biggest moment in my trail racing career,” admitted Christiaan.
“It was six years in the making, which made it even more rewarding. Each year I aimed to improve my time in the Otter. I had set a specific goal and a plan, and it finally all came together last year.
“You get to the point where you know what you’ve done in the past is no longer good enough. You just want to improve. So my goal for 2018 is to get a top ten position in the series and then compete well at the Otter against the world’s best.
“I made a decision to quit my job mid-year last year and to see where being a full time athlete could take me. That made a huge difference and I’m keen to give it another go in 2018.
"Landie and I have built up a coaching business and we have also been involved in leading workshops on trail running.
“Then we have an exciting project in March, where Landie and I plan to run the length of Lesotho from south to north in ten days. Hopefully the 'Lesotho Crossing' will give me a strong aerobic base which I can exploit at the start of the European season in May.”
Landie won the Otter in 2014, but injury and international racing schedules conspired to prevent her racing the great Southern Cape race subsequently.
“I will definitely be aiming to race it this year,” she emphasised. “It has always been the top South African race to do. Now with the international field this year, it will be massive.
“You have to train specifically for the Otter. It is unlike any other, because the course always breaks your rhythm.
“A guy like Kilian (Jornet) is so good on any course and he will be hard to beat, while in the women’s race a good technical athlete, like (Sweden’s) Emelie Forsberg, will likely finish ahead of the out and out faster racers like Megan Kimmel (USA) and Laura Orgue (Spain).”
After a successful season in Europe, illness and injury have slowed Landie’s return to full training.
While enjoying a festive season holiday with family and friends, she is eager to return to the trails in preparation for a competitive year and hopefully full participation in the Golden Trail Series.
“I raced Zegama in 2014, when I was pleased to get a top-10 position,” Landie reflected.
“It’s an amazing race - by far the best supported event of any I’ve ever done and I always hoped to return to improve on my performance. The Catalan villagers turn out in tens of thousands on the mountains to watch the trail athletes ace.
“Our aim is to be in Spain in May to start the series on a strong note, but I must first get over my foot injury before I can make any definite plans for the year. It’s going to be an exciting year for South African trail racing!”