The Garden Route National Park was the arena of possibly one of the most extraordinary athletic achievements in South African sporting history when Swiss Trail Runner Marc Lauenstein became the first person to run the Otter African Trail Run presented by Salomon and GU in under four hours.
It took Lauenstein exactly 3hrs 59min 29sec to tramp across tree routes, bound across giant boulders, swim a surging river, speed along stone-strewn beaches, tip-toe across a balance bar, and claim his cheque for R100 000 – the biggest trail running payout ever in South Africa. During the prize giving ceremony, Lauenstein announced that he would be donating half of his winnings to two separate causes which were close to his heart. R25 000 will go to the Nature’s Valley trust for their work conserving this precious coastline, and the other R25 000 towards disadvantaged youth with the aim to develop endurance sports.
Lauenstein’s run over the Tsitsikamma Sections five day hiking trail stunned the South African Trail running community with most pundits believing the feat to be on the edge of the humanly possible. Veteran sports Journalist Jeff Ayliffe compared witnessing the Swiss Mountain Man’s performance to some of the greatest moments of his sporting journalistic career.
Race Organiser Mark Collins said that there were no more than a handful of people in the world even capable of running the Otter in sub four hours and added; “being capable of doing it and going out and doing it are two different things.” “To do this you need to have the running engine of an Olympic marathon runner combined with the dexterity of a professional dancer.” Collins believes that Lauenstein’s world class career in the sport of Orienteering where he twice achieved the silver medal in consecutive World Championships gave him the physical skills and mental tools needed to be able to attack the Otters unbreakable barrier.
Lauenstein described the Otter Run as the “hardest marathon distance course” he has ever run and has strong words of praise for the two South African Runners who challenged him up until the halfway mark. “These are two big talents of the future.” Kane Reilly announced his return from illness to top level trail running with his first 2nd place on the Otter edging out his great friend and rival Thabang Madiba who claimed his 3rd Otter Podium placing.
Reilly was only two minutes off the pace at the Oakhurst halfway station and almost ten minutes clear of Madiba, but was unable to sustain his speed in the second half, dropping further behind Lauenstein with every stride. Drawing on his last reserves through the Bloukrans River and the final stages, he held on to clinch second in 4:33:15 – 5 minutes clear of Madiba.
Whilst New Zealander Ruby Muirs sub five hour record set in 2013 in the Woman’s race remained intact, veteran Emma Roca from Spain ran a remarkable race in the stiflingly hot conditions to record the third fastest woman’s time ever at 5:07:09. Roca, who many consider to be the matriarch of a dynasty of top Catalan Mountain runners, was chased all the way by South Africans Nicolette Griffioen and Megan Mackenzie with all three women crossing the line in the top ten runners overall making a strong statement as to the relative strength of woman’s trail running.
Mark Collins said that as organisers of the Otter African Trail Run they are humbled to have an event that attracts the best athletes on the planet however the real heroes of the Otter will always remain the conservationists who set this stretch of coastline aside for protection and continue to defend it against a world that undervalues its remaining wildernesses. As such he feels it appropriate that the events trophy, now one of the most coveted trophies in world trail running is always handed over by guardians of the trail – the men and woman of South African National Parks.
Men: 1 Marc Lauenstein 3:59:29 (record); 2 Kane Reilly 4:33:15; 3 Thabang Madiba 4:38:39; 4 Lucky Miya 4:49:11; 5 Ben Brimble 4:54:49; 6 Julian Atkinson 4:59:48; 7 Melikhaya Msizi 5:23:02; 8 Pieter Henning 5:26:58; 9 Ryan Eichstadt 5:37:41; 10 Jason Lammers 5:39:42
Veterans: 1 Deon Braun 5:52:38; 2 Nico Schoeman 6:04:44; Costa Dimopoulos 6:08:42
Masters: 1 Paul van Niekerk 6:43:49; 2 Riaan Nieuwoudt 6:56:26; 3 Keith Moodie 6:58:19
Women: 1 Emma Roca 5:07:37; 2 Nicolette Griffioen 5:14:30; 3 Megan Mackenzie 5:23:36; 4 Ronel Nattrass 6:12:43; 5 Taryn King 6:31:38; 6 Mitsie van der Westhuizen 6:32:34; 7 Michelle Ronne 6:37:39; 8 Georgina Ayre 6:45:51; 9 Natasja Kask 6:45:57; 10 Melanie Banyard 6:47:26
Veterans: 1 Roca (record) ; 2 Van der Westhuizen; 3 Kask