The Otter Trail

By Brian

So, it was finally time for the Otter African Trail Run! This was Retto year, with the race starting at Natures Valley and ending at Stormsriver mouth (opposite to the classic hiking direction). Race HQ was at Stormsriver, so the prologue was around there. The prologue route was on a nice technical little 4.9km route on a hiking trail. I was hoping to get into the top 24 group (Abangeni) who are the first starting batch for the main race. Really pushed hard (maybe a little too hard in fact!), and managed 11th place in a time of 21:52 and safely in the Abangeni (the challengers) for the main race.

Race day dawned with perfect running conditions; slightly overcast, cool and a westerly tail wind! I stayed in Natures Valley, so had a good hour longer sleep and walked a few hundred meters to the start line. It was an incredible experience just getting to the start line and being in the same starting batch as so many top trail runners!

Soon we were off along the Natures Valley beach, and a lead group of 8 broke away, with a second group of about 6 guys, and then I was just behind them. I kept telling myself don’t push too early, so settled into a comfortable pace. I had no goal for any top position, but I had set myself the target of running a sub-5 hour, although I also knew this would take a massive effort, and felt anything under 5:30 would be reasonable for a first time Otter.

start pic

I was rather despondent at Andre Hut Parking checkpoint, as I was already 7 minutes down on the 5-hour pace schedule… Anyway, I kept my head down and missioned along towards Bloukrans getting there spot on pace in 1:12. This revved me up again and I headed out towards the half-way munchie point. The “infamous” Bloukrans river crossing was little more than a ankle deep wade this year! I was slowly being caught by Robyn and Stevie (the 2 top ladies), so my pace was high to try and keep ahead of them. I arrived at the half-way munchie point only 2 minutes down on the 5-hour pace, in 2:26. Robyn and Stevie hardly stopped, and got away just ahead of me. I followed them up the hill out of the Lottering river valley, but then they just put the hammer down! I tried to hang on for a while, but I knew my legs wouldn’t hold that pace (especially on the downhills!) for too long.

brain smiling

I was feeling good on the uphill’s and flats, but my downhill running skills (especially over all the log steps) left much to be desired… this is where I think I lost much of my time out on the trail! Taking in the awesome scenery of the Tsitsikamma Coast line along the way, I kept picking off runners ahead of me from time to time. Arriving at Scott hut, I filled up with water again, but was now 13 minutes down on the 5 hour pace, passing Scott in 3:26. The next section between Scott and Ngubu huts was pretty tough, with many undulations and direction changes, which was starting to hurt, and my knees were feeling the downhills!

About 1km before Ngubu I suddenly felt really good and picked the pace up again. I passed Ngubu in 4:43, and obviously knew then that sub-5 was way out of reach. The last split for a 5-hour pace from Ngubu to the finish is 38 minutes, so my last little internal personal battle was to just beat that split, which I managed by only 1 minute! I passed another 2 guys on the final stretch, and was loving the technical rock hoping that is so talked about at the end of the Retto route! I am glad I had enough in the tank to really enjoy this last section, but that probably means I could have (should have!) pushed harder on the first half.


In the end, absolutely stoked to have had an incident free race, crossing the line in 5 hours 20 minutes 46 seconds, 8th male and 12th overall for my first Otter. Not quite the sub-5 hour I was hoping for, but not disappointed at all, sub-5 was pretty ambitious for my first run and on rather limited training mileage in the past few months…. Overall, the uphill’s and flats felt good, but I lost time on the downhills. Running down stairs is something I should work on, and is most certainly more technique than fitness! J

The Magnetic South crew puts on a superb race, and must be a bucket list for any trail runner! My mind is completely blown by Marc Lauenstein’s sub-4 hour run, and how incredibly fast Robyn, Stevie and Nicolette were running over the terrain. A privilege to watch them in action for sure! An incredible race and huge congratulations to all the runners to took part.

Once again a massive thanks to Keyhealth Medical Scheme and Nevarest Team for the continued support!

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