After my successful début at the Otter African Trail Run 2010, I was back in 2011 for a sub-6 medal (my 2010 time being 06:05:12).
We arrived in Nature’s Valley with plenty of time to spare, and settled into our amazing Forest Hut at De Vasselot Rest Camp with the cabin’s balcony front stilts standing in the river! Last year I opted to sleep in one of the small tents, and even though the person I was supposed to share it with did not arrive, it was not really a comfortable experience, so I was grateful for the comfort of the small cabin. A good night’s rest is invaluable when you have a big day ahead!
It’s definitely worth arriving early to find your bearings and settle in to the race village as well as register before heading down to the beach to run the Prologue. It’s great to hang out with the other runners and soak up the vibe.
I had a nice fast Prologue clocking an official time of 00:19:29 in 23rd place. The route was the same as last year, leaving the Nature’s Valley beach, heading up the large hill, along the ridge, and down into the Salt River estuary before heading back via the rocks and then back along the beach. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend this short trail for a relaxed stroll (known as the Salt River Trail).
To ensure that the race was a race, and not a time-trial where the winner was not necessarily the first to cross the line, the organisers changed the seeding rules this year, and introduced the Ebangeni concept. I missed the Ebangeni group, and made it into the first starting group of four following them.
Different weather levels were defined, each with their own kit requirements. The weather level was then declared at race briefing.
All competitors were then required to complete a comprehensive gear check. This involved placing the required equipment on a clever stencil which was then photographed for the record. I think this is commendable and am in full support of such initiatives as they ensure that everyone carries the same weight, and benefits from the same level of safety should they be involved in an accident (more in this post).
Race briefing was a comprehensive affair that evening, and included some inspiring video footage from the previous years.
Race day dawned and a cool clear morning with the hint of a breeze. We drove through to the start at Storm’s River Mouth.
We went out at a fairly strong pace, which we held for about 10 kilometres Some of our starting four dropped off, and we soon picked up stragglers from the Ebangeni to once again make a group of four, with Cas Van Aardenne setting the pace. After 15 kilometres I started dropping my pace a bit, wanting to save my legs for the runnable section at the end so that I could make good time and finish strongly.
Bloukrantz crossing was similar to last year’s, just the channel on the far side was deeper, and I was submerged to the chest for a few seconds as I stepped into it to be hauled out the water and up the rocks by two marshals. Last year I paused to wring my socks out — this year I had specifically chosen shoes that would be lighter, more comfortable, and quicker drying after wet crossings.
The descent to Andre Hut is a real technical affair. Sign-post for Hut 1 and Hut 2, tap to the left. I filled up here with GU Brew and water (this is your last chance for water).
The last section of the race compromises running along the top of the headlands, dropping down onto the beach, and finishing up the dirt road before dropping down to the river is the most runnable section of the race — if you have anything left in your legs! I did, and I posted some super-fast kilometer splits here.
Crossing the floating bridge on target for a sub-6 was simply my greatest athletic achievement to-date, and boy did it feel great! My official time was 05:52:44, placing me 30th over all in a field of 128 finishers (I got chicked in true style by the 3 leading ladies),and placing 27th out of 107 in the male category. I am now in the Veteran category, where I placed 7th out of 39 finishers.
The organisers stuck to their guns, and each athlete’s gear was checked on exiting the finishing chute.
Ryan Sandes, on his first Otter outing, won the race, smashing the record with a time of 4:40:15, silencing his critics in the process.
I ran in:
- Salomon S-LABS
- CAPESTORM A3 Shorts
- first Ascent short-sleeve shirt
- Crazy Store Table Mountain Challenge cap
- Salomon Twin Belt
I used Hammer Perpetuem and GU Brew during the race, Energellies, GU’s. I am still battling with Perpetuem as I find it starts getting too “heavy” after an hour or two. So I had little plastic bags of Perpetuem that I could break into my bottle and mix, but I also had some GU Brew sachets to mix. I left the decision as to which to use when to my body: when it came time for a refill, I simply grabbed the one my body felt like.
Things that made the difference:
- having an amazing supporter to help me: thanks Zoë!
- the experience of the year before and knowing the terrain
- wearing a hydration belt instead of a hydration backpack
- better choice of footwear: lighter and better when soaked from river-crossings
- better nutrition
- arriving early and relaxed for the Prologue
- getting a good nights rest in a bed the night before the race