Swiss Mountain Man Achieves the Impossible
Words Mark Collins, pics www.jacquesmarais.co.za/SONY
The Garden Route National Park was the arena for 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 skip 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 its work conserving this precious coastline, and the other R25 000 towards disadvantaged youth, with the aim of developing endurance sports.
Lauenstein’s run along the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park’s iconic 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 rated witnessing the Swiss mountain man’s performance as one of the greatest moments of his sporting journalistic career.
Race Organiser Christine Collins said that there were no more than a handful of people in the world capable of running the Otter in sub four hours, adding “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 took the silver medal in two consecutive World Championships, gave him the physical skills and mental tools needed to be able to attack the Otter’s ‘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 for the future” he said. Kane Reilly announced his return from illness to top-level trail running with the runner-up place on the Otter, edging out his great friend and rival Thabang Madiba who claimed his second 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 – five minutes clear of Madiba.
Whilst New Zealander Ruby Muir’s sub five-hour record set in 2013 in the women’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 finishing in the top ten runners overall: a strong statement as to the relative strength of woman’s trail running.
As organisers of the Otter African Trail Run we are humbled to have an event that attracts the best athletes on the planet. However the real heroes of the Otter 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 we feel it’s 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.
Otter African Trail Run 2015 Results
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 Emma Roca (record) ; 2 Mitsie van der Westhuizen; 3 Natasia Kask