African trail athletes making strides in the French Alps

by Stephen Granger

British athlete Jonathan Albon and Sara Alonso took line honours at the Mont Blanc ‘The Roller Coaster’ Marathon over the weekend in the second of the 2022 Golden Trail World Series but not before African athletes had given notice that they are likely soon be a force in trail, as they have dominated in road competition.

British athlete Jonathan Albon crests a col on his way to an emphatic victory in Mont Blanc Marathon. Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @JSaragossa

Albon and Alonso’s winning times of 3 hr 35 min 20 sec and 4 hr 14 min 49 sec respectively will stand as records for the newly designed course, following the decision to finish this year’ 42km race with a descent back to the centre of Chamonix, rather than the formidable final climb to a mountain top finish used previously.

African leadership – Eritrean, Petro Mamu, and Kenyan, Robert Matayango (obscured – red vest), lead the Mont Blanc Marathon in the early stages. Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @MValmassoi

Moroccan Elhousine Elazzaoui again raced well, coming from behind to move into second before finishing fourth and leading the African charge. But it was Kenyan Robert Pkemboi Matayango and Etritrean Petru Mamu who sought to control the action, running with Albon in the lead through the mountain village of Vallorcine 25km into the race.

But the all-round running skills and the technical superiority of Albon separated the leaders, with last year’s UTMB OCC 56km winner opening a decisive lead on the rocky single-track climb to Flegere aid station at 34km.

After losing the best part of a week’s training prior to the race due to prolonged dental treatment, Elazzaoui chose a more cautious approach than usual and it paid dividends. Moving up from 10th place in the first quarter to join the chasing pack, Elazzaoui crested the high point of the race at Col des Posettes at 19,5km in joint fifth with French athlete Thibault Baronian, 31 seconds down on Albon.

Moroccan Elhousine Elazzaoui led the African runners home with a strong fourth position, lifting him to second place on the 2022 Golden Trail World Series rankings. Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @JSaragossa

The Moroccan then overhauled Mamu and Matayango to move up into second place, only to be passed by fast-finishers David Magnini of Italy and Ruy Ueda of Japan.  But Elazzaoui, now in second place in the Golden Trail World Series rankings, was pleased with the outcome.

“The truth is I had a wonderful race and enjoyed support from the many spectators,” Elazzaoui reflected. “From the start of the race until 30 km it was Africa’s domination! I had moved up into second place before being overtaken, but I’m happy with the result. Last week I suffered so much with my teeth, but the next race will be better.”

Top South African trail athlete, Johardt van Heerden’s entry into European competition had been eagerly awaited but proved anti-climatic as Van Heerden suffered a mystery ailment which slowed and then stopped him completely. The South African was forced to withdraw from the race at Vallorcine.

Leading South African trail athlete, Johardt van Heerden, pictured on his way to victory in the Cape Town Trail Marathon last October, was forced to quit Mont Blanc Marathon after 25km.

“Running in heaven, feeling like hell”, was how Van Heerden summed up his race, quoting the well-known slogan of Cape Town’s 76km Peninsula Ultra Run Run (PUFfer) trail race. “Unfortunately, I fell sick during the race. Obviously, there are a lot of unanswered questions, but these things happen, and we move on.

“I’m not going to become over emotional about it all, but I’m definitely disappointed that my body did not respond how it should have. My build up was as close to perfect as one can wish for. There will be more races and I will continue on my journey to add pieces to the puzzle until I get it right on the international stage.

“I’m still feeling extremely thankful for the opportunity to be able to compete in Europe and these disappointments along the way make the successes so much sweeter.”

Salomon special – Salomon teammates Sara Alonso (right) and Caitlin Fielder share their joy at clinching the top two places in the Mont Blanc Marathon. Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @JSaragossa

Team Salomon scored a one-two in the women’s race with New Zealander Caitlin Fielder racing across the finish line six minutes down on Alonso, currently in the form of her life. American Dani Moreno had to pull out all the stops in the final kilometre to hold off French athlete Anais Sabrie to complete the podium.

Albon’s North Face teammate, South African Meg Mackenzie, chose to race Mont Blanc at short notice. Now focused on training as an ultra-distance athlete, she nonetheless raced well on trails she knows better than most to finish 15th overall in a competitive field.

Meg Mackenzie (right) showed good form to clinch 15h place ‘in a happy race’ for the Chamonix-based South African. Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @MValmassoi

“I am happy! The standard of the woman’s field at Golden Trail is higher than ever and it’s really incredible to be part of it,” said Mackenzie. “Seeing the level consistently rise is so awesome – it makes all of us step up and push the limits. I’m so impressed by all the women out there!

“I ran a very happy race. I loved being out and being surrounded by all my friends! And it was excellent training for the longer-distance racing later this year.”

Cape Town trail athlete, Charlotte Noble (centre) holds aloft the winners trophy for Masters 55-59 years at the Mont Blanc Marathon. Photo courtesy Charlotte Noble

South African women competed well in the age-group categories, with Lindy-Lee Folscher placing a close second to French athlete Cardine Lafaye in the 40 – 45 year Masters Category, while Cape Town athlete and former Comrades gold-medallist, Charlotte Noble, won the 55-59 year Masters Category ahead of Dutch athlete Loes Struijcken.

Next up in the Golden Trail World Series is a new event on the programme – the Stranda Fjord Trail Race in Stranda, Norway on 6th August, closely followed a week later by one of the best known races, the Sierre Zinal in Switzerland.



1 Jonathan ALBONThe North Face, GBR03:35:20GBR (Royaume-Uni)
2 Davide MAGNINISalomon international03:39:41ITA (Italie)
3 Ruy UEDA03:40:42JPN (Japon)
4 Elhousine ELAZZAOUIPini mountain racing03:43:19MAR (Maroc)
6 Pkemoi Matayango ROBERTSky Runneres Kenya03:50:44KEN (Kenya)
7 Andrzej WITEKDynafit03:51:56POL (Pologne)
8 Anthony FELBERTeam Sidas Matryx03:53:12FRA (France)
9 Antoine CHARVOLINTeam On Running03:53:48FRA (France)
10 Adrien MICHAUDScott sports france03:54:11FRA (France)
11 Johann BAUJARDSalomon03:54:28FRA (France)
12 Clovis CHAVEROTGlobetrailers03:55:16FRA (France)
13 Petro MAMU SHAKUTeam Scarpa03:56:47ERI (Erythrée)
14 Castillo Fernandez DANIELWild Trail Project03:57:39ESP (Espagne)
15 Paradeisopoulos KONSTANTINOSDynafit04:01:23GRE (Grèce)
Top three at the Mont Blanc Marathon spanning three continents. Winner Sara Alonso of Spain is flanked by runners-up Caitlin Fielder (NZ, left) and American Dani Moreno. Photo – Photo – @GoldenTrailSeries |@Mont Blanc Marathon | @JSaragossa


1 Sara ALONSOSalomon04:14:49ESP (Espagne)
2 Caitlin FIELDERSalomon04:20:21NZL (Nouvelle-Zélande)
3 Moreno DANIHOKA ONE ONE/rabbit04:21:52USA (Etats-Unis)
4 Anaïs SABRIÉTeam Matryx04:22:10FRA (France)
5 Marcela VASINOVASalomon04:24:35CZE (République tchèque)
6 Kortazar OIHANASalomon04:28:43ESP (Espagne)
7 Fabiola CONTITeam Salomon04:28:52ITA (Italie)
8 Theres LEBOEUF04:29:34FRA (France)
9 Emkay SULLIVANCRAFT04:31:17USA (Etats-Unis)
10 Julie ROUXTeam Salomon France04:33:52FRA (France)
11 Johanna ÅSTRÖMArc’teryx04:42:04SWE (Suède)
12 Iris PESSEYScott running – asj7404:46:35FRA (France)
13 Esther EUSTACHEBrooks trail runner04:46:54FRA (France)
14 Sylvia NORDSKARHOKA x Untold Movement04:47:09NOR (Norvège)
15 Megan MACKENZIEThe North Face04:50:27RSA (Afrique du Sud)