by Stephen Granger
Former Sharks academy rugby scrum-half, Matt Healy, moved up several notches on the international trail-running circuit with an impressive top ten position in the recent Mozart 100 in Salzburg, Austria, and looks set to achieve further success in the not-too-distant future.
The Mozart 100 is one of the leading ultra-distance races in Europe and is part of the UTMB® World Series, which links many of the world’s leading ultra-trail races into a competitive circuit, climaxing with the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc event in late August.
German athlete, Janosch Kowalkczyk, who won Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km in 2018, added the Austrian classic to his impressive running CV with a record-breaking win in 9 hrs 36 min 09 sec, 9 minutes quicker than Spanish athlete Andreu Simon Aymerich, with another German athlete, Benedikt Hoffman, third. Azara Garcia of Spain was in a class of her own, winning the women’s contest by 46 minutes over her compatriot Teresa Nimes. Swede Jenny Josefsson snatched third from Britain’s Jo Meek.
Known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Mozart and the location of the renowned musical, The Sound of Music, Salzburg’s hills were alive with the sound of trail running last month as thousands of participants took part in a festival of running which marked the 10th edition of Mozart 100. Healy competed in the 100km race, the climax of the festival.
Several years ago Healy realised his sporting future lay in distance running rather than rugby. The 27-year-old shed 15kg, moved to Cape Town and began making waves in trail-running circles, with emphatic pre-COVID wins at the Bastille Day 50km and the Addo 76km.
Asics athlete Healy’s run in Salzburg represented something of a mental and physical rebirth after suffering trail-burn-out towards the end of last year, most profoundly when he dropped out of Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km in November, shortly after the half-way mark at Hout Bay.
“Mentally, I’d lost it,” Healy admitted. “I felt no reason to continue. I think I was in 8th place at the time but I was done. It had been a build-up of pressure after I’d won the Addo 100 miler (in record time) earlier in the year and my big effort on the 13 Peaks Challenge (where Healy completed the circuit in the second-fastest time ever, just 30 minutes off the bench-mark set by Ryan Sandes).
“I felt big pressure going into Ultra-trail Cape Town and let it get to me. So I took a whole month off running and worked with my coach James Montgomery to try to regain my running mojo. He helped me to re-learn the reasons I started running in the first place.
“Rugby is a super-competitive sport and largely ego-driven. In trail running there is not so much room for ego. After I quit rugby, I was looking for a sport where I could enjoy the outdoors and have some fun. Perhaps in hindsight, I found running success quite quickly and may have skipped a few of the ‘running for run’ steps. While competing is a big part of why I run I needed to learn the importance of enjoying the sport.
“So James got me to run the Bay to Bay 30km (road race in Cape Town) just for fun. ‘Run as slow as you can’ James had said. And it was the very first race I’d ever run just for fun! After a few months of mostly road running, which included road time trials over 3km and 5km to sharpen my speed (one of which saw Healy running down Wynberg Main Road in the rain at 3am), that we gradually returned to trail.
“We looked at potential races overseas and chose the Mozart 100 in Austria as best suiting my strengths. We saw that the race was very runnable and with the highest point at 1700m, altitude would not be a problem. To prepare I began to run a few repeat routes up to Constantiaberg Mast and the Kings Block House and became comfortable using poles to assist my climbing.”
Healy wanted to leave nothing to chance, arriving in Salzburg three weeks before the race to give him time to prepare on the race route and adapt to the local climate, but his plans did not go entirely to plan. “The first week was pretty good and I was able to recce the first part of the trail, but I fell ill during the second. Perhaps that was a good test of my new approach to running, trying to be relaxed and not be anxious about my preparation. But I was able to get back to training and running on the race routes in the final week. All in all, I felt good about my preparation and before I knew it, race day had arrived.”
The race got underway at break-neck speed with German ultra-distance runner, Florian Neuschwander, holder of the world 100km record run on a treadmill, leading the field through the initial kilometres on farm roads at 3 min 45 sec per kilometre pace, almost unheard of in a 100km trail race.
The race settled into a fast rhythm with Healy running with his ASICS teammate, Spanish athlete Andreu Simon, until the stronger climbers came to the fore at the first major climb 31km into the race. A second significant ascent at 47km returned the field to a central aid station before the final 35km of relatively runnable undulating track.
Running as low as 25th in the early stages, Healy moved between 13th and 16th on the big climbs between 35km and 65km. “They’d come flying past me on the downhills, and I would catch them again on the climbs,” Healy explained. “I was feeling pretty calm, running to the plan and I held myself back, knowing the last section of the race suited my strengths.”
“We felt that after UTCT it would be good for me to finish Mozart 100 strongly and that the rolling-type terrain in the final quarter meant I could make up positions if I was feeling good towards the finish.”
And that was what transpired. The South African’s natural speed over the final 30km enabled him to overhaul several athletes and race across the finish line in tenth position back in the centre of Salzburg, where it had all begun over ten hours earlier. Healy clocked in at 10:55:20, less than 40 minutes off the top five and the Cape Town athlete will take confidence for future success in international trail races.
Healy was well-pleased with his top ten finish in a high-profile international trail race – something he hopes will influence his status with his sponsor. “I would have been pretty satisfied with a top twenty place, but deep down I was hoping for a top ten,” Healy admitted, before looking ahead to potential redemption on Table Mountain at the end of the year.
“I’m hoping to compete in another UTMB World Series race in Europe before returning to Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km in late November.”
Results: Mozart 100 UTMB® World Series, Salzburg, Austria
|1||Janosch KOWALCZYK||adidas TERREX – Germany||09:36:09||GER (Germany)|
|2||Andreu SIMON AYMERICH||ASICS – Spain||09:44:59||ESP (Spain)|
|3||Benedikt HOFFMANN||TSG Heilbronn/Asics Trail – Germany||09:53:51||GER (Germany)|
|4||Mathieu CLÉMENT||Team Asics Trail – Switzerland||10:15:15||SUI (Switzerland)|
|5||Isaac SALVAT||Trail.cat – SportHg – Spain||10:17:27||ESP (Spain)|
|6||Kamil LEŚNIAK||Hoka Garmin Team – Poland||10:28:28||POL (Poland)|
|7||Peter VAN DER ZON||HOKA – Netherlands||10:29:48||NED (Netherlands)|
|8||Alexander HUTTER||Scott Running -Austria||10:33:49||AUT (Austria)|
|9||Rob FORBES||Coln trail hounds – GBR||10:53:40||GBR (United Kingdom)|
|10||Matthew HEALY||ASICS – RSA||10:55:20||RSA (South Africa)|
|1||Azara GARCÍA DE LOS||HG AML TEAM||12:00:28||ESP (Spain)|
|2||Teresa NIMES||RAIDLIGHT TEAM||12:46:47||ESP (Spain)|
|3||Jenny JOSEFSSON||Täby IS Skidor||13:28:48||SWE (Sweden)|
|4||Jo MEEK||SCOTT Running||13:30:27||GBR (United Kingdom)|
|5||Cornelia OSWALD||13:54:38||AUT (Austria)|