South African trail running reaches new heights after lockdown

Kane Reilly at the Gone2Gone finish in Hi Constantia. PHOTO: Pippa van den Berg
Hayley Preen celebrates after posting the fastest Gone2Gone segment time. PHOTO: Pippa van den Berg

Record-breaking runs on the Gone2Gone 21,6 km trail segment in Cape Town by leading trail athletes, Kane Reilly and Hayley Preen this week are indicative of a “nature and exercise explosion” which has seen people flocking in their thousands to walk, run, climb and swim outdoors, following months of lockdown.

Segment running is transforming trail running in South Africa, bringing significant competitiveness and interest to a season devoid of conventional racing.  While the “biggest fish”, the South African Golden Segment, still beckons, leading athletes have been making merry on other routes, setting fastest known times or targets for friends and rivals to challenge.

Kane Reilly sets record time at the Gone2Gone finish in Hi Constantia. PHOTO: Pippa van den Berg

Golden Tickets, offering fully-paid trips to compete in the 2020 World Golden Trail Championships on the Azores Island Group in late October, are the prizes for the fastest male and female athletes to complete a designated 28.4 km circuit with 870m of altitude climb across Table Mountain. Although several leading athletes have already run the segment in training, the real racing will likely only take place in September before the segment closes on October 1.

In the meantime, athletes have been reaping the fruits of uninterrupted weeks of focused training without the distraction of regular races by posting impressive times on a number of defined segments. This has provided athletes with a competitive dimension to their sport, largely missing from the earlier months in the year.

“I think South African trail running is in excellent shape and the results (of segment runs) show a high degree of athleticism in the sport,” commented organiser of the South African Golden Segment, Kane Reilly.  “We’ve seen just how strong the competition is – both men and women. And that bodes well for what is to come.  I don’t think we’ll see significant attempts on the Golden Segment till September, but it’s good to know what’s in store.”

As has previously been reported here, Johardt van Heerden and Daniel Claassen, stoked the embers with record-breaking runs over the testing 47 km Six Peak Challenge near George two weeks back and they are strong contenders to top the leader-board of the Golden Ticket Segment, come the hour of reckoning on October 1.

Other top trailers have posted competitive times during July in the hugely popular #Gone2Gone, with more than 2500 runners including Protea cricket coach Mark Boucher having completed the 21,6 km point-to-point trail segment. The segment stretches from outdoor retail stores in the CBD to Constantia. Reilly and Hout Bay athlete, Hayley Preen, vaulted to the top of the leader board after blitzing over the Back Table of Table Mountain on Wednesday (July 29) and will undoubtedly be frontrunners in the highly-anticipated Golden Segment contest.

Reilly used his strength on the climb up Kasteel’s Poort, combined with an impressive 31 min burst over the final downhill 10 km to the finish, to clock 1 hr 31 min 11 sec – five minutes clear of Robbie Rorich’s earlier lead time, while Kyle Bucklow also improved on Rorich’s time by 29 seconds later in the day to move into second place.  Siviwe Nkombi ran a solid segment in his first attempt, clocking 1:37:47 for 5th fastest.

Preen secured a narrow 45 second advantage over Otter Trail Champion, Toni McCann in 1:45:28, two days before the competition closes.

Underlining the competitiveness of women’s trail racing in South Africa, final year UCT Chemical Engineering student, Bianca Tarboton, clocked 1:44:20 for the “Gone” course last week. Navigational errors disqualified her from the official contest, even though she ran 200 metres longer than the formal course.

Bianca Tarboton in action in the 2019 Otter African Trail Run. PHOTO: Stephen Granger

Athletes were unanimous on the positive impact of segment running enforced by COVID restrictions. “I really enjoyed Gone2Gone,” McCann remarked. “It’s a nice way of seeing where you are in the field in the absence of races. I’m happy with my time, although it is harder ‘running blind’ without other times to target. I may go back on Friday to give it another go.

“I realise the difference it makes having goals and targets and will plan my Golden Segment run accordingly, possibly running with pacers or setting time goals for myself at certain points along the way.”

“Linking the Golden Segment to the Golden Trail Championship in the Azores is really exciting,” said Preen. “It gives me something to work towards. Racing the championship would be amazing, but I’m not in the same shape as I was when I won the UTCT 35km. The distance training is not there as yet but I’ll try to be the best I can be on the day.  I would like to give it an initial go in early August after some longer runs.

 “The Gone2Gone run has been a good building block (towards the Golden Segment),” continued Preen. “I ran it with my boyfriend earlier in the month to get the feel of it and then went back yesterday for a full go.

“I suffer from asthma and struggled with a tight chest in the colder early stages. Running up Kasteel’s Poort was terrible!  But I picked up pace on the mountain and the descent went well.  I was catching my boyfriend (Kelton Miller – who posted the 7th fastest time overall in 1:44:28) towards the end, but he beat me by exactly a minute!”

Toni McCann in action in the 2019 Otter African Trail Run. PHOTO: Stephen Granger

While Tarboton would have liked to have been listed as a formal Gone2Gone finisher, she is happy with her performance. “I’m pleased with what I achieved and I don’t think I’ll do it again,” she commented. “The descent takes it out of you and I found it affected my training for the following week.  I’m focused on a running a 5 km time trial next week, aiming at running around 16 minutes, and would not want the Gone2Gone to impact that.

“My final year ChemEng projects and presentations will likely make it difficult to get to the Azores this year, but I’d love to give the Golden Segment a go, hopefully starting with a recce run quite soon.”

Reilly’s run yesterday was a revelation.  His talent, form and ability have never been in doubt, but it has been some time since Reilly has delivered a performance equal to his ability.  To take five minutes on the 21,6 km course out of Rorich, who holds the fastest west to east direction Otter Trail time of any South African, takes some doing. Any pretender to the Golden Segment throne would have taken note of Reilly’s performance.

“I had thought it would be cool to go for 1 hr 30 min,” admitted Reilly, who typically had more to say about other athletes’ performances than his own run, “but in the end my leg speed let me down.  I wasn’t tired on the descent but could not move my legs fast enough and was a few seconds off the 1:30 goal.”

Top racer, Johardt van Heerden, who recently set the fastest known time for the Six Peaks Challenge near George, was equally enthusiastic.  “The Golden Ticket Segment provides a great competitive base for us to work towards,” he said.  “I scouted the route last weekend and plan to go out to post a time in the next two weeks.  I’ll be aiming for a respectable effort, but likely will return in September for another go.”


Comments are closed.