Top Southern Cape athlete Melikhaya Msizi in cheerful mood during the 2014 race . Photo: Stephen Granger

The Otter African Trail Run, long regarded as South Africa’s premier marathon-distance trail race, has moved up a gear with the announcement that Emperor Asset Management has signed as the event’s presenting sponsor, with ‘The Otter’ set to be a bucket-list running experience for South African, African and international trail athletes for many years to come.

The Otter has hosted a galaxy of international stars over the past decade and could well become one of the most competitive marathon-distance trail events on the world calendar. Hopes are high for a number of big-name athletes from abroad for this year’s Otter in October and the growing stature of the race has also brought new sponsorship opportunities.

“We felt this would make an ideal partnership,” Head of Wealth at Emperor, Craig Turton, said this week. “The Otter is South Africa’s number one trail race and Emperor’s IP Global Momentum Fund is currently the country’s top performing Global Equity (SA Domiciled) fund.  Bringing these two winners together seemed a perfect match!”

Craig Turton Head of Wealth at Emperor Asset Management shortly after the start of the 2020 Otter African Trail Run at Natures Valley. Photo: Peter Kirk

Turton is passionate about wealth investment, but is an equally avid trail runner, have run his first Otter last October.  Relatively new to running, Turton ‘discovered’ the sport while on the look-out for new challenges after returning from a golf-scholarship in the USA.

“I decided to go for the Half Iron Man in 2017 and found surprising joy in the running section of the sport, having come from a swimming background,” explained Turton.  “I completed the full Iron Man in 2018 and then turned to the Comrades for my first road race, which I completed in that year.

“But my legs were really sore during the second half of the race and the next day I could hardly walk. Turned out to be a stress fracture, which curtailed my running career shortly after it had begun!”

Turton had planned to run Otter in 2018, but his post-Comrades injury woes delayed his entry till last year. “It was my first-ever trail race and I was absolutely blown away.  I’ve been looking out for some magical experience in running and decided that the Otter has to be an annual event for me and my family.

oni McCann wins the 2019 race in record time. Photo: Stephen Granger

“There were many memorable moments from my run last year … On the beach at Nature’s Valley before the start at dawn and feeling pure joy in the beauty of the place and seeing South Africa in a completely different light was certainly one.  Then the first half, running with a small group of four or five, one guy from Zimb, one from Cape Town, one from Johannesburg – we just enjoyed running and chatting away.

“Then the start of the second half when I was on my own, able to take in the beauty of the trail – the streams, the rocks, the quietness. It was really good – at least until the last 7 kilometres when the pain kicked in and I started hating it!  But then came the exhilaration of the finish and my daughter putting my medal over my head!” 

Two days later, while watching the elites finish the Otter Run, Turton said to race director, Mark Collins, that he would find them a title sponsorship. “I felt that with everything the Otter has to offer and the professionalism with which it is run, it makes for a valuable commodity,” Turton explained. “I mentioned it to our Chief Marketing Officer, who understood this value and suggested that we take it on. The match between the country’s top trail race and leading asset fund seemed perfect and we will be looking for ways we can enhance this great race still further.

Team Otter – the indomitable Collins family , founders and organisers of the Otter African Trail Run. Photo: Stephen Granger

“We’d like to increase the race’s profile. Everyone has heard of the Otter Trail five day hike, but not that many have heard of the Otter trail run. Through social media and greater publicity generally, we hope to change that.  And we’d like to include two race activations – one would be a family-gathering area at the finish and another somewhere along the route – likely at the Bloukrans River crossing.”

The alure of running along the iconic Otter Trail has drawn several international stars to the Southern Cape in spring over the past decade.  New Zealand’s Ruby Muir, Spain’s Emma Roca, Holland’s Ragna Debats, Krissy Moehl and Stevie Kremer from the USA, British athlete Ricky Lightfoot, last year’s winner Pere Aurell from Spain and Swiss speedster Marc Lauenstein have all bagged podium spots at the Otter.

Polish star Bart Przedwojewski smashes the record to win the 2018 Otter African Trail Run. Photo: Stephen Granger

The cherry on the top came in 2018 when the Otter was chosen to host the Golden Trail Series’ inaugural Grand Finale, which saw twenty of the world’s best male and female athletes, including super-stars Kilian Jornet, Stian Angermund, Ruth Croft and Ida Nilsson, compete for top honours with local stars. Polish athlete Bartlomiej Przedwojewski and British star Holly Jones took overall honours.

The substantial involvement of Emperor in this year’s Otter will open opportunities to move the bar still higher, ensuring the ongoing participation of international stars in addition to South Africa’s finest. A stronger event profile could potentially including live-streaming the race, using powerful technology to overcome significant terrain-related challenges.

Mvuysi Gcogco gets a congratulatory hug from his mentor Sheena O’Keefe after his top five position in 2017. Photo: Stephen Granger

“We’re thrilled at bringing Emperor on board as title sponsor for the Otter African Trail Run,” said Belen Sanchez of the Magnetic South organising team. “Especially in these tough times, it’s fantastic to enter into a partnership which will ensure that this race continues into the future.

“We’ve always been passionate about this event and particularly the conservation of this very special coastline.  Emperor’s involvement will give us the opportunity to grow the race while contributing even further to the ongoing conservation of the Tsistikamma.” 

Story by Stephen Granger

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