ASICS FrontRunner Jani du Toit tackled the Otter African Trail Run, the proverbial ‘grail of trail’ seven months after giving birth to her second child. It was nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster for the Pretoria-based runner. Here are some of her highlights and lowlights from the gruelling 41km challenge along our beautiful Garden Route.
These are her words:
HIGHLIGHT: Just being there
I’ve always wanted to run Otter - it was the race that sparked my interest in trail running way back but has always just been a bit out of reach. So to finally be a part of the hype, the community and the camaraderie was amazing! I really enjoy South African trail runners, a lot.
read more about her journey from 'Baby 2 Otter' on her blog, here.
HIGHLIGHT: All according to plan
So my race plan was to finish, enjoy the run and not get injured. Looking back now, I’m really happy that it went according to that plan.
LOWLIGHT: Not being as prepared as I would’ve liked
I always knew training was going to be a challenge but I didn’t quite expect it to be so difficult to balance, being a mom, working and all the rest. It proved especially difficult to try get my long runs in - it’s just really hard to commit to a long run if you haven’t slept well because your baby was fussy or whatever.
LOWLIGHT: Severe back pain
I broke my race into two halves. The first part was all about soaking it all in and not going too hard to make sure I had enough in the tank at the end. I did however start suffering from back pain from fairly early on. It was kind of non specific, but eventually (quite late in the race) I took some pain killers and felt much better. I should’ve taken them much earlier.
LOWLIGHT: Running blind
I was very hungry and was happy to get to the munchie point. However, not long before it, at around 22kms in, my watch died, so all I had to go on was the time-of-day on my phone.
HIGHLIGHT: Avoiding the sweepers
The second part of my run (and the route), from the halfway munchie point was a constant battle to stay ahead of the sweepers and avoid getting cut.
HIGHLIGHT: Making it to Scott Hut
I ran so hard to stay ahead of them, but somewhere along the track they caught up to me. I told the sweeper, that my watch was dead and I had no way of knowing how far I still had to go to the Scott Hut cutoff. He told me the next cutoff would be at 13:44 and that it wasn’t that far to go. “You’ll be able to make it, just keep going.”
So I did, but everything felt ‘long’ even though I ran super hard downhill and tried to climb as fast as possible. My hips started cramping but I just kept drinking crampstop. Pushing super hard down one descent (perhaps going harder than I should’ve, I could’ve gotten really badly injured if I fell) I felt this huge rush of water down my back into my shoes and realised the bladder in my hydration vest had burst. That left me with only 600mm of water left in my soft flasks.
I made it at to Scott right on the cut-off of 13:44.
Making it to the Scott Hut ahead of the cut off was a huge highlight for me. I was so relieved, but also just told myself there was no way I could get cut from there (there was one more cut-off before the finish). All the time put into training and inconveniences I put on my family (the early nights, the stresses of being a ‘tired mom’ as well as the travelling and money we put into it even after I got retrenched).
LOWLIGHT: Last check point before the finish
I ran super hard for the next point but Ngubu, but it felt like it was just not coming any closer. At some point I was running past guys who were walking and I saw a lot of people who had given up, but I tried to stay motivated and just kept going, forcing myself to not stop.
I some how managed to push through and make it there, where the Marshall told me, ‘okay you have an hour and 4kms to go.’ That last four was brutal with lots of boulder hopping, at some points I was asking myself: ‘How do the elites run this fast on this terrain, it’s not like you’re fall and get hurt, some places if you fall you will die.’
HIGHLIGHT: Getting the photo, and the finish
With about 2,5kms to go I felt safe because I could see the finish arch in the distance so I stopped to take a picture of the view and myself - as I hadn’t taken any photos the whole day.
Right then the sweeper caught up to me again. From a distance he was shouting at me, asking what I was doing. I shouted back telling him I was taking a pic. He said: ‘Do you want a picture or do you want a medal. If you want a medal then you’d better run.’
So I ran. Hard. But it just felt like the finish wasn’t getting any closer and the route here repeatedly loops into the forest and then back out onto the coast. Then, all of a sudden I was in the clear and a woman was shouting at me to 'go go go’! When I was 50 metres away, maybe 30m even, I heard them start the 10-count countdown everyone was just screaming so hard and I got there and I missed the medal and the cutoff time by 14 seconds.
HIGHLIGHT: I gave it my all and hope that inspires
I was pushing as hard as possible over those last kilometres, there was no way my legs could carry me any faster at that time.
So I didn’t get a medal but I have two beautiful kids and I see them as my medals. Right after I finished somebody ushered m up to the podium and were clapping everywhere and then my husband and my father-in-law handed me my kids and that was so special.
All-in-all it was a really nice experience. I thought about my family the entire time… My son has a very rare birth defect and he still has to go through so many operations in his life and I hope that by me being doing things that he can see that it doesn’t matter what people say: People said that it’s too close, (to the birth of our second) that I couldn’t do it. Seven months after having a baby, I did finish the Otter and hopefully that will inspire him one day.