The Otter African Trail Run Challenge, the preliminary event to the Grail of Trail, took place in initially perfect and then increasingly difficult conditions on Thursday, 5 October. Following the classic Otter Trail route, from Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley. The 42 kilometre route takes in 2 600 metres of climbing, including roughly 7 000 stairs hewn into rock or braced in the clay soil with poles. Joshua Nuttall and Mellusca Toovey best overcame the weather, finishing before the drizzle soaked the already damp trails.

South Africa’s persistent wet winter has left the water table in the Tsitsikamma forest perilously close to the surface. When a deluge would historically have been required to start a trickle of water down the trails, currently steady drizzle is enough. On a day that began with mist and cool temperatures the treat of rain was always going to become a material factor in the event. Though for the Challenge runners, the muddy sections underfoot and wet weather only made the experience more of an adventure.


Mellusca Toovey not only won the women’s race but doubled up on her goal, of beating her husband by over an hour. Photo by Caleb Bjergfelt.

The first half of the course, from Storms River to the Munchie Point aid station on the Lottering River near Oakhurst Hut, was more technical than usual with the trails having suffered water erosion damage this winter. The stretches on or near the shoreline showcased the height to which the waves reached during the surf surge in September. Browned vegetation, from being dosed in salt water by the huge waves, reach over five metres up from the high tide mark. Nowhere on the route was the awe-inspiring power of nature not on display.

From Munchie Point to the finish, in Natures Valley, the weather on the day began to have more of an affect. With mist giving way to drizzle around mid-day the second half of the course became rapidly drenched. Rivulets ran along the trails and tired runners slogged into a light headwind and a pitter patter rain.

While this sapped the energy of slower Challenge participants, even Nuttall found it challenging at times. “Some words to describe the Otter, beautiful but extremely brutal,” he smiled. “It’s a stunning race. I feel very fortunate to be here and to be here with the EasyEquities crew. Thanks so much to the team behind the race, it’s an awesome event!”

Rain fell in a persistent drizzle, slowly soaking the participants over the second half of the course. Photo by John Tanner.

Nuttall’s winning time was 5 hours, 16 minutes and 11 seconds. This was 22 minutes and 8 seconds quicker than Nelius Swart, who came home in second. Jason Swemmer, from the Natures Valley Trust, completed the men’s podium places, a further 6 minutes behind Swart.

In the women’s race Mellusca Toovey, as Nuttall had done in the men’s, lead from the gun. Initially she had Laura O’Donoghue for company, but towards Munchie Point she distanced her companion. From there Toovey ran solo, finishing with the eighth fastest time overall.

“This was my first Otter!” Toovey enthused after taking the Challenge victory. “I loved it. It was super challenging. If you want to showcase how good at endurance sports women can be, this is definitely the course for it! As I said, the course is super challenging, there’s never a dull moment or the chance for a breather.”


Not only crossing the Bloukraans River required getting wet. Lottering was flowing high too, with runners wading waist deep to reach the adidas TERREX Munchie Point.

“My husband is still out on course, so I whipped his butt,” she laughed. “I really enjoyed it and I’ll definitely come back.” Toovey’s husband, had said on the start that he would not be beaten by over an hour. That proved an error in judgement as Tim Toovey crossed the line 2 hours and 10 minutes and 47 seconds after his wife.

Mellusca Toovey’s winning time was 6 hours, 27 minutes and 37 seconds. She was joined on the women’s podium by Natasha Pells-Gibson and Millie Timms. Pells-Gibson was just 10 minutes and 3 seconds behind Toovey. While Timms was a further 3 minutes and 41 seconds back. All three the women’s podium finishers notched up times good enough to secure them top fifteen placings, with Pells-Gibson finish tenth overall and Timms in eleventh.

With the Otter Trail Challenge completed, the attention shift to the Race. South Africa’s top trail runners take on the Grail of Trail on Friday and Saturday, 6 and 7 October. They too will race across the full five-day hiking trail route from Storms River to Natures Valley. The first man and women across the finish line, on Saturday, will receive R70 000 each, courtesy of EasyEquities and Faces, the presenting sponsors and owners of the Otter African Trail Run. If the winners break the course records – of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds for the men, and 4 hours, 45 minutes and 34 seconds for the women – they will receive an additional R100 000.


Mist gave way to rain later in the day, making the final kilometres a significant challenge. Photo by Caleb Bjergfelt.

2023 Otter Trail Challenge


  1. Joshua Nuttall (05:16:11)
  2. Nelius Swart (05:48:19)
  3. Jason Swemmer (05:54:40)
  4. Ross O’Donoghue (06:07:12)
  5. Phillipe van der Leeuw (06:12:54)
  6. Russell Boltman (06:15:57)
  7. Duncan Gilmour (06:23:11)
  8. Christiaan Nel (06:29:59)
  9. Jeremias de Klerk (06:42:10)
  10. Justin Roome (06:46:27)

Nelius Swart placed second in the men’s race at the 2023 Otter African Trail Run Challenge. Photo by Caleb Bjergfelt.


  1. Mellusca Toovey (06:27:37)
  2. Natasha Pells-Gibson 06:37:40)
  3. Millie Timms (06:41:21)
  4. Laura O’Donoghue (06:47:13)
  5. Jenna Snyman (07:03:44)
  6. Amelia Bergh (07:05:59)
  7. Toni Seery (07:10:00)
  8. Morgan Volkmann (07:10:36)
  9. Lindy Folscher (07:15:08)
  10. Nicolle Zietsman (07:23:42)

To find out more about the Otter African Trail Run visit To follow the racing action live like the Otter African Trail Run Facebook page or @otterafricantrailrun on Instagram.