The short, but sharp, Prologue which provides the seeding for the Otter African Trail Run provided a hint that the racing will be fierce on Saturday, 7 October. Friday’s 4-kilometre time trial included 230 metres of climbing and acted as more than just a shake out of the top contenders. It highlighted the potential speed at which the Race would be contested and allowed the European challengers to fire warning shots across the bows of the local favourites.

In 2023 the race will follow the classic Otter Trail route, from Storms River to Natures Valley. Taking in 42 kilometre the route amasses 2 600 metres of climbing and includes roughly 7 000 stairs, heading both up- and downhill. Weather predictions for Saturday indicate rain throughout the day, as well as a moderate breeze from the south east.

“This is my eleventh Otter and I’ve never done one in the rain,” Christiaan Greyling pointed out. “Amazingly the Challenge has experienced some pretty bad weather over the years, but the Race has always been dry,” race founder, Mark Collins confirmed. “The rain will, if anything, make it more of an adventure.”

Robbie Simpson

Robbie Simpson on his way to setting the fastest time on the Prologue for the 2023 Otter African Trail Run Race. Photo by Johan Minnaar.

“I think if it ends up being muddy that it might be a bit of a leveller,” Greyling continued. “I expect that the weather might put as much as 15 minutes onto the times this year,” which may well be the case, yet it did not affect the pace at which the top athletes took on the Prologue. Scottland’s Robbie Simpson blitzed the course setting the fastest time, of 21 minutes and 13 seconds. Just ahead of Simon Purdon, Petros Chigomararwa (who finished eighth in the Retto edition of the Otter African Trail Run in 2022) and Germany’s Marcel Höche. The top four men all went under the 22-minute mark.

“Yeah, it was fun, a bit of everything mixed in,” Simpson smiled after completing his Prologue. “I’m excited for tomorrow… Just ten times that distance. But it’ll probably take more than ten times the time actually!”

Simpson was one of the early starters, and his time laid down the gauntlet for the rest of the elite runners. The elite, or Abangeni start group, is limited to 24 men. Thereafter the runners start in batches of ten. This is to combat congestion on the trail, but also caused tension for those who did not meet the qualifying standard.

Johardt van Heerden

Double defending champion, Johardt van Heerden will have to rely on his experience to see off the challenge of the fresh rivals at the 2023 race. Photo by Johan Minnaar.

Greyling was one of those who missed out, placing 30th, 15 seconds off the time set by the final Abageni qualifier Melikhaya Msizi. Another elite to miss out was Mvuyisi Gcogco. Gcogco ran a 26 minute first attempt at the Prologue, but upon seeing the he would miss the cut went back out on course and clocked a time of 23 minutes and 27 seconds. Agonisingly that was just 4 seconds off Msizi’s effort.

Kane Reilly, Thabang Madiba, Lovemore Nyaude, Ryan Sandes and Johardt van Heerden all qualified with times within 10 seconds of each other’s, taking positions fifteen to nineteen. “That was tough!” Van Heerden laughed. “Muddy and slippery but I enjoyed it. A bit different with the climb in the beginning, and then a nice and long technical downhill. The jeep tacks towards the end were nice and tough too; but I really enjoyed it, especially the river crossings.”

Van Heerden and Reilly, who placed first and second in 2022, will have to rely upon their experience to overcome the psychological setback of not matching the times of the newcomers. The old adage that races are not won on a Prologue will likely prove true once more. The title will be decided over four hours, or 240 minutes, rather than 21 or 23 minutes.

Bianca Tarboton

Bianca Tarboton set the fastest women’s time and despite her late decision to race is still tipped to better her classic route record, of 4:45:34. Photo by John Tanner.

In the women’s race the best Prologue time was set by Bianca Tarboton. The classic route record holder clocked 25 minutes and 13 seconds, which was 1 minute and 2 seconds better than Lijan Burger (née Van Niekerk). “I’m really excited, but I have no expectations this year,” Tarboton confessed. “I only decided to enter on Monday and I think it’ll be really interesting with the weather. But I haven’t thought of times or anything. I’m just excited to get on the trails.”

Tarboton’s record of 4 hours, 45 minutes and 34 seconds is in good conditions very much within her reach. Though wet weather, could limit her chances of achieving this. Though the R100 000 bonus, on top of the R70 000 prize for the champion, is a mighty incentive for the reigning Storms River to Natures Valley champion.

To follow the action, as it unfolds, like the Otter African Trail Run Facebook page or @otterafricantrailrun on Instagram.

Kane Reilly

A smiling Kane Reilly, at peace with the Otter African Trail Run. Despite the victory eluding one of South Africa’s premier trail runners for a decade, he now approaches the event with little stress over the result, focusing rather on enjoying the experience and prioritising executing a great personal performance. Photo by Johan Minnaar.

2023 Otter African Trail Run Race

Men’s Prologue:

  1. Robbie Simpson (21:13)
  2. Simon Purdon (21:31)
  3. Petros Chigomararwa (21:49)
  4. Marcel Höche (21:59)
  5. Bradley Claase (22:01)
  6. Angus Teeton (22:02)
  7. Oli Morris (22:03)
  8. Robbie Rorich (22:12)
  9. Armin Botha (22:24)
  10. Oliver Munnik (22:34)
Ryan Sandes

Ryan Sandes won the Otter African Trail Challenge in 2010 and is back in in flying form for the 2023 event. Photo by John Tanner.

Women’s Prologue:

  1. Bianca Tarboton (25:13)
  2. Lijan Burger (26:15)
  3. Ruth Cozien (26:33)
  4. Marina Egorov (27:18)
  5. Mila Geldenhuys (27:30)
  6. Rebecca Watney (27:33)
  7. Annalise Scholtz (27:37)
  8. Mareli Van Schalkwyk (28:27)
  9. Estee Cockcroft (29:06)
  10. Tamlyn Gill (29:13)

To find out more about the Otter African Trail Run visit