Nine tips for a successful Otter African Trail Run

Otter Trail Run Retto by Jacques Marais/Sony
You can power-hike or you can run, but just keep focused and your thoughts positive to maximise your race experience at Otter. Smile, relax, and enjoy a very special day in paradise! Photo Jacques Marais/Sony

Apart from physical preparation in the weeks and months before, I’ve come to understand how vital the mental aspect on the day is. Without the two in balance, a great performance will not happen. I have nine facets I consider every time I run an Otter (or the reverse route RETTO).

1. Keep your attitude positive.

It’s the one thing you can control. Manage it to be positive and accepting of periods of discomfort and possibly pain. Bad, negative, irritable attitudes will express as bad physical running and easy decisions to back off, or stop, or rest.

2. Be consistent.

A steady, unrelenting pace achieves your target. As beautiful as the route is, photos, social chats, and admiring the views are all unnecessary time wasting, if you’re here for a good time.

3. Run your own Otter.

Friends will either hold you back or force you to be faster and outside your consistent zone. See 2 above. Running your own race, you can be free to fit into your consistent zone, maintain focus, and associate with the race.

John Brimble Otter Trail Run with Joe Tyrrell and SanParks ranger
The author conducting research with mountaineering mate Joe Tyrrell (far right) and a SanParks ranger, confirming that stopping to view scenery and shoot the breeze with mates will result in a slower race time.

4. Set small attainable targets.

Pre-determine a time to each a specific hut or average kilometre per hour over a section of the course. But it must be realistic. Then have a plan B and even C… We generally get what we focus on. So choose to focus what you want as opposed to what you don’t want. In this regard set goals as to how you want to go about the race (run tall, being in control, good cadence throughout) and then follow on from the How to the What. Example: To finish in the top half of the field.

5. Manage your feet.

Socks that don’t chafe, prevent blisters. Your feet will get wet so allow for socks to ball. Use effective shoes and socks, not nice pretty ones.

(You have to run through the rivers. Stopping to remove shoes and socks to keep your feet dry is totally impractical, and puts your feet at risk of cuts and rock pinches. Train with wet feet in the final few weeks, with the shoes and socks you’re going to use. Use a bucket to dunk your feet into if you won’t be training near a source of water. – Ed)

6. Don’t believe all the hype on trail foods.

Three gels an hour is for the sales department, not necessarily you. Learn what works for you. Especially when you run for more than four hours. Tastes do change, and radically so. Manage your energy levels every step of the way, based on what you’ve done in training.

7. Travel light.

John Brimble Otter Trail Run beach sand running
Carry just what you need, not a gram more. A larger volume run pack (10 litre volume and up) is only needed if inclement weather calls for the carrying of additional cold weather gear.

Have all the compulsory gear. But only that which The Otter requires and no more. Weight counts and not in a good way.

8. Don’t faff.

All your gear needs to be easily accessible. If you have to stop to turn your race pack inside out to find something, you lose focus. Read point 2 again. Loose gear and flapping straps, or bottles, will very soon become a major irritation… Read point 1 again.

9. Lead.

Slotting behind a neat bum means you are disassociating from the matter at hand. More critically, it pulls you out of your chosen cadence or forces you to stop, or walk, when the other person does, and not when your plan decided it is required. Run your own race. Read point 3 again.

These have made a big difference to my runs and they will do the same for you too. Good luck and see you at the Otter!

For more Otter preparation advice, read

Follow The Otter

TRAIL magazine is the media partner of the Otter African Trail Run.

Otter African Trail Run start photo of RETTO Terence Vrugtman


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