Champion South African trail-runner Johardt van Heerden applied his off-road experience to great effect to win a sometimes slippery SPAR Knysna Forest Marathon on debut on Saturday.
The Capetonian finished in 2:33:39, beating home Ryan Eichstadt (second) and Philasande Buthelezi (third).
Mila Geldenhuys was the first woman across the line in the tough 42.2km event.
In the men’s 21.1km, it was third time lucky for the Garden Route’s Selwyn Matthews, who won in a strong 1:06:47.
He got the better of teammate and training partner Lloyd Bosman – the multiple defending champion – with Francois Maquassa third.
Mia Steytler broke the tape in the women’s half-marathon.
More than 7 000 athletes braved the nippy early-morning weather to take part in the 38th running of the event.
Conditions were not as wet as initially forecast, with the times indicating that the going was relatively good underfoot.
Van Heerden has won a number of ultra-trail events in South Africa and has enjoyed considerable success overseas as well.
He entered the Knysna Forest Marathon to record a qualifying time for next year’s Boston Marathon, a race he wants to tick off his bucket list.
The Cape Town attorney said that although the run had been a bit slippery in the beginning, he had soon felt comfortable.
“After 15km, I actually thought I had started too fast,” Van Heerden confessed.
“But I studied the route beforehand and saw that after 25km it’s nice with a big downhill and sharp uphill. I was mentally prepared for that.
A 'RESOUNDING SUCCESS'
The final descent towards the coast was all about running as fast as your legs would carry you, he said.
“Overall I am satisfied. It was a good day out.”
He believes his background in trail-running was an advantage on the undulating route.
In road running, he explained, athletes used the same muscles all the time whereas trail-running required the activation of different muscle groups. In that respect the run in the forest, with its slippery surface, was similar to his chosen sport, he said.
The 2024 Boston Marathon would be his first shot at one of the Big City marathons around the world.
“After that I will retire to trail again,” he quipped.
“I am very happy because it was my first official road marathon. It was also my first Knysna marathon and I suspect it won’t be my last.”
Matthews, too, found the conditions to his liking en route to victory in the half-marathon.
“It means a lot to win this. Now I’m looking ahead to next year and the 42km.”
Bosman, the perennial race favourite, was thrilled for his South Western Districts Nedbank Club teammate as they spend hours training together.
Besides the light drizzle early on, he said there had been little to worry the athletes.
SPAR Eastern Cape advertising manager Rose Shadrach could not have been happier with the large turnout, saying the event had been a “resounding success”.
“It was amazing to experience participants huddling around, keeping each other warm ahead of the start of the two races.
“We are proud to sponsor this iconic event and we appreciate the support from everyone who attended from far and wide,” she said.