Cape’s Landie has wheels to blaze trail in Euro­pean elite

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STEPHEN GRANGER

TWENTY- nine- year- old Stel­len­bosch trail- run­ning star, Landie Greyling, ran to a ca­reer high­light at the World Long Dis­tance Trail­Run­ning Cham­pi­onships in north Wales last week­end, but has set her sights much higher in or­der to com­pete with – and tri­umph over – the world’s best.

Greyling was the stand­out ath­lete in the seven-strong Protea squad that took part in the five-lap 77km race through the en­chant­ing Gwydyr For­est near Conwy, hold­ing off in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for a top-10 place, even­tu­ally end­ing ninth in 7hr 17min 29sec.

In a sport largely dom­i­nated by Euro­pean ath­letes, Greyling ex­celled to fin­ish just six min­utes off fifth po­si­tion – less than five sec­onds per kilo­me­tre – with ath­letes from just four coun­tries ahead of her at the fin­ish.

“The pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the French had to be seen to be be­lieved,” ad­mit­ted Greyling. “Apart from the fact that vir­tu­ally their en­tire team are full- time pro­fes­sional ath­letes, ev­ery­thing they did was clearly the re­sult of top prepa­ra­tion and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

“Their run­ning kit, their nu­tri­tion, their time-ta­ble – noth­ing was left to chance and clearly their race prepa­ra­tion had been per­fect. I think that alone is worth five min­utes at least.

“But I learnt a huge amount last year in my first year run­ning in­ter- na­tion­ally and I will build fur­ther on this year’s ex­pe­ri­ence to achieve my goals.

“At 29, I was cer­tainly one of the younger com­peti­tors in the com­pe­ti­tion – the aver­age age was 37 – so I have time on my side.

“I ran part of the race with the past cham­pion, Maud Gobert of France, and that was also very help­ful. I dis­cov­ered that al­most all of their team live at high al­ti­tudes in the Alps or other moun­tains, where they live and sleep their sport on a full-time ba­sis.

“We are still far be­hind and noone from the South African team is a full-time ath­lete. But we are mak­ing good progress and com­pared to the 2011 cham­pi­onships, we had plenty of time to pre­pare for the event.”

Ac­cord­ing to Greyling, who with her own “day job” com­mit­ments as a lec­turer in tax ac­coun­tancy and dabbling in ad­ven­ture sport event or­gan­is­ing is about as far from full­time as one can get, South Africa has noth­ing to fear from in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion when it comes to trail­rac­ing.

“We cer­tainly have the tal­ent, and I be­lieve we could match the best in the world over our own moun­tain­ous ter­rain. We just have to up our game when com­pet­ing over­seas. But we can do it and I will be aim­ing for a podium fin­ish at the next World Trail-Run­ning Cham­pi­onship.

“We must take the lessons to heart and build to­gether, with the coun­try’s top trail-run­ners, to make South Africa more com­pet­i­tive at the next World Cham­pi­onships in two years’ time.”

A sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage for Greyling is the strong sup­port from hus­band and train­ing part­ner, Chris­ti­aan, an IT en­gi­neer and elite ath­lete, who made it a dou­ble for the Greylings by fin­ish­ing first of the South African men’s team in Wales, plac­ing 31st over­all.

Be­ing able to travel to­gether to Bri­tain prior to the cham­pi­onships, where they trained in the Lake Dis­trict – per­fect trail-run­ning coun­try, says Greyling – was ideal men­tal and phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion. She also en­joyed the build-up to the event in Wales, where those early ar­rivals played their part in pro­mot­ing the sport, vis­it­ing a lo­cal pri­mary school.

Of the other South African women, KZN’s Tracy Zunckel en­joyed a con­sis­tent race, plac­ing 27th out of 66 starters, but Chantel Nien­aber and Linda Dokes had for­get­table races, al­though both showed courage to hold out to the fin­ish to earn South Africa a re­spectable sev­enth place in the team com­pe­ti­tion.

Charl Souma and Dirk Cloete had rel­a­tively dis­ap­point­ing races, plac­ing out of the top 40. In fact, Landie Greyling over­hauled Cloete 10km from the fin­ish and drew level with Souma just 3km from the fin­ish. “I think Charl was a bit shocked to see me,” ad­mit­ted Greyling.

“We ran to­gether for two kilo­me­tres, then he sprinted off when we hit the tar for the last kilo­me­tre!”

CLASS ACT: Landie Greyling en route to ninth po­si­tion in the World Long Dis­tance Trail-Run­ning Cham­pi­onships in North Wales.

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