SKYRACING WITH TONI
There's no denying that Adidas Terrex athlete and Flat Rock Endurance Coach, Toni McCann, is one of South Africa's most accomplished trail runners, and even still... it feels as though she's only at the very beginning of her career. There's no way of knowing where her talent will take her, but we're rooting for the Cape Town local!
The Skyrunning Series SA sent Toni an email, who is currently in sunny Chamonix, to ask her about all things European mountain running and her experience racing international SkyRaces®!
QUESTION & ANSWER
Toni, you've been living the European Summer dream! How is it going and what's next for you?
Travelling and racing in Europe is truly a privilege, and the opportunity to explore new trails and train in more specific and focused environments is incredible. My main focus that's coming up is OCC at UTMB, a 56km race with over 3500m of elevation gain. Before that, I've got a fun little double VK on Saturday the 30th of July, 2000m+ elevation in 11km. I've never done a race before that requires crampons/microspikes and a mountaineering helmet. Should be fun!
Over the past two years, you've stood on a few startlines in Europe. Including some SkyRaces! How would you explain your Skyrunning experience in a single sentence?
In one sentence - golly. I would probably say: Skyrunning is the kind of running that humbles you; with its mix of technical running, rock hopping, ridgelines, steep climbs and sharp descents, it challenges you mentally and physically - but also breathtakingly beautiful. It's a pure mountain experience.
When you're in South Africa, you spend much of your time at Mont Rochelle; what is it about the Franschhoek mountains that you love so much?
Franschhoek mountains offer a terrain very similar to that of the types of trails you find in the Alps. Long, runnable climbs take you to the top of a mountain, followed by flowing descents and some technical running sections. More than that, however, it's the ability to get into the mountains so easily. The accessibility of Mont Rochelle - to feel like you're far away from cities, and towns - is quite special.
You've also made a couple of loops of the Langeberg SkyRace® course! How does this loop compare to some of the 20km± races you've done in Europe?
VERY similar. This route at Langeberg would fit very well in the European Skyrunning Circuit. It starts with a long and pretty runnable trail, with some scrambly sections where it gets really steep and rocky. Then you hit the summit and you're treated with 360' panoramic views of the Montagu, Robertson and far beyond. From there, you have a sharp, technical descent that will challenge even the hardiest of quads. It's short, punchy, steep and technical. Truly an experience you don't want to miss.
Just an FYI - the last few kilometres have a few sneaky climbs, so be prepared and save a gel for that final 5 km.
"Skyrunning is the kind of running that humbles you; with its mix of technical running, rock hopping, ridgelines, steep climbs and sharp descents, it challenges you mentally and physically - but also breathtakingly beautiful. It's a pure mountain experience."
Do you have any advice for someone taking on a SkyRace® for the first time?
Be sure to pace yourself well and fuel - it's tempting to go out too hard and under fuel as the distance is on the shorter side. But the climbs are long, and the descents even longer if you haven't paced yourself well in the first part of the race. Eating enough (from early on) will ensure you can keep climbing at a solid and sustainable intensity and hopefully still have some gas in the tank for the final descent.
Also, relax over the technical terrain. Trust your gear, trust your feet and breathe. It's easy to tense up when the trails get rocky and loose, but the more you doubt yourself, the more dangerous it becomes. Try focus 2-3m ahead of you and relax into it. Running technical terrain is a skill you can develop - if not for your first SkyRace®, then certainly for the next!
There's no denying that we have some serious vert on our courses; what would you say to someone who might be intimidated by it?
A lot of vertical gain can be intimidating, especially over one sustained climb. I think it's important to remember that it's okay (and sometimes more efficient) to hike. Find a comfortable rhythm that you can sustain for an hour or two and stick to it. Switching too often between running and hiking is inefficient and uses more energy than if you just found a good groove.
Breathe big, deep, belly breathes, use your arms, and just enjoy it. The climb might be long, but generally they are pretty spectacular, so if you need - slow down, look up and appreciate where you are. It always makes the hard work worth it.
"This route at Langeberg would fit very well in the European Skyrunning Circuit."
There's R10 000 up for grabs for the first place finishers at the Langeberg SkyRace®. Who do you want to see going all in for the win at Langeberg?
There are so many up-and-coming speedy snakes that I would love to see take on these shorter Skyrunning races. The distance deserves more respect, when run hard this style of running is HARD, and I think putting prize money like this up will attract people from all walks of life. It would be amazing to see some unknown names steal the title!
What things make the South African trail running community unique compared to the European scene?
The community in South Africa is truly unlike any I've experienced anywhere else. The camaraderie, stoke for each other's achievements, and willingness to support, cheer, and tag along on wild adventures is contagious. Nowhere have I seen a better group of people.
THANK YOU TONI!