De Montille back for another Sani Stagger crack

Photo - Jetline Action Photo / Gameplan Media

Defending ladies Sani Stagger Marathon champion Michelle de Montille never expected to cross the line first in 2015 and goes into the 2016 race with a similar mind-set as she builds up to the gruelling 42km road running outing up and down the famous Sani Pass in the Southern Drakensberg on Saturday 26 November.

The defending champion was a novice in 2015 when she set off from the Sani Pass Hotel, bound for the border post to Lesotho at the top of the iconic Sani Pass, and back down again, and despite understanding the nature of the challenge, De Montille now believes she may have underestimated the difficulty of the race first time around.

“It is definitely one of the toughest races that I have ever done and it was not what I expected it to be when I ran it last year,” the Hillcrest Villagers Athletics Club star mentioned.

“I went into the race last year just looking to finish as I knew it was going to be a challenge.

“Winning the race came completely out of the blue and it was the cherry on the top for me after a tough race.”

With the assistance of hindsight going into the 2016 contest, De Montille feels that she has had to adjust her training slightly as the Sani Stagger terrain and conditions are different to any other road marathon that she has run.

“The conditions at the Sani Stagger are completely different to anything us road runners are used to and I followed my normal training regime last year, so I found the off-road running quite difficult.

“You don’t run along a smooth road surface so you are always concentrating on where you are running and as marathon runners, we aren’t very used to that so it made it a little more challenging.

“I have been able to focus more on trail running in my build up this year though.

“This year I have focused more on my hill work as well as doing trail runs, which should help me be better prepared this time around,” she added.

Although the Sani Stagger does carry the hefty weight of being a Comrades Marathon qualifier, De Montille will not be using the race to secure a spot at the prestigious ultra-marathon in 2017.

“The Sani Stagger is completely different to the Comrades and the other qualifiers; the race is definitely more of a bucket list race for me!

“I won’t be using it as my main qualifier and I am sure a lot of people just do the race to say that they have run to the top of Sani Pass and back down again!

“The major accomplishment is finishing the Sani Stagger and enjoying a cold drink at the Himeville Arms after the race!” De Montille commented.

With the Sani Stagger just under two weeks away, De Montille is in a race against time to be fully fit as she tries to shake off an irritating foot injury that has plagued her in recent months.

“I ran a half marathon in Durban this past weekend and my foot swelled up almost immediately after the finish, so I am hoping that it will settle for the Sani Stagger.

“It would be really great to defend my title from last year but I am not focussing on that to be honest, I just want to finish again and enjoy the experience,” a relaxed De Montille added.

Altitude is always going to be a factor at endurance events in the Drakensberg however while acknowledging its impact, De Montille is also confident she can overcome the additional challenge.

“The altitude does have a bit of an effect and in the last few kilometres to the summit I found that it was at its worse then.

“I like to talk when I run and when I was battling to talk I realised that the altitude might be playing a part,” she joked. 

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