The Flight of Toni McCann

By Staff Writer: Jess Meniere

Toni McCann holding first place at Zugspitz Ultra 2022. Photograph: Ian Corless.

The easing of COVID-19 travel bans has given wings to South Africa’s trailer-blazing-athlete, Toni McCann; and taking to new trails, she has soared to new heights. 

The adidas TERREX runner started her European season in late February with 4-weeks in the Canary Islands, 2-weeks in Gran Canaria and 2-weeks in Fuerteventura. Returning home for a brief visa check, Toni then took to the Italian mountains where she spent most of May in Livigno. After another brief stint back home in Cape Town, Toni is European bound until the end of September, where she will be running and racing in Chamonix, France. 

Toni’s 2022 race results so-far include 2nd place at Transgrancanaria (43km, 1200m+), 4th place at Maxi Race in Annecy (38km, 2900m+), 4th place at Livigno Skymarathon (34km, 3000m+) and her most recent victory at Zugspitz Ultra (50km, 1700m+) – where she not only claimed the women’s first-place title but crossed the finish line 3rd overall in 4:21:37.

Zugspitz Ultra was a “wholly unexpected victory,” for Toni, as she shared her initial plan was to compete in the 25km event. This shorter distance race later transpired to be a 22km event with 600m+ of vert; a “short and very fast heat,” that Toni ultimately opted against as she believed the longer distances would be of more value for her OCC UTMB training. Having only finalised her decision to race the 50km mid-week, Toni said she “didn’t get a full taper week,” and had completed a “fairly heavy training load during her race week.” Nonetheless, Toni raved about TERREX’s incredible physio and the team’s accommodation, which included the most incredible vegan food for her race “fuelling and recovery.” 

Although Toni’s legs “felt unsurprisingly heavy,” at the start line,  the moment the clock started, she found and stuck to a “comfortable running rhythm.” Admitting that the “fast and flat sections,” have never been her “strong suit,” Toni, enjoying herself, was able to drop a gear and push her comfortable racing-pace’s threshold. Toni’s focus on fuelling her body correctly during her European season, increasing her intake of carbs and managing her hydration (especially in Europe’s extremely hot and exposed conditions), has only benefited her performance, as she “finished strong,” and felt like she still had “gas in the tank.” 

Toni McCann finishes as 1st-woman at Zugspitz Ultratail 2022.

The excitement and pride of Toni’s Zugspitz win has motivated her to continue to push her athletic abilities and is a testament to her European training. The European terrain, different to Cape Town’s technical steep scrambles and sharp downhills, has offered Toni an entirely unique experience. Toni’s overseas focus has been to “get stronger and faster on the runnable uphills, and improve her overall endurance;” a goal which, despite her short COVID setback in early May, she continues to achieve and stretch. Toni’s recent signing with her adidas sponsor has also been essential in her athletic growth, as by training with the TERREX team and pushing her boundaries, she lives the brand’s motto, “Impossible is Nothing.” 

Toni shares that while she has always known to race hard you have to “run easy, very easy and recover well,” her TERREX team has truly taught her to “appreciate the polarity which training requires.” The TERREX athlete shared that most of her European season has been spent training with her adidas teammates; whereby “days in the team house start quite slowly with mandatory coffee, a solid breakfast and some easy mobility work before heading out for their team or individual workouts.” The rest of the day depends on the individual’s schedule – some work, a few may still be out training, while others rest – but regardless, the team reunites in the later afternoon to enjoy an easy second recovery run, mobility or strength session; finishing the day by preparing and enjoying dinner all together. 

Toni McCann, now gearing up for an intensive build-up to OCC at UTMB, shared that she may do some small, shorter races leading up to race day; but for now, her focus is preparing and recovering smartly for Chamonix’s iconic ultramarathon. The Chamonix mountains have a special place in Toni’s heart, and these french trails – where she had her first taste of the alps back in 2019 – have since felt like her “home away from home.” 

Toni knows that the level of competition on international terrain is always tougher, a fact that feeds her motivation to train smarter and race harder. 2022 has seen Toni attach wings to her heels and fly – and after her European season, Faces Africa will welcome the athlete back to home soil, where she will hopefully race to defend her Cape Town Trail Marathon title. 

Toni McCann 2022. Photograph: Petter Engdahl.

On a closing note, Toni McCann shared her “take-homes” so far from Europe include realising “that her limit is much higher than she thought,” “that there is still so much more room for growth,” and she has “yet to hit her ceiling.” Faces Africa is so excited to be a part of Toni McCann’s journey and we look forward to watching and supporting her on her continuous uphill climb.

To follow the TERREX athlete, visit: @tonimccann on Instagram.