As the only Ultra SkyMarathon® so far on South African soil, the Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC) did not disappoint – it lived up to its albeit young reputation of being a race to test even the toughest skyrunners not only with distance but with technical terrain and vertical gain.
Race morning dawned calm and cool, with thick cloud covering the mountains above the Overberg town of Swellendam and hiding the sheer size of the challenge that lay ahead for the 56 solo runners.
With big names on the start line like Bernard Rukadza, Nicholas Rupanga, Martin Kleynhans andAndrew Hagen, there was no doubt the race would be a closely fought battle.
Zimbabweans Rukadza and Rupanga pulled away from the rest of the group within the first few kilometres and went through the Goedgeloof Hut checkpoint at 23km together in 3:14, just off the Leg 1 record for that section set by Dom Wills in 2014.
The chase group of Kleynhans and Lucas Adams followed 11 minutes later, with Hagen not far behind.
The two Zimbabweans were still together at the next checkpoint at 32km, but Rukadza put down the hammer on the descent to CP3 at 40km, passing Wolfkloof Hut almost two minutes ahead of Rupanga.
Kleynhans, Adams and Hagen were about 12 minutes behind the leaders at 32km and locked in a battle for third place. Showing their technical downhill skills, Adams and Hagen raced through Wolfkloof three minutes and one minute ahead of Kleynhans respectively.
At this stage Adams realised he was closing the gap on the leaders and began chasing hard. He managed to outrun almost everyone in the final leg of the race, but could not quite manage to catch Rukadza, who crossed the line with a winning time of 7:22:38.
Adams took second place in 7:28:27, while Rupanga managed to hold onto third position in 7:31:43 – less than a minute ahead of Hagen, who also finished strong.
Dom Wills’s record of 7:17:38 still stands.
In the ladies race, Katya Soggot continued where she left off at the Jonkershoek and Helderberg Mountain Challenges and gave no one else a sniff of the lead from start to finish.
Not only did her finish time of 8:25:23 smash the record set in 2014 by more than an hour, she also broke her own leg 1 record that she set as a relay runner in 2014.
Her performance at the MMC was absolutely dominant and a fitting way to cap off what has been an excellent year for her on the trails so far.
Coming home second was Minette Naude in 9:17:50, followed by last year’s winner Monique du Plessis in 9:28:54.
Although weather conditions on race day were significantly better than the heavy downpour and hail of last year’s event, the predicted rain arrived early afternoon, making conditions on the mountain tricky for the slower runners.
Race organiser and Wildrunner MD Owen Middleton says “It has been fantastic being part of the SA Skyrunner® Series in 2015, and in particular being the first Ultra SkyMarathon® on South African soil. We look forward to building on this association going forward.”
Next up in the 2015 Skyrunner® Series is South Africa’s original SkyMarathon®, the 37km Matroosberg Trail Challenge, on 24 October.