In a true display of trail sportsmanship, Bernard Rukadza and AJ Calitz took line honours together in a nailbiting joint win at the Marloth Mountain Challenge Ultra Skymarathon® on Saturday, both smashing the course record by almost 12 minutes to finish in 7:05:41.
With 55km of pure trail and 3 450m of vertical gain that are as gruelling as they are scenic, the Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC) is the fourth event in the 2016 SA Skyrunner® Series and the only Ultra SkyMarathon® in South Africa. Set in the Langeberg mountains above the Overberg town of Swellendam some 200km inland of Cape Town, the MMC follows the original four-day Swellendam hiking trail through the Marloth Nature Reserve, temporarily closed to the public for reconstruction of the hiking huts following a fire through the area three years ago.
Race day presented the best weather in the three year history of the race – the cool crisp conditions were perfect for skyrunning with clear blue skies for endless views of the Boland below.
The race started and finished at the historic 1747 Swellendam Drostdy, and the front pack set a blistering pace over the first two kilometres before hitting the single track into the reserve. Calitz and Rukadza ran the entire route together, Calitz at times seen pulling his trail buddy along on the steep climbs.
Last year’s second place finisher Lucas Adams struggled to maintain his usual form and was overhauled from the start by diminutive Malawian speedster Edson Kumwamba, who secured 3rd place in 7:46:52, a full 41 minutes behind the Rukadza and Calitz winning duo.
Adams followed in 7:51:53.
In the women’s race, Linda Doke led the fray for the first 24km but was overtaken by Jenny Janisch, who ran a consistently strong race to take the win in a convincing 10:06:01. Sabrina Kondelis took 2nd place in 10:26:24, and Doke finished 3rd in 10:47:09.
The women’s record of 8:25:23 set by Katya Soggot in 2015 remains firmly intact.
While the first 23km of the route are said to be the toughest, clocking up more than half of the total altitude gain, the two climbs during the final 10km are sharp and, as one runner was heard muttering, have a way of stealthily siphoning any smidgeon of skyrunning strength left in the legs.
“The Marloth Mountain Challenge Ultra SkyMarathon® is relentlessly technical, making it undoubtedly the toughest race of its distance category in South Africa. The MMC experience stands out against the myriad races on the trail calendar – not only is it a physical and emotional challenge beyond any out there over the same distance, but the fact that it’s staged in such a pristine wilderness area that is the Langeberg makes it all the more special,” says race director and Wildrunner MD Owen Middleton.
Click here for race results from the Marloth Mountain Challenge Ultra SkyMarathon®: http://mountainchallenge.co.za/sites/default/files/results/160927_mmc16_results_master_55km_ultra.pdf
All photos: Peter Kirk
The next event in the 2016 SA Skyrunner® Series is the 37km Uitsoek SkyMarathon® near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga on 22 October (http://www.terramotion.co.za/uitsoek-sky-marathon/ )
Current standings in the 2016 SA Skyrunner® Series to be posted soon.