I'm not a natural blogger and I'm no techie. I'm an ultra trail runner by passion, and a journalist by profession - in that order of priority.
In this blog I use the one to talk about the other - my trail thoughts, musings and meanderings about running mountains and trails.
I call it rockhoppin', just because... well... that's what we trail runners love to do!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

SA’s oldest and newest trail races

Trail running has taken the running world by storm over the past decade, and South Africa’s no different. The sport has burgeoned at such a pace across Europe, the US, the UK, Australia and Asia, just as it has in our country, and the international calendar is ripe with races popping up in practically every far flung region of the globe.

South Africa has its own rich heritage of iconic trail races on its calendar. The oldest by far (although admittedly, it’s not pure trail) is the Harrismith Mountain Race, a 15km race on the Platberg (‘flat mountain’) near Harrismith in the Free State (Harrismith Mountain Race). 
Platberg, near Harrismith

The first formal staging of the race was in 1922 and this October will celebrate its 93rd running. Tipped by the much-revered Wally Hayward as “the toughest obstacle race in the world”, the 15km race also hosts the world record for the most consecutive wins in a single race – achieved by South African Michael McDermott, who won it 16 times in a row, of the 30 times he competed.

Other races with deep roots in SA’s trail running history include the Rhodes Run (started in 1989, mainly dirt road) (Rhodes Run), Mont-aux-Sources Challenge (1993) (Mont-aux-Sources Challenge), the PUFfeR (1995, more than 30% on tar) (PUFfeR), Three Peaks Challenge (1997, about 50% tar) (Three Peaks Challenge), SkyRun (1998, pure trail) (SkyRun) and the 7-day self-sufficient desert race, the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (1999, no tar) (KAEM).

And for the adrenalin junkies amongst us, there’s skyrunning. the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA), affiliated to the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF), brought official skyrunning to the mountains of southern Africa in 2011, featuring categories like the SkyMarathon®, Ultra SkyMarathon®, SkyRace® and the Vertical Kilometre®, all forming part of the annual national Skyrunning Series.

These types of races focus on pure mountain running, with virtually no tar on route, and where elevation gain is the primary challenge.

So far this year there’ve been six races in the 2015 Skyrunner® Series – the Drakensberg Northern Trail SkyMarathon® (KZN, 42km, vertical gain 2 100m) (DNT); the Ingeli SkyMarathon® (KZN, 42km, vert gain 1 800m) (Ingeli Trail Run); Uitsoek Skymarathon® (Mpumalanga, 36km, vert gain 2 167m) (Uitsoek Skymarathon); Xtreme Dodo Trail (Ultra SkyMarathon®, Mauritius, 50km, vert gain 3 500m – this was the African Skyrunning Continental Championships) (XDT); the Ti Dodo Trail (SkyRace®, Mauritius, 25km, vert gain 1 500m) (TDT); and the Wolkberg SkyMarathon® (Limpopo, 34km, vert gain 1 781m) (Wolkberg Trail Run).

Next up in the series will be on September 26th with the Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC), an Ultra SkyMarathon® in the Marloth Nature Reserve in the Langeberg mountains above Swellendam in the Western Cape. With more than 85% of the 55km route being on remote mountain hiking trail, and a vertical gain of more than 3 400m, this one will be tough, beautiful, and one to test the trail running stalwarts.

In October is the Matroosberg SkyMarathon® (MTC), near Ceres in the Western Cape, offering 2 100m of vertical gain over 37km.

The final race in the 2015 Skyrunner® Series will be on November 28th with the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT), a 50km Ultra SkyMarathon® with 3 200m of vertical gain in the fresh, lung-busting air of the Lesotho highlands. Now in its third year, the LUT starts and finishes at the beautiful Maliba Lodge in the heart of the Maluti mountains.

So, whatever your trail kick, keep those quads and lungs pumped and ready for action, because there’s lots of it happening – and even more to come!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Beast 2015

 “What is man without the beasts? 
For if all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit.”
These wise words were uttered way back in the mid 1800s by a rather astute Native American chap named Chief Seattle. We must presume, of course, that he was referring not only to those of the male persuasion dying of loneliness if all beasts were gotten rid of, but us gals too.
Of course he did.
They did care about women too in those days…   well, every now and then.

But I digress. Back to the importance of beasts and the like. Here in Cape Town we now have our very own Beast. And he’s a real brute – he’s huge, he’s tough, he looms high above us all, he’s often grumpy – even savage at times, he demands and commands respect, and he throws his weight around like no other. Quite deviously, he appears at first to be less demanding than what he actually is, and he only bears his true monstrous character a couple of hours after you first meet him.

I refer to this Beast – all 49 growling, snarling, vicious kilometres of it – as male, but no one’s really sure, the verdict’s out. Some say The Beast has to be female – that every time you think things are calming down and getting easier, she bites even harder. Some even refer to her as a bitch of a beast – not only female but teenage, nagging constantly, slowly wearing you down. Just when you think you’ve got that teenager under some semblance of control, she comes back to bite you, sharper, nastier and more unpredictable than before.

Others believe The Beast is male, flexing his testosterone-pumped ego-fuelled muscles at every opportunity. One runner went as far as to say The Beast must be male because he has two balls: a curve ball and Trevor Ball.

Speaking of the Tee Ball himself, grand designer of this terrifying beastie akin only to Roald Dahl’s ghastly menagerie of dirty beasts, I asked Trevor what gender he considered The Beast. This is how he replied:  “It’s an inner Beast, so not gender specific. Release your Beast on the trails! It’s like the Abominable Snowman, big and hairy; it’s like Medusa, it has a head full of snakes that keep biting you and never let up; it’s like the Hulk, it grows huge with rage but is benign if you chill and flow with it.”


Appropriately described, The Beast is Cape Town’s newest trail race, and falls under the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon suite of events. Tipping in just short of 50km, the race is a true ultra, both in distance and difficulty. And, quite simply, this one’s a champ – the route is varied, starting comfortably and growing increasingly tougher as the course progresses.

The route

Starting at the Old Zoo, The Beast has runners following the upper contour path across the front face of Table Mountain, around Kloof Corner, and along the full length of the pipetrack. Then the hairiness begins: haul up Corridor Ravine, onto the spine path and northwards across 12 of the 17 Apostles via the Valley of the Red Gods (over Slangolie, Spring, Wood, Postern, Kasteels, Valken, Barrier, Jubilee, Porcupine, Grotto, Fountain, and Cairn buttresses). Then across the front top of the Table to Maclears Beacon, and diagonally to Hely Hutchinson dam via Echo Valley. After that, the legs face a couple of km’s on the concrete jeep track before hopping onto the Smuts Track to get to Nursery Ravine for the quads to be truly tested. Once on the (not-so) contour path below, the final eight or so km’s call for serious grit.

Trevor knows this one’s a winner: “The Beast route is the culmination of years of planning (dating back to early TMC days) and a lot of work convincing SANParks that we will be eco-friendly and safe. I believe trail running must be an adventure, and The Beast is exactly that!”

Results of The Beast 2015

MEN                                                     WOMEN
Bernard Rukadza      -    05:41:25                Landie Greyling     -   06:37:29
Christiaan Greyling   -   05:43:10                 Sylvie Scherzinger  -   07:06:53
Dion Middelkoop      -   05:54:08                 Linda Doke           -   07:15:45