More than 400 trail runners made their way to the Helderberg Nature Reserve on Sunday as they took on one of the mighty beasts of South African trail running, the Helderberg Mountain Challenge (HMC). The HMC offers three distances on the day, but none of these are in any way easy. The 24km HMC includes just over 2000m of vertical climb and the same in descent. The weather played along and runners were treated to perfect conditions and views stretching into eternity.
Dylan Solms has been knocking on the podium door for a long time but his performance at Sunday’s HMC took many people by surprise as he claimed victory in this extremely challenging race. Solms did not cross the finish line first, but was bumped up to first place after Bernard Rukadza was penalised for not running with the full compulsory kit. Rukadza was penalised with 30 minutes which meant he finished sixth overall on the day. In an exemplary show of sportsmanship, Solms handed his prize money to Rukadza, showing not only his own class, but also what trail running is all about.
Rukadza ran an incredible race after arriving late and only starting the race 7 minutes after the official start time. It took him approximately 13km to catch up with Solms before surging ahead to eventually finish three minutes ahead of Solms. Solms also ran a well-timed race as he stuck with the experienced Dion Middelkoop to get to the first checkpoint of the day at 11km in 1 hour 20 minutes. This is where he made his move and started pulling away from Middelkoop before Rukadza eventually caught up with him. Solms crossed the finish line in 3:11:07 to claim his first victory in the Mountain Challenge Series. Nicholas Rupanga made up time in the second half of the race to claim second position with a time of 3:20:35 while Middelkoop came home shortly after in 3:26:44.
In the ladies race, Katya Soggot once again surged to the front of the field, finishing half an hour ahead of her closest competitor. At the first checkpoint she was already seven minutes ahead of Minette Naude and she continued pushing to cross the finish line 10th overall in a time of 3:44:40 – ten minutes slower than the record she set at last year’s HMC. Second position was taken by Minette Naude in 4:15:09 with Sylvie Scherzinger coming home in third place with her time of 4:17:43.
More drama in HMC Lite
In the HMC Lite 15km the racing was fierce at the front of the field as Peter Tswayo, Edson Kumwamba and Timothy Chambers raced to the top of West Peak under 50 minutes. Tswayo made it to the peak first in a time of 48:45 to claim the King of the Mountain prize. Earlier in the day, Katya Soggot had already claimed the Queen of the Mountain title for the second year running as she made it to the top in 56:48.
Tswayo could not hold on to his lead though and had to settle for third place behind Kumwamba and Chambers. The battle between these two runners came to a dramatic conclusion as they sprinted for the finish line in a photo finish. While Chambers pipped Kumwamba by a matter of a hundredth of a second, he gave Kumwamba the first spot as he knew that Kumwamba had lost time earlier in the race when he had taken a wrong turn – the second incredible show of sportsmanship of the day. They both crossed the finish line in 1:26:20 with Tswayo coming home in 1:29:30.
Marguerite van Niekerk followed up on her second place at the JMC Lite two weeks prior with a victory at the HMC Lite as she came home eighth overall in a time of 1:46:22. Chantel Nienaber followed shortly after in 1:52:14, with Taryn King completing the podium with a time of 1:57:18.
Young talent, exciting potential
It didn’t take long for the JMR runners to start pouring in as Ivan Kruger led them home in a time of 55:27, followed by 15-year-old Jacques van Schalkwyk in 56:25 and Patrick Smythe in 57:07.
The ladies race was won by the young Megan Leslie who was the only female runner to break the one hour barrier as she ran home in a time of 59:23. She has been dominating the shorter trail distances for some time now and we can’t wait to see what she gets up to in the future. Her sister, Caitlin Leslie was second over the line in a time of 1:03:01 with Erica Goedhals taking third spot in 1:04:04.
It was another superb day on the mountains and we can’t wait for the final race of the Mountain Challenge Series at the Marloth Mountain Challenge on 26 September. With Rukadza, Solms, Rupanga, Middelkoop, Martin Kleynhans, Soggot and Naude having completed both the JMC and HMC they are sure to make their way to Swellendam in September in a bid to complete the Series.
A big thank you to all our sponsors, BOS Sport, Protea Hotels, Graham Beck wines, Belgian Beer Company and Spur for their support and of course to all the runners who get up early to enjoy the challenge and make it so epic!