26 September 2017
On Sunday 24 September 2017, the Swellendam trails were bursting with spring blooms, and big mountain racing. The grand finale of the 3-part Bos Sport Mountain Challenge Series® delivered on all the promised vertical ascent, technical descents, breath-taking views and challenging single track pleasure that has earned the Marloth Mountain Challenge its notoriety.
The three race distances were made up of 24.5km, 35km and a 55km Ultra. The Ultra included 3 500m of vertical height gain, and competitors had to run a qualifying race to participate. In an exciting last-minute move, organisers at Wildrunner put R8 000 up against the 55km course records, in addition to the stipulated prize money. If both the men’s and women’s records toppled, R8 000 was to be divided between the two record holders. If just the men’s, or just the women’s records fell, R8 000 would be awarded to the new record holder. The men’s record was held collectively by AJ Calitz and Bernard Rukadza who finished together in 2016 in 7h 05min 41sec. The women’s 55km record was in the hands of Katya Soggot who finished the 2015 race in 8h 25min 23sec.
Race day dawned with mild temperatures and an indication of some heat later in the day. The sold-out event attracted some of the best mountain runners in South Africa, and was set to be a show down on every level.
In the 24km, Jonathan Black took an early lead. His tendency to burn too many matches in the first few km was notably reigned in, and paid dividends as an ecstatic Black set a new course record of 2h 47min and 59sec, and won the overall Lite Series®. Medical student Annamart Laubser is currently unstoppable in middle distance trail racing, and took first place in the women’s 24.5km and was third over the line in a time of 3h 5min and 30seconds. The talented young Oliver Kopp snuck in between Jonathan and Annamart.
Word from the 35km course was that front runners Wesley Sweetnam, William Battersby, Grant Marcus, Stephen Davis and Dom Wills were hunting in a pack until the first check point. Wesley pulled away for the second half, storming in to set the second new course record of the day; 4h 09min. Wesley was followed by Grant Marcus in second overall, and first VET position. In keeping with a growing trail running trend, 3rd overall and first woman was Shangave Balendran.
The finish line focus turned to news of the 55km. Check point comms indicated that AJ Calitz and Edson Kumwamba were out in front with a small gap separating them until Wolfkloof, by which time AJ had opened up a sizeable lead with just 14km and two solid climbs to go. There was no stopping AJ from thereon, and he stormed through to achieve the event’s first sub-7, and set a new course record time of 6h 54min and 37sec. Downhill dancer Lucas Adams came in second, followed by Andre-Hugo van Zyl who also clinched his Bos Sport Mountain Challenge Series® win.
In the women’s 55km race, Carla van Huysteen and Dunya Ansems dominated the sharp end for the entire course, with recent PUFfeR winner Karoline Hanks in third. The three retained this formation, with Carla working hard to pull away from Dunya in the final kms. An emotional van Huysteen took 21 minutes off the course record, narrowly missing her sub-8 hour goal. Minutes later Dunya too finished within the previous course record, and Karoline completed the podium in third, and first VET. Carla took the Series® win, adding another trophy to a great racing year and exceptional racing career.
There was no shortage of finish line agony and ecstasy for the remainder of the afternoon, with many runners reluctant to move from the “collapse zone” after receiving their hard earned medals and solid oak Africa shaped race branded coaster. Marloth has certainly earned its spot as one of South Africa’s toughest, and most beautiful mountain challenges.
With thanks to title sponsor Bos Sport and technical partner Raidlight South Africa for continuing to support the trail community’s relentless pursuit of bigger, further, faster, higher. Thanks to additional partners Steenberg Vineyards and Boston Breweries.
Last, but certainly not least, a huge thank you to Cape Nature for allowing us the privilege of running in this magnificent wilderness area.
For more: firstname.lastname@example.org
Full results http://www.mountainchallenge.co.za/results
Photo credit: Wesley Sweetnam by Mark Sampson
Photo credit: AJ Calitz by Mark Sampson
Photo credit: Karoline Hanks by Mark Sampson
Photo credit: Alan van Gysen
Link to additional images