This past weekend the South African Long Distance Trail Championships were held at the beautiful Molweni Trail Run in the Krantzkloof Conservancy, KZN. The race venue is absolutely picturesque, and this 32km+ route is only available for this race. The route goes through private land, townships and deep into the gorge in the conservancy. On Saturday morning, the athletes begun to arrive to do the prologue, which would determine their start times for the big event Sunday morning.
The prologue was a tough 8km trail with some fantastic view points and single track. After heading out on the road, you were lead into a thick forested path down a technical descent. You were then lead through a forest, under and over a waterfall and up into a clearing. At the clearing you were afforded some amazing views of the reserve, and if you could take these in it was well worth it. You then head back in a loop. up a technical ascent and back onto the road for the final stretch. The technical nature of the route, as well as the pretty sharp ascents, did a good job of separating the athletes, and the top athletes finished in well under 40 minutes.
Once the prologue was done, the athletes took it easy for the rest of the day to prepare for the big race on Sunday morning. The organiser, Graham, did a fantastic job of explaining the route at the compulsory race briefing in the afternoon. His passion for trail running and appreciation of nature was absolutely clear as he described the route in detail. I wasn’t running the race due to covering the event, but after listening to him describe the ascents and descents, beautiful vistas and fantastic landscape I was ready to drop everything and join the rest of the athletes. The first wave would be at 6:30am, so after the race briefing the athletes head home to rest up.
Sunday morning the athletes were in attendance bright and early. There was a buzz in the air as the first wave start times got closer. This was a massive event for the trail running community in South Africa as the top two placers from each group would automatically be entered into the SA trail team and be going to the World Trail Championships. The first wave head to the start including big names like Lucky Miya, Thabang Madiba, Jock Green and Graema McCallum. Shortly afterwards, the ladies wave was next. Megan Mackenzie, Nicolette Griffioen, Su Don-Wauchope and Daneil Feldmann were all ready to go for the title. As the waves took off five minutes apart the athletes were all headed out on a race that would take anything from 3 to 8 hours.
Shortly afterwards the fun run began. This was a shorter course for whoever couldn’t compete in the 32km main event, and the entrants included Lucky Miya’s 9 year old son. With the fun run and the main event, everyone who wanted to run could take part making sure that no one was excluded 🙂
As the 3 hour mark approached, everyone waited in anticipation to see who would take the men’s crown. It was largely expected to be a Miya vs Madiba finish, but as the first placed male came racing up the street it was none other than the young Johardt Van Heerden. For the people who weren’t familiar with him, this was an absolute shock. He had built up a massive lead over the last 10 or so km, and there was no one behind him as he sprinted across the finish line with a time of 3:01:22. Collapsing, his bag was checked and he was confirmed as the new SA Champion in long distance trail running.
More than five minutes later Lucky Miya came in second, followed shortly by Thabang Madiba in third. Both athletes still looked very strong at the finish, and showed their incredible athleticism. Jock Green came top in his category (40 – 49), and Graeme McCallum top in his (50+). Interestingly, these two athletes took it easy due to their big race in the ultra world champs coming up, still managing to place top in their categories and to come in the top 10 of overall finishers. What incredible athletes.
Soon the women started their finishing straights. In the leading pack were favourites Megan Mackenzie, Nicollete Griffioen and Su Don-Wachope. As they entered the tunnel it was an incredibly exciting sprint finish between Megan and Nicolette, with Megan taking the win. Nicolette came in 23 seconds later to take second place. Megan had been gunning for the SA Champ title for years now, and was absolutely overjoyed with her victory. Lisa Daniel took top honours in her category, and Tanya Worner finished first in the 50+.
Every athlete who competed deserves massive congratulations, just finishing this race is a notable achievement. The full list of results is available here. A special mention must be made for the spirit that I love trail running for. At the prize giving, around 15:30, there was still one athlete out on the course. He was approaching the cut off time of 8 hours and all the other athletes were already long finished. This solitary soul had been running almost the entire race at the back of the pack, on an incredibly tough course and through the blazing heat of the day. Instead of calling it quits at the various exit points, he persisted and was determined to finish. As he came towards the finish line, everyone at the prize giving formed a tunnel around him and cheered him across. It was honestly such a beautiful sight. He was greeted with a beer, and congratulated from everyone including the top athletes who had finished 5 hours prior.
Overall, the event was nothing short of fantastic. There was a great vibe around, incredible athletes performing at their peaks and the organisation left nothing to be desired. A massive thank you to Graham Daniel from 369communications for organising, as well as the lead sponsor of the event Salomon. I will definitely be competing next year, this is one to look out for!