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!

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