THE HELDERBERG MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE 2011 – RACE REPORT

Watching the weather leading up to event day was a stressful experience.  Even on Saturday as Dave and I spent 5 hours marking the three routes, Sunday’s weather was still up in the air (no pun intended).  But fortune was smiling on the 2nd edition of the Helderberg Mountain Challenge, and the serious weather delayed its arrival until Monday morning.

This year brought two new additions to the route options available – the 24km EXTREME route, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, the 1km kiddies course!  The Helderberg Mountain Challenge Extreme took on a massive 1960m of vertical ascent, with runners ascending the 1131m high Helderberg Dome and the 1003m high West Peak twice along the way.  

The events started in the beautiful gardens of Helderberg Nature Reserve with a 15 minute delay, as the registration crew tried their best to get through the latecomers.  So at 8am the Helderberg Mountain Challenge 15km, and the Helderberg Mountain Challenge Extreme 24km runners started on their respective journey into the Helderberg mountains together.  Dion Middelkoop, Ake Fagereng, Rohan Kennedy and Bernard Rukadza set a blistering pace early on – no doubt all with the mindset of trying to break the 47min ‘King of the Mountain’ record and of course the R2000 spot prize!

But this was Dion’s terrain, and not only was he first to the top of West Peak to become the second ‘King of the Mountain’ in 48min (so the record still stands), but held off a charging Ake Fagereng to set a new course record in a time of 1:25:19 (winning time in 2010 1:26:42 by Michael Bailey) with Ake 2 seconds behind. 

In the ladies race it was a flat out battle betweenKatya Soggot and 2010 HMC winner Alae Brand.  Katya was on fire, and led at the summit of West Peak – only 8 minutes behind Dion, and 7th overall.  Alae was trailing at the summit by 3 minutes.  But if Katya was flooring it up the hill, she certainly put the hammer down on the downhill – clearing another 2 minutes on a chasing Alae, and finishing in another record time of 1:36:02 – some 12 minutes faster than Alae’s winning time in 2010 of 1:48:48.  Alae herself took just under 6 minutes of her 2010 time, finishing in 1:42:56.  

Dion and Katya receive their winners cheques

 

 

HMC Extreme

In the extreme route Derek Baard set a blistering pace to the summit of West Peak, topping out 3rd overall out of both the HMC and HMC Extreme runners in an amazing time of 50 minutes – only 3 minutes behind Dion. Kenneth Bergh was two minutes behind Derek, with Dominic Wills in third a further minute behind.  But the early pace came back to haunt Derek, and by the time the Extreme runners got to the saddle between the two peaks en route to the 1131m Helderberg Dome Dominic Wills and Rupert Becker had secured the lead, with Martin Kleynhans in third.  From the saddle to the Dome and back is the most technical and demanding section of the route, with some steep climbs and equally steep descents – it’s what puts the Extreme into the name, and it lived up to its name!  

At the Dome it was Dominic still in the lead, with Rupert chasing hard.  By the time the duo had reached the top of West Peak for the second time the two runners where neck and neck, with Martin 10 minutes off.  Incredibly,  after 3 hours of hard racing, it was less than two minutes that separated the two with Dominic Wills securing the win in a time of 3:10:47.  Rupert Becker finished in 3:12:18 and Martin Kleynhans third in 3:24:33.

In the ladies race, Robyn Ferrar secured the win in 4:00:16, with Marli Grewar 2nd in 4:52:12 and Jacoline Haasbroek3rd 4:53:47.

A special mention needs to be made of the 69 year old Larry Jenkins, who left the summit of West Peak in last position and managed to pull two places during the descent to finish in 6:52:44.  Larry you are an inspiration to us all, and I for one sure hope I am doing these kinds of races when I am your age.  

HMR

That brings me to the 10.75km Helderberg Mountain Run (HMR), and the chaos that ensued caused by two marshals.  Runner’s being sent the wrong way is a race organizer’s worst nightmare. Despite course briefings, radio contact, route signage and dedicated race control - the reality is that when it comes to marshal’s out on the course there is always a probability of human error. 

Of the 90+ events we have run in the last three and half years this is only the second time we have had a major issue on the course as a result of poor marshalling.  That said we are devastated by the turn of events on this particular route and to all of you who came from far and wide to run this event we can only apologize.  

As a direct result of the two marshals in question there turned out to be five variations on the original route!  We are doing the best we can to accommodate as many of those variations as possible, and ask that you please bear with us as we sort through what is a timing nightmare.  

A lesson in why we carry kit in the mountains

At 10:20am Jacques Albertyn was airlifted from West Peak by Skymed, after we received word from our marshal that Jacques had suffered a fit just below the summit and had lost feeling in his leg. The reality is that even in close proximity to these fantastic services we are so privileged to have, it can still take an hour to get rescue services in position.  Fortunately a following runner - Christo Truter – stopped to help and had a space blanket and a sports towel with him – without which Jacques would have certainly felt the effect of hypothermia on the windy and cold ridge.

This should be a lesson to all runners who run in the mountains, whether competing or not, to carry an absolute minimum of survival gear in the mountains – regardless of the weather.  It’s not about when you are running, it’s about when you can’t. Relying on other runners is selfish as who knows they might need the same gear they lend to you later on for themselves! As a minimum any trail runner should be carrying a space blanket, whistle, water, basic first aid kit, a wind breaker, and a phone with emergency numbers in. In winter this should extend to a base layer/micro fleece as well. For those of you in the Cape, Metro is a number you should have in your phone for mountain rescue – 021 937 0300.  

Pic above: Skymed taking off to pick up Jacques (Pic: Alex Strez)

Save this number in your phone if you don’t have already. In the case of events, phone the organiser as they should have a disaster management plan (I say should as many don’t!) that includes having these services on standby (the benefit here is that the services already know all the details, and therefore the process is much quicker).  

 

For a good cause

A big thank you to all of you who supported the HMC, some coming from as far as Gauteng to take part (thanks Ian & Christo!).  Your efforts meant that we coulddonate R10,000 to the Friends of Helderberg– money that will be used to improve and repair the trails so damaged by the devastating fire that ripped through the mountains but a few weeks prior to the event.

 

Pic: Alistair Munday receives the Wildrunner Donation on behalf of the Friends of Helderberg.

 

Thank you

• Owen Wittridge, Helderberg Nature Reserve manager & his reserve staff for all their assistance and enthusiasm.

• Hayley Wittridge, Kogelberg Nature Reserve manager and her reserve staff for being a part of the action.

• Alistair Munday, Friends of Helderberg Chairman for his assistance on the day and for all the work that he and his band of volunteers do for Conservation in the area.

• Tam, Dave, Gareth & Rene Jupp, Dave & Glenda Jupp, Judy Middleton and the rest of the Wildrunner family who give so willingly of their time to help out - more often than not at ridiculous times in the morning!

• Christo Truter, for sacrificing his own race to help out a fellow runner in need.  Without your assistance, hypothermia would have almost certainly been an added factor to the situation. 

• Paul van Spronsen, HAMNET for his assistance with coordinating the mountain rescue.

• Metro & WSAR, few know about or appreciate the service you guys offer and carry out.  Your response was superb and from us and from the patient a big thank you.

• adidas, from all the runners who received such awesome prizes – thank you!

If I have missed anyone please forgive me!

Please feel free to comment and load your photos onto Wildrunner.co.za –others would love to hear your stories, and see your pics!  

Thank you for your understanding and support, and we hope to see you all again next year on the 20 May 2012 for more mountain challenge action in the Helderberg Nature Reserve!

In the meantime, take care in the mountains and run wild, 

Owen

p.s. this is for all of you who actually read all the way to the end – we have just had confirmation for the sister event to this – the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge (JMC)! So sketch into your diaries the 21st August 2011…you don’t want to miss this one!