There was no stopping Bernard Rukadza and Katya Soggot as they claimed the Mountain Challenge Series title with convincing performances in the mammoth 55km Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC). Both runners put in classy performances and never really gave anyone else a sniff of the Series title as they completed the third race in this epic three race series.
The morning of the race dawned calm and cool with thick cloud covering the Swellendam Mountains and hiding the sheer size of the challenge that lay ahead for the 56 solo runners and 16 relay teams.
Rukadza was joined on the start line by Series leader, Nicholas Rupanga as well as Martin Kleynhans, Lucas Adams and Andrew Hagen. Rukadza and Rupanga pulled away from the rest of the group and went through Goedgeloof Hut, the first official checkpoint at 23km, together in 3 hours and 14 minutes, just missing out on the leg 1 record set by Dom Wills in 2014. At this time they were approximately 11 minutes ahead of Kleynhans and Adams, with Hagen not far behind. The two Zimbabweans were still together at the next checkpoint at 32km but Rukadza put down the hammer on the downhill to the next checkpoint at 40km and went past Wolfkloof hut almost two minutes ahead of Rupanga.
Kleynhans, Adams and Hagen were approximately 12 minutes behind the leaders at 32km and locked in a battle for third place. Adams and Hagen both showed their strength on the downhill and opened up a gap in front of Kleynhans to go through Wolfkloof three minutes and one minute ahead of him respectively. At this stage, Adams realised he had closed the gap on Rupanga and started chasing hard. He outran everyone in the final leg of the race but could not do enough to catch Rukadza, who crossed the line with a winning time of 7:22:38. Adams took second position with his time of 7:28:27 while Rupanga managed to hold on to third in 7:31:43 – less than a minute ahead of Hagen who also finished strong.
Rukadza waited anxiously at the finish line to see if he had done enough to take the Series lead from Rupanga and in the end he had timed it just right, claiming the Mountain Challenge Series title with a lead of 3 minutes and 28 seconds.
In the ladies race, Katya Soggot continued where she left off at the Jonkershoek and Helderberg Mountain Challenges and gave no-one else a sniff of the lead from start to finish. Not only did her finish time of 8:25:23 smash the record set in 2014 by more than an hour, she also broke her own leg 1 record that she set as a relay runner in 2014. Her performance at the MMC was absolutely dominant and a fitting way to cap off what has been an excellent year for her on the trails. Coming home second was Minette Naude with a time of 9:17:50, followed by last year’s winner, Monique du Plessis in 9:28:54.
MMC Lite Relay
The MMC Lite Relay also made for some exciting racing as the BHP Runners, consisting of Pieter Wessels, Burger Symington and Heinrich Boock managed to beat Brotherglen (Nick Colli, Christopher Parker and Nikolai von Stackelberg) by just under three minutes. They came home in 8:14:01, while the first mixed team, TAH on Hills followed in 8:33:57. The first ladies team, Mindful Runners, was home in 10:38:11.
As inclement weather started moving in, conditions became muddy on the mountains but the brave souls who made it past the first official checkpoint continued on their way and everyone made it home within the cut-off time. Battered, but not beaten.
With comments from hardy trail runners after the race including words such as “monstrous” and trail hard-man, Dion Middelkoop saying it was one of the toughest races he’s ever done, it is possible that the Marloth Mountain Challenge could be the hardest trail race in South Africa and we take our hats off to everyone who took on the challenge this year. Will you be up to it next year?
A big thank you to all the Hamnet mountain teams who ensured the runners’ safety on the mountain as well as our great sponsors and supporters, BOS Ice Tea, Protea Hotels, Graham Beck Wines and Swellendam Tourism.
More photos are available here.