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Malicious course tampering at JMC raises bigger concerns

19 April 2016 – Cape Town: A large number of trail runners participating in the 6th Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge (JMC), which took place on Sunday 17 April 2016 in the Jonkershoek Valley near Stellenbosch, were misdirected off-course when other users in the area - seemingly irritated with the event - purposefully misdirected the race route markings. 

The 38, 24 & 11km JMC routes take place on a collective of predominantly Cape Nature hiking trails that have been coupled with MTO/Cape Pine forestry tracks and established mountain bike trails. Approximately 1.7km (2.7% of the trail race) in the 38 & 24km routes and out of a total of 62km of marked courses, is run on the mountain bike trail (see map to the right), and this inclusion is used sparingly and with permission of the land custodians – MTO – for the purpose of the event.

“To our shock and disbelief, we discovered early into the event, from feedback from the leading runners over the line, that there was an issue with the markers on the course, at approximately the 32km mark of the 38km, or the 18km mark on the 24km routes,” commented Owen Middleton, Wildrunner Events Director. 

“On inspection, we discovered that an individual, or group of individuals, deliberately changed a sign and moved three confirmation marker flags at a crucial intersection, leading runners completely off course (see comparison images right).  Fortunately, the trail that runners were misdirected onto spat them out at such an angle lower down, that most runners ended up back on correct track, albeit adding an extra 1km to the distance. Some unfortunate runners did however end up a long way off-course and struggled to find their way back to the finish, adding as much as 3-4km to their distance.” 

Unfortunately, this was not the only compromise. 

“Approximately 500m after the start, three confirmation marker flags had been re-routed into a dead end river bed. This, we assume was local pranksters and was done post the pre-start route check.  The second was at 5km into the 38km route, where a sign and three marker flags had been completely removed."

“Wildrunner, operatin for 9 years with over 200 trail events, takes great pride in marking our routes effectively. In this particular case, three of Wildrunner’s most experienced course markers were involved (with collectively 16 years of experience) - and a majority of the lower part of the route was checked pre-start.”

Wildrunner’s biggest concern with the situation was the safety of runners. Middleton explained the situation: “When malicious action is taken like this it can have disastrous consequences; Add unexpected distance as well as hot and humid weather to the mix and you get conditions conducive to chronic dehydration and heat exhaustion. If you put an individual in this position outside of the event safety net, it is potentially life threatening.

A number of indications on the day led Wildrunner to believe that there is a general animosity towards anyone else using the mountain bike trails, despite permits issued by the land custodians MTO.  One incident came from a Wildrunner crew member, who reported that he was sworn and shouted at by mountain bikers at the main entrance to the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve to the effect of “You runners should f**k off, these are mountain biking trails.” 

The crew also heard reports from runners on the single track that mountain bikers were telling them to go back and rude retorts about getting off “our” trails. 

These trails have been establilshed on MTO property and MTO view and confirm the route and issue a permit to access these particular trails on the day. The unfortunate attitude o seems to be that these trails should be exclusively for mountain biking. The net result of a few individual’s selfish actions to share 1.7km out of 32km of single track available in the valley may be that MTO close the mountain bike trails completely for the morning of JMC.  Given this year’s experience, this will most certainly be the recommendation for 2017.

Middleton concluded that, “Situations like this remain out of our control but regardless of this we deeply regret the impact this had on a number of individuals who ended up wandering the forests of Jonkershoek. Fortunately, everyone made it back to the finish safely and we hope that once the dust settles the remaining memory will be the spectacular route in this truly magnificent corner of the Cape."

“The issue that this incident raises, is the need for all trail users to co-exist in harmony in the precious, safe nature spaces that we have available for recreation – we have to work together to protect these spaces, and moreover to share them with all stakeholders.”

“We look forward to seeing the trail runners back for the Helderberg Mountain Challenge on the 30 April for the second instalment of the 2016 Mountain Challenge Series.”

For any comment and feedback about this issue, please feel free to call the Wildrunner office on 021 821 9898 or email info@wildrunner.co.za