Drakensberg Northern Trail SkyMarathon®
Pics Terence Vrugtman | www.adventurelifesa.com
The 2016 Skyrunner® Series kicked off on Saturday in a blur of skyrunning speed at the Drakensberg Northern Trail SkyMarathon®, with Potchefstroom-based Johardt van Heerden and Nicolette Griffieon taking the overall men's and women’s podium respectively.
With the DNT being this year’s SA long distance trail championship, their wins crowned them South Africa’s long distance trail champions for 2016. In a first for trail running in our country, both achieved an extra accomplishment: Van Heerden is the first South African to win the title two years running, and Griffieon became the first to be crowned SA long distance champ and SA ultra-distance champ in the same 12 month period. (She was SA ultra-distance champ in 2015.)
The DNT drew a wealth of competition in its line-up, with the likes of Iain don Wauchope (Costa Rica Coastal Challenge winner in 2015 and 2016), Christiaan Greyling (Ultra Trail Cape Town 2015 winner), Kane Reilly (2nd in the Otter Trail Run 2015), Megan Mackenzie (African X winning ladies team 2016), and Nicky Booyens (2015 Skyrunner® Series ladies champ), Marzelle van der Merwe (Lesotho Mountain Challenge 38km ladies winner 2015), to mention a few.
The 40km course is renowned for its sections of challenging, rocky terrain, and its incredible scenery. Set along the border of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Free State, runners traverse a ridgeline for much of the race, with spectacular views across both provinces on either side.
The race made for exciting watching via the Twitter feeds from the checkpoints. Local dynamo Mlungici Mazibuko went out fast, leading the pack of front runners to CP1, in front of Don Wauchope, van Heerden and Reilly. At the first of the two notorious big climbs, just after CP3, Van Heerden made his move – by the top of the climb he had a gap on the chase pack of three minutes. By CP4 he had extended that lead by 13 minutes.
Similarly, in the ladies race, the lead pack of Don Wauchope, Mackenzie, Griffieon and Booyens stuck together until just after CP3, when Griffieon put the hammer down on the climb. She maintained her lead for the rest of the race.
Van Heerden swiped the winning tape in a solid 3:44:03, followed more than 13 minutes later by Don Wauchope (3:57:22). In a nailbiting chase for third place, Greyling chased down Mazibuko in the final few kilometres, (pushing a pace of 3:24/km at one stage), and in a time of 4:00:03 as 3rd place, secured his place on the South African long distance trail team.
Despite an uncomfortable second half of the race, Griffieon maintained her lead throughout and crossed the line within the top 10 overall finishers in 4:52:05. Su don Wauchope followed just 90 seconds later (4:54:23), followed by Pretoria-based Marzelle van der Merwe (5:19:11).
An exceptional performance worth noting was that of Chris Strydom. Just 17 years old, the University of Stellenbosch student secured 6th place (4:11:31), just five weeks after his surprise win at the Batrun 2016 in February.
Race winner Van Heerden is still on a high from his achievement. “For me personally it was hugely satisfactory to have defended my 2015 SA long distance champs title. I made a lot of sacrifices in the past few months to be able to get the training done to perform at my best. The race went according to plan, especially my nutrition, which I usually struggle with. It meant I felt strong the whole race and never had a bad patch,” said van Heerden.
“This was my first skyrunning event and I really enjoyed the ruggedness and technicality of the course. Going up steep hills at altitude with some thrilling views in the distance and then bombing down a technical downhill a few minutes later was so much fun. I really think skyrunning has a great future in South Africa and we need to develop this lovely sport.”
Current top 10 standings for the 2016 Skyrunner® Series
MEN time points WOMEN time points
Johardt van Heerden 3:44:03 100 Nicolette Griffieon 4:52:05 100
Iain Don Wauchope 3:57:22 88 Su Don Wauchope 4:54:23 88
Christiaan Greyling 4:00:03 78 Marzelle van der Merwe 5:19:11 78
Mlungici Mazibuko 4:02:01 72 Lerentia Strydom 5:31:19 72
Rory Scheffer 4:10:45 68 Nicky Booyens 5:51:38 68
Chris Strydom 4:11:31 66 Lorraine Boshoff 5:59:12 66
Pedro Calderon 4:17:33 64 Zisandele Mzhize 6:06:59 64
Mapepane Mahlangu 4:32:50 62 Lawrette McFarlane 6:16:49 62
Kane Reilly 4:33:02 60 Rachel Manyathi 6:28:56 60
Stewart Chaperon 5:06:17 58 Marilize Raath 6:49:05 58
Next event in the 2016 Skyrunner® Series is the Ingeli Skymarathon on 30th April.
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