The Three Peaks Challenge
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shawn Benjamin (Ark Images) and Eric Tolner
Saturday 3rd November sees 120 crazy ultra-runners embarking on one of the toughest events on the trail running calendar, The Three Peaks Challenge. The event originated in 1897 when Carl Wilhelm Schneeberger ran from the old Johannesburg Hotel in Long Street, up Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in one day, returning to the hotel for a short refreshment break between each peak. The timekeeper was obviously in a generous mood, for Schneeberger’s time is recorded as 9 hours and 5 minutes, not counting rests!
The Challenge was revived in 1997 by local running and rock climbing legend Don Hartley – two-time winner of the Two Oceans Marathon (1972 & 1973). Thirteen runners - including the current event organiser, Gavin Snell (who’s finished all 15 Challenges) - took part in the commemorative centenary run, which went from 108 Long Street, (the site of the old hotel) up Devil’s Peak via the Saddle, Table Mountain by way of Platteklip Gorge to Maclear’s Beacon, finishing with an ascent of Lion’s Head. The modern tradition is for the runners to descend to the checkpoint on the terrace of Inn on the Square, Greenmarket Square after each of the peaks. Nowadays the clock keeps ticking, so, unlike Schneeberger, most don’t take lengthy refreshment breaks!
This year’s race promises to be exciting after Andre Calitz posted a winning time of 5:07:39 in 2011 to smash the course record. The race starts at 5am, so be at Inn on the Square by 10am if you want to see the winner stagger home!
Other names to cheer on are Mark and Annie Lemmon who are hoping to join the select group of runners who have completed 10 Three Peaks Challenges, and earn them a much-treasured Don Hartley painting. If Annie succeeds she’ll be only the second woman, after Sonia Beard, to do so. Sonia achieved that goal last year, crossing the line with partner Brian Key, an eleven-time challenger. Despite being more eligible to claim a pension, Brian is normally a top-ten finisher, but was recovering from injury so took it easy.
I wish I could say that I had my sights on Sylvie Harris’ women’s record of 6:17:26, which has stood since 2006. Instead I’ll be one of the back-markers who’ll definitely be stopping for refreshments. There are water tables at the checkpoint on Tafelberg Road, but otherwise runners have to be self-sufficient, carrying all their food and water for the duration of the +/-50km race.
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