By Stephen Granger

The only standard marathon on the African continent to have achieved World Athletics gold status has added a trail marathon carrying the signature of the country’s preeminent athlete trail athlete to its bouquet of events, from 2021.

The Cape Town Trail Marathon by Ryan Sandes (CCTM) includes 46km of trails in the Table Mountain National Park on a course designed by Sandes. The course overlooks a city that regularly polls in the top three of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also includes 2200m of vertical ascent and will pass through the rarest and smallest floral kingdom on planet earth – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

“It’s a privilege to be able to run along the front of Table Mountain trail early in the morning, looking down on the City with those incredible views.  And there will be a chance to take in the views from the highest point of Cape Town at Maclear’s Beacon, before you drop down along Smut’s Track to the dams on the Back Table,” Sandes said of the CTTM.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image8-1024x681.jpeg
Ryan Sandes – in his happy place at high altitude in the Table Mountain National Park. Sandes designed the Cape Town Trail Marathon (CTTM). Photo: Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content

Set for Saturday, October 15, the trail marathon, which offers R50 000 each to the male and female winners, joins the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon’s 22km Peace Trail, which has been a part of the Cape Town Marathon since its relaunch as a world-class event in 2014.

Sandes has already proved his ability in charting imaginative trail routes in ‘his back garden’ with his popular 13 Peaks Challenge. And he has let his creative juices flow once again with a circuit likely to be high on the bucket lists of the world’s best marathon-distance trail athletes. It will also likely be a strong contender for a future slot on global trail series, such as the Golden Trail World Series.

“There are bits of the trail which are quite technical and those which are nice, free and flowing,” he explained.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_7839e_Towards-Signal-Hill-1024x652.jpg
Runners enjoying views over Cape Town Table Mountain trails during the 2017 Two Oceans Marathon. Photo: Stephen Granger

With the announcement this week that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon is set to return to a ‘limited edition real marathon’, following last year’s virtual race, there is certain to be a scramble both for the remaining slots among the 12 000 allocated for the road marathon, while the many of the 1000 places open for the trail marathon have already been sold.

The Khoi and the San first people called Table Mountain “Hoerikwagga” – the mountains which fall into the sea – and part of the CTTM follows the path of SANParks’ Hoerikwagga Trail

“It’s where I work and play,” said Sandes, who has a remarkable record as a trail runner, both in South Africa and internationally, having won at least one ultra-trail race on every continent, including victories in the high-profile American 100-mile races, Western States and Leadville. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image13-1024x681.jpeg
Ryan Sandes enjoying world-class trails on Table Mountain. Photo: Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content

He is by some distance the best known South African trail runner and boasts an impressive professional career over more than a decade. Having his signature on the CTTM elevates its status to something approaching that of its high-profile road parent. But what makes the race special?

“Being aligned with the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, which is iconic and has achieved so much, makes the Cape Town Trail Marathon special,” said Sandes. “I’d like Cape Town Trail Marathon to follow in its footsteps and so when I designed the route, I tried to link with as many of Cape Town’s key landmarks as possible and at the same time to make it a fun trail to run.”

Whereas the road marathon takes in notable urban landmarks such as the Company Gardens, the Grand Parade and the Nelson Mandela statue on the balcony of the City Hall, the trail marathon has incorporated some of the Park’s best-known mountain monuments, including Maclear’s Beacon, Plattklip Gorge, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_9113ea-p-661x1024.jpg
Kane Reilly races to another trail victory on Table Mountain – Reilly will start as one of the favourites for the CTTM title. Picture: Stephen Granger

Runners will start out from Cape Town Stadium on the traditional Peace Trail ascent up and around Signal Hill and Lion’s Head, take on a sharp climb up Kloof Corner, then a longer one up Platteklip Gorge to the Cape Town’s highest point at Maclear’s Beacon before some gradient relief down a technical descent along Smuts Track and down to Kirstenbosch.  

“Kirstenbosch Gardens will be about halfway and I’m aiming to make that a spectator hub to encourage family, friends and fans to come and join in the fun,” explained Sandes.

The homeward leg is along the contour path through Newlands Forest to King’s Blockhouse, before a testing climb up to the Saddle between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain.  The end is in sight after a final single track around Lion’s Head and Signal Hill before the descent back to the finish at Cape Town Stadium.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_7593aee-Copy-Copy_70-1024x620.jpg
Kane Reilly on Table Mountain. Photo: Stephen Granger

While Sandes has emphasised the fun element, there are several sections that will challenge the toughest competitor. “I think the last climb up to the Saddle below Devils Peak could be a tough one, especially coming so late in the race. And of course, the climb up Platteklip Gorge is always a testing section. Coming out of Kirstenbosch gardens and into Newlands Forest, the path is quite runnable and you can make good time there, but if you’re tired and struggling, the race will start to become quite hard from there!

“I think the route really shows off Table Mountain to full effect and starting and finishing at Cape Town Stadium will create great vibe and energy.”

The CTTM has already attracted the cream of the crop of South African trail athletes and it’s a betting certainty that once COVID travel restrictions ease, many leading international trail athletes will be eager to join the fray.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_3573_Prodigal-Khumalo_50-683x1024.jpeg
Prodigal Khumalo – impressive victory in the 2017 Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km. Khumalo races Cape Town Trail Marathon in October. Photo: Stephen Granger

Twice winner of Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km, Prodigal Khumalo (KZN), has already been confirmed, along with Johardt van Heerden, Kane Reilly, the top Gauteng pair of  Thabang Madiba and Lucky Miya, Siviwe Nkombi, Daniel Claassen and Kennedy Sekuthe – South Africa’s best marathon-distance trail athletes. 

But this race is not just about the elite. Sandes is conscious of the importance of making the race special for all, both in participation and for spectators. “In order to grow the sport, we must make it as spectator-friendly as possible,” Sandes emphasised. “This year may still be curtailed by the pandemic, but in future years we aim to create an event with great atmosphere.

“We have seen the incredible support of local spectators at some of the races in Europe and we would love to create that culture in Cape Town. It’s harder on Table Mountain, but some of the sections, such as the climb up to the Saddle below Devil’s Peak could be perfect for this.”

©SPNAfrica News