SkyRunning SA and AfricanX events mark trail bounce-back

Stride-for-stride - Collin Kanyimo and Juan van Deventer in action during the THIRSTI AFRICANX 42km at Paul Cluver Estate. Kanyimo won with Van Deventer third. Photo: Chris Hitchcock
Robbie Rorich and Jonathan Black are dwarfed by the majestic Franch Hoek mountains as they crest Kat-se-pad. Photo: Stephen Granger

by Stephen Granger

Robbie Rorich and Karien Bezuidenhout were the winners of the Mont Rochelle SkyRace in the Franschhoek mountains on Saturday 18 September – the first in the inaugural SkyRunning SA series – while Collin Kanyimo and Kerry-Anne Marshall enjoyed a one-day AfricanX celebration of trail running at Paul Cluver Estate in Grabouw.

In a feast-or-famine scenario, trail runners are bouncing back to competition after dormant COVID lockdown months, with the spring calendar congested with races galore.  High profile events in the next few weeks include the Maxi-Race Cape Winelands, the Otter African Trail Run and the Cape Town Marathon Trail Run.

Stride-for-stride – Collin Kanyimo and Juan van Deventer in action during the THIRSTI AFRICANX 42km at Paul Cluver Estate. Kanyimo won with Van Deventer third. Photo: Chris Hitchcock

The SkyRunning Series is based on European style mountain running, where technical trails, big mountains and fast descents into villages below are the order of the day. Races are short and sharp and the experiences are bound to the true mountain trail. 

Major climbing and precipitous descents characterised the Franschhoek race, run over 26km and 1850m of vertical ascent on a course similar to the former Trail du Mont Rochelle, which last took place in 2019.

Bernie Rukadza threatened to blitz the field with a scorched-earth start to the race from the start at Franchhoek Market Centre, before his tired legs from a strenuous mountain run on Table Mountain last weekend caught up with him. Rorich, Jonathan Black and Charl Cronje took advantage, overhauling the Zimbabwean on the initial 5km ascent of ‘Kat se Pad’ single track to the top of Franchhoek Pass and the entrance into Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

Zimbabwean Bernie Rukadza – running on tired legs in the Mont Rochelle SkyRace. Photo: Stephen Granger

Black was the winner of the Trail du Mont Rochelle in 2018 and was second to Kane Reilly in 2019 and his experience on the rugged mountain trails showed as he made light of the strong gusting winds up the climb of Du Toit’s Peak to claim the King of the Mountain prize at the 1419m peak.

Rorich followed 1 min 42 sec behind but made up time on the sharp descent, taking the lead in the Uitkyk valley, before the climb to the highest point on the route at Perdekop. The mechanical-electrical engineer, sculptor, trail runner come adventurer reached the 1575m summit almost two minutes clear of Black. Rukadza had re-taken third position but was almost 5 minutes behind Black at Perdekop.

Top two in the Mont Rochelle SkyRace – Robbie Rorich and Jonathan Black. Photo: Stephen Granger

Rorich’s renowned down-hill skills came to the fore and once he was ahead at Perdekop, there was only going to be one winner.  Rorich flew down the 9 km descent to the finish at break-neck speed to cross the line with a nine-minute buffer in 2:38:06. Rukadza, who achieved veteran status as an athlete on his 40th birthday in June, rediscovered his legs on the descent and caught Black a kilometre the finish to set up an exciting contest for the minor podium positions. Black used his relative youth to his advantage to clinch second place by 14 seconds.

Strong mountain runner, Bezuidenhout, was in her element on the tough trail.  She took the lead from Marna van Deventer near the half-way point to race home to victory in 3:27:24.  

Karien Bezuidenhout breaks the tape to win the Mont Rochelle SkyRace. Photo: Stephen Granger

“Phew – that was a tough race,” admitted Rorich. “I struggled with cramps in my quads and had to stop a few times to try to reset my body.  But the mountains up there are incredible – amazing experience.  I saw two Rhebuck and a fast-disappearing francolin along the way and kept the Lion King song “We are one” in my head, at least until the final downhill when it was replaced with Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Fire’!”

THIRSTI AFRICANX has expanded from its popular three-day event in March and introduced a one-day trail experience, which took place in Grabouw over the weekend.  Keeping it’s traditional focus on trails with spectacular views, a great vibe and runnable trails to attract road-runners to the sport, runners were able to choose between a 42km, 24km, 12km and 6km route.

Winner Robbie Rorich and runners up Jonathan Black and Bernie Rukadza point to the summit of Du Toit’s peak which they summited during the race. Photo: Stephen Granger

Kanyimo secured the top spot on the podium in the 42km race, ahead of strong runners, Kennedy Sekhuthe and former track Olympian, Juan van Deventer, in an impressive time of 2:58:21.  “The race was nice, but the weather conditions were very windy, making it tough,” said Kanyimo. 

Former winner of Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km, Kerry-Ann Marshall, signalled her return to trail competition by taking victory in the women’s race in a time 3:32:11.  “It was a great run,” said Marshall.  “And a great day out with everyone cheering each other on.  I really enjoyed the whole event.”  Suzette McIvor came in second with veteran Elmė Middlemost third.

Kerry-Anne Marshall – back to competitive trail running following the birth of her second child. Marshall won the THIRSTI AFRICANX 42km at Paul Cluver Estate. Photo: Chris Hitchcock

Road runners were out in numbers in the 24km event, which included a total of 750m vertical ascent and included a mix of open, fast trails, smooth single track and some technical terrain. ‘Roadie turned trailer’, Siviwe Nkombi, was on fire in the men’s race crossing the finish line first in a fast 1:34:51. “I ran my first AFRICANX, the 3-Day Stage Race, in March this year and told myself that I want to come back for more,” said Nkombi. 

“Today was brilliant.  Everything was amazing and the vibe is awesome.  I’ll definitely be back next year.”  Close behind Nkombi was his former Itheko clubmate, Nkosinathi Madyo, with Raydon Balie third.

Colourful character Pieter Calitz enjoying his run in the mountains. Photo: Stephen Granger

Anėl Terblanche won the women’s race in 1:49:09 ahead of a strong field, beating Comrades gold-medallist Danette Walley into second place.

Calvin Hammond and Uta Lehmann were the respective winners of the 12km race.

Story by Stephen Granger

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