South African trail running again takes centre stage this weekend in the Western and Eastern Cape, providing athletes with an opportunity for real competitive action – rare in a COVID-inhibited 2020 where ‘virtual’ is the biggest name in town.

One of the top Ultra-trail World Tour races, Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km, could not be held this year, given the realities of COVID and travel, but the organisers have developed the “UTCT Special Event” in its place. The event offers five hundred South Africans the chance to enjoy competitive action over 25 km or 50 km on some of the best trails in the world.

“When we realised we would not be able to put on UTCT as a premier world event, we opted to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and put up something new, primarily aimed at the middle and back of the pack runners,” explained event organiser, Stuart McConnachie. “

“We learn most when we face change, so we deliberately avoided falling back on our past success and trusted formula and have created something entirely new.  We have developed two new 25 km circuits, each with almost identical amount of vertical climbing, but on very different routes. 

“For the 50 km race, runners will run both loops, but can decide at the last minute, which direction to run – that is, which of the two loops they will run first.  Some may choose the Devil’s Peak Saddle route first and others the ‘Atlantic’ route, which follows the Pipe Track to its furthest point and then summits the Back Table up Corridor Ravine.”

Robbie Rorich in Otter Trail action. Photo: Stephen Granger

Two of the titans of the recent Golden Segment action, line up against each other in the 50 km race.  Robbie Rorich and Daniel Claassen swapped the lead several times during the two months in which the segment was open on Table Mountain, behind eventual winner, Johardt van Heerden, with Rorich eventually edging past Claassen at the finish, to earn a passage to the Golden Trail Championship in the Azores.

Claassen will be eager to turn the tables, although a third athlete, relatively new to trail, could spring an upset.  Prominent road athlete, Siyabonga Sakwe, has entered a major trail event for the first time and has the speed to give the top two a run for their money.

Daniel Claassen en route to a record-breaking run with Johardt van Heerden at the Six Peaks Challenge in the George mountains in July. Photo: Zane Schmahl

Pip Dickson and Samantha Reilly start favourites in the women’s competition, with the talented Taryn King only recently returned from illness and injury, although Annelise Enslin could also push for podium honours.

The racing gets underway at 06h00 on Saturday (28 November) from the traditional start at the Gardens Rugby Club in Oranjezicht, Cape Town.

Samantha Reilly, one of the favourites to win on Saturday, after her strong finish at the Hout Bay Trail Challenge 2019. Photo: Stephen Granger

Several hundred kilometres to the east, the Merrell Hobbit Trail Run takes place along the Amatola Trail, in the Hogsback region, offering stunning trails with countless waterfalls to over 200 runners over distances between the fun 5 km and the Merrell Hobbit Trail Journey over 90 km. 

The main interest of this year’s (delayed) Hobbit, focuses on leading international athletes, Pere Aurell and Ragna Debats, currently enjoying trail running success in South Africa as part of their family world tour, and their contest against another husband and wife team – Martin and Jeannie Dreyer.

Spanish athlete Aurell took line honours at the Otter African Trail Run four weeks back, before narrowly holding off South African Lucky Miya to win the SkyRun two weeks later.  Dutch-born Debats took third at the Otter and set a new record at SkyRun. Both will be hard to beat along 90 km of the Amatola Trail.

Pere Aurell, on the final descent to victory in the recent SkyRun. Photo: Terence Vrugtman

— Stephen Granger

©Sports Network Africa News

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