Pickard clinches the ‘MUT Miler’ in a weekend of top trail racing in George

The Outeniqua Mountains provide an imposing backdrop as Tsielo Tshanyane closes in on the aid station at Herold Wines during the MUT Marathon. Photo - Stephen Granger

Douglas Pickard underlined his class as an ultra-distance trail athlete with an emphatic victory in the 166km ‘MUT Miler by UTMB’ run around and over the Outeniqua Mountains in the Southern Cape city of George over the weekend (Friday to Sunday 24 – 26 May), improving on his performance last year when he finished second to an in-form Ryan Sandes.

The 100 mile race got underway at noon on Friday, with the athletes facing cold conditions as temperatures dropped on the cloud-covered mountains, before Saturday dawned cloudless, the sun warming to uncomfortable temperatures later in the day.

Team Pickard ensures an efficient transition at the Herold Wines Aid Station during the MUT Miler. Race leader Doug Pickard replenishes his fluids while wife Jade crews. Photo – Stephen Granger

Pickard took the lead from the start, fearing a second half charge by experienced ultra-trail athlete, Christiaan Greyling, and kept opening the gap on his rivals through Friday night and Saturday morning, eventually crossing the finish line at Outeniqua Park in 22 hr 25 min 26 sec, 30 minutes inside his time last year and 39 minutes slower than Sandes’ record.

Greyling completed his debut 100 miler, finishing more than two hours behind the leader.

“I felt so much better today than last year,” Pickard remarked. “I felt really good out there and hardly had any problems.  Except for feeling sleepy from time to time and I think I broke my toe when I hit my foot against a rock in the “Tonnelbos” section towards the end.

Top two in the MUT Miler over 166km, winner Doug Pickard and runner-up Christiaan Greyling (right) as Greyling’s wife Landie and his daughter look on. Photo – Stephen Granger

“I was puzzled when no one came with me from the start. I thought perhaps I was starting too fast, but it felt really comfortable so I just continued.  Obviously with a guy like Christiaan (Greyling) in the field, you just never know. He has so much experience, so I kept thinking he might come past.

“This race is like all the 100 milers I’ve done wrapped into one,” Pickard continued. “The trail is so diverse – it really has everything.  Running through forests, on peaks and ridges where the trail is more technical, running through superb fynbos with amazing views and then some easier runnable sections.”

Local athlete, Brandon Hulley, was a popular finisher in third place, finishing almost 1 hr 30 min after Greyling.

Another George-based athlete, Janet Woodhead, was the early leader in the women’s 100 miler but was overtaken by strong-running Maria Marincowitz between Tierkop and Dikkop 60km into the race.

Marincowitz maintained a consistent pace on the homeward section, to hold off Sveta Becker to win by 28 minutes in 32:15:29, with Woodhead taking third three hours later.

Max Sandes congratulate dad Ryan on his win at the MUT Marathon. Photo – Stephen Granger

Sandes enjoys racing in ‘his second favourite city’, this time dropping down to the 42km marathon distance, where he showed impressive speed to secure an excellent victory in 4 hr 12 min.

Last year’s champion, Iain Peterkin, raced into an early lead and had a comfortable four minute cushion on his closest challengers, Sandes and Rob Rorich, at the Herold Wines aid station 18km into the race. Peterkin lead through Tierkop, shortly before 30km although Sandes and Rorich had cut his lead to 2 min 30 sec.

Ryan Sandes leads Robbie Rorich, chasing the lead 16km into the MUT Marathon. Photo – Stephen Granger

Sandes was growing in strength as Rorich appears to be struggling and he began his charge on the descent from Tierkop, dropping Rorich before taking the race lead from Peterkin 10km from the finish. A strong final quarter saw Sandes race clear for victory, crossing the line just five minutes outside Jacques Buys’ three year old record.

“I struggled a bit early on but started to feel stronger in the second half,” said Sandes. “I guess having done so many ultras in my life counted in my favour! The last 10km felt really good, which contrasted with how tired I felt last year over that same section when I was competing in the 100 miler! It was good to finish on fresh legs this time. 

“The MUT marathon follows an amazing route and with the positive vibe along the way, I was just stoked about the race. I ran with Robbie (Rorich) quite a bit, which was awesome – he is such a cool guy and I’ve huge respect for him. But it was nice to show the youngsters I can still run!

“The marathon route has just about everything in it,” the 42-year-old continued. “We went from nice flowing runnable trails to rooty technical stuff where you have to watch your feet and a nice combination of steep climbs and more gradual inclines.”

Rebecca Kohne leading the MUT Marathon at 16km. Photo – Stephen Granger

Local athlete, Rebecca Kohne, continued her steady improvement and turned in an impressive performance to win the women’s race in 4:52:52, finishing 9th overall. Kohne’s was the second fastest in the race’s history, with only Bianca Tarboton’s record run of last year faster.

“My race went well,” Kohne reflected. “It helps that I’m able to train on these trails, so I know the route really well. I’m enjoying my running and being a part of the George running community and feel I’m improving all the time.”

The change of temperature and the traditionally tough terrain took a toll on athletes, with many succumbing to cramping, none more so than favourite to win the MUT 60, Kane Reilly.

After cruising through the first half and building a substantial lead in the 60km race, Reilly slowed to a hobble as he struggled to control his fatigued and cramping muscles.

Kane Reilly leads the MUT 60km through halfway. Photo – Stephen Granger

Swedish 2 hr 23 min road marathon, Andreas Lundergǻrd, had started more conservatively in his first race in South Africa and took advantage of Reilly and Zimbabwean Admire Muzopambwa’s cramp-related incapacity, taking the lead after halfway and holding on for a convincing win in 6:08:50.

“I’m very happy – I didn’t expect to win today. That is certainly the best performance of my career,” said Lundergǻrd. “When I saw more elite runners arriving at the start, I was hoping for a top three at best.

“It was hot out there today and many people got muscle cramps. But I had everything I needed in my bag – it was perfect. A lot of gels, lots of water, sports drinks and much else. Everything turned out so well!

“I compete mostly on the road, being part of a club in Stockholm.  On the road, I guess I’m  a sub-elite.  I ran 2 hr 23 min for the marathon at Valencia last year, but that’s still far from any podium. And as I’m getting older and with my love of mountains, I thought that trail is something I could focus on.

Super Swede, Andreas Lundergard, wins the MUT 60km. Photo – Stephen Granger

“There are many trail runners much faster than me on the downhill stretches,” Lundergǻrd admitted. “But with my high-volume training on the road, I can push myself quite hard.

“I was lying 3rd climbing up the first pass when a guy overtook me and I thought ‘okay, it’s over’.  But I had my sticks (poles) which helped so much on the steeper ascents and I was able to pass two runners, which moved me into second place as we reached the aid station at Herold Wines (30km.

“The use of my poles and taking salt tablets helped to keep cramps from taking hold and I caught Kane (Reilly) who was suffering badly from cramps.”

Having taken the race lead, Lundergǻrd maintained his pace in the final section to cross the finish line at Outeniqua Park for a fine victory. Clearly in pain, Sandes and Muzopambwa crossed the line together in second place fourteen minutes later in 6:22:34.

Emily Djock wins the MUT60. Photo – Stephen Granger

One of the most impressive performances on the weekend, was Cape Town-based American athlete, Emily Djock’s emphatic win in women’s MUT 60. Djock’s time of 7:17:18 was two minutes inside German athlete Kimi Schreiber’s race record from last year and 1 hr 25 min ahead of second-placed athlete, Brigitte Joubert.

Djock, now running in the colours of North Face, has improved consistently in recent years with victories at the Puffer and the Pass to Pass trail races, but her win in George earns her an entry to race at the prestigious Ultra-trail Mont Blanc and  ranks as her new career highlight.

International athletes took both titles in the MUT 100km, with Belgian, Axel Sleebus,  showing impressive intent to sweep to victory in record time of 11:48:51, almost an hour faster than Bruce Arnett’s previous fastest set in 2022. Michael Molyneux repeated his runner-up position, his time of 12:40:20 almost an hour and a half faster than his effort last year in muddy conditions.

Italian Natalia Mastrota held off a strong-finishing Cape Town athlete, Kerry-Anne Marshall, to win the women’s competition in 13:29:49, the two women placing 5th and 6th overall.

The delight of a champion – Philani Sengce drops to his knees in delight at winning the MUT Challenge over 25km. Photo – Stephen Granger

Philani ‘PK’ Sengce and Mila Geldenhuys rounded off the 2024 George MUT with upset wins in the MUT Challenge over 25km this morning (Sunday 26 May), which offered up the most competitive racing of the weekend.

Part of Jacques van Rensburg stable of leading distance athletes in Stellenbosch, Sengce converted his focus from road to trail a year ago and this weekend’s win over strong opposition, represents his best result yet. Unlike his last major trail race at Ultra-trail Cape Town, when he struggled with his navigation, he didn’t put a foot wrong along the George trails.

Mila Geldenhuys leads the MUT Challenge through the aid station after 7km. Photo – Stephen Granger

Sengce allowed Southern Cape athlete, Underson Ncube and Stellenbosch athlete, Jacques du Plessis, to do most of the work in the first half before he opened the throttle to race clear on a downhill stretch.

Ncube led the charge to close the gap and then Du Plessis, who represented South Africa at the World Championships in Austria last June, momentarily drew level but Sengce surged once more to open a slight gap which he held to the finish.

Results (RSA unless otherwise indicated)

Top three in the MUT Marathon – winner Ryan Sandes with runner up Rob Rorich (left) and third-placed Iain Peterkin. Photo – Stephen Granger

MUT Miler (166km)

Men: 1 Doug Pickard 22:25:26; 2 Christiaan Greyling 24:43:28; 3 Brandon Hulley 26:10:17; 4 Gabriel Kriel 28:33:20; 5 Kennedy Sekhuthe 28:41:04; 6 Michael Coles 28:45:23; 7 Sean McGibbon 28:45:23; 8 Leon Roode 30:26:45; 9 Paul Barker 31:01:59; 10 Thiago Orgelio (Brazil) 31:20:00

Women: 1 Maria Marincowitz 32:15:29; 2 Sveta Becker 32:43:55; 3 Janet Woodhead 35:23:41; 4 Sylvie Scherzinger 40:06:43; 5 Anna Andersson (Sweden) 40:44:31; 6 Maranda Muller 44:42:14; 7 Tamlyn Benney 49:24:44

MUT 100 (100km)

Men: 1 Axel Sleebus (Belgium) 11:48:51; 2 Michael Molyneaux 12:40:20; 3 Thato Kabeli 13:20:57; 4 David Vroom (Austr) 13:29:31; 5 Damien Schumann 14:08:40; 6 Thomas Pourlidas (Greece) 15:21:51; 7 Duncan Mcluckie (Canada) 15:22:00; 8 Johann Olivier 15:22:01; 9 Morne Veitch 15:22:53; 10 William Gabaig (France) 15:23:55

Women: 1 Natalia Mastrota (Italy) 13:29:49; 2 Kerry-Anne Marshall 13:51:50; 3 Simone Malan 15:22:50; 4 Diana Henry 19:02:32; 5 Nikki-Leigh Piper 19:27:48; 6 Quinta Joubert 21:07:57; 7 Meagan Roux 21:08:05; 8 Sonia Sanchez-Martin 23:01:44; 9 Gillian Lupton-Smith 23:47:52; 10 Gaelyn Slabber 23:47:52

MUT 60

Men: 1 Andreas Lundergǻrd (Sweden) 6:08:50; 2 Kane Reilly and Admire Muzopambwa (Zimb) 6:22:34; 4 Joshua Blackshaw 6:28:59; 5 Helio Fumo (Mozamb) 6:29:54; 6 Raydon Barrett 6:53:43; 7 Justin Broadley 6:58:20; 8 Rikus Saayman 7:14:57; 9 Kevin Evans 7:18:49; 10 Jason Peach 7:31:50

Women: 1 Emily Djock (USA) 7:17:18; 2 Brigitte Joubert 8:42:51; 3 Michelle Rolfe 8:46:09; 4 Tarryn Collings 9:00:19; 5 Cassey Brookes 9:02:30; 6 Simonet Gericke 9:08:07; 7 Helene Muller9:25:30; 8 Lee-Ann Persse 9:27:36; 9 Benita Joubert 9:40:11; 10 Adi Vermeulen 9:46:59

MUT Marathon 42km

Josh Stevens in a pastoral scene 32km into the MUT 100km race. Stevens finished 21st. Photo – Stephen Granger

Men: 1 Ryan Sandes 4:12:00; 2 Rob Rorich 4:30:37; 3 Iain Peterkin 4:32;20; 4 Michael Wittenberg 4:40:13; 5 Julius de Clercq 4:44:06; 6 Cameron Mackintosh 4:47:39; 7 Tsielo Tsanyane 4:49:25; 8 Ryan Schmitz 4:52:04; 9 Sinovuyo Ngcobo 4:57:56; 10 Josh Cawood 4:59:31

Women: 1 Rebecca Kohne 4:52:52; 2 Maryke van Zyl 5:07:51; 3 Sabrina Dadlio 5:22:44; 4 Mellusca Toovey 5:29:43; 5 Lena Vannier (France) 5:36:29; 6 Tamlyn Gill 5:45:11; 7 Monique Agenbag 5:45:45; 8 Lisa Pennell 6:00:05; 10 Ana Sampson 6:03:10

MUT Challenge 25km

Philani Sengce acknowledges his coach, Jacques van Rensburg, following his win at the MUT Challenge 25km . Photo – Stephen Granger

Men: 1 Philani Sengce 1:49:01; 2 Jacques du Plessis 1:49:11; 3 Underson Ncube 1:49:15; 4 Charl Cronje 2:03:08; 5 Christiaan van den Heever 2:06:26; 6 Christian Cochobos 2:07:38; 7 Ingo Erasmus 2:15:43; 8 Sam Marx 2:16:26; 9 Liam Painter 2:19:21; 10 Stefan van der Westhuizen 2:22:02

Women: 1 Mila Geldenhuys 2:12:36; 2 Lijan Burger 2:12:40; 3 Lisa Geffen 2:20:15; 4 Leani Potgieter 2:24:49; 5 Jessica Kiln 2:27:10; 6 Robyn de Groot 2:27:32; 7 Melissa van Rensburg 2:27:41; 8 Jeanne Brink 2:30:50; 9 Lien Erasmus 2:36:38; 10 Hanlie Rennie 2:38:17

MUT Lite 11km

Men: 1 Sindrino Matthews 47:20; 2 Luan van der Vyver 47:48; 3 Lunga Nolakana 48:34

Women: 1 Jandri Snyders 58:53; 2 Bailee Nell 1:01:23; 3 Esrie Loock 1:03:04