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Compiled by Sarah Kobal from Owen Middleton's blog


Mountain Challenge

makes history Four seconds was all that separated the top three in the 35 km Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge Extreme held on Sunday, 5 May 2013, in perfect mountain running conditions. Local legend AJ Calitz together with African X winner Michael Bailey led for a large portion of the race, with Kane Reilly and Thabang Madiba not far behind.

The young sport of trail running came of age in South Africa in dramatic fashion when 300 of South Africa’s elite trail runners met last Sunday to do a battle in the spectacular natural settings of the Jonkershoek Valley Mountains, near Stellenbosch an area managed by Cape Nature. In what promised to be a tough and exciting contest, the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge Extreme (JMC Extreme) had drawn some of the best trail runners in the country to tough it out for the ultimate prize of being selected for the first-ever national team in this young and growing sport. In February, Athletics South Africa (ASA) gave the nod for the inaugural National Trail Running Championship event. The result of this was the course being extended from 30 km to 35 km to fit in with international qualification standards. Until now, trail running, which is held largely in natural settings in nature reserves and greenbelts, has been viewed as both an alternative to and training aid for traditional road and cross-country runners, or simply as a way to gain fitness in the outdoors. Trail runners not only face the challenges of their fellow competitors but also have to deal with huge differences in terrain and weather. No trail running course is ever the same. Trail running is fast gaining traction around the world as a sporting discipline in its own right.  The JMC Extreme route took runners on a 35 km loop up to the highest ridges in the alpine-like Jonkershoek Mountains and included a total ascent of over 2,000 m. The competitors ran for 90% of the route on rocky hiking trails, thus making the JMC one of the toughest and most technical races on the South African trail running calendar.

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The first 20 km of the route saw trail running 'favourites' Michael Bailey, Kane Reilly, AJ Calitz, Ben Brimble, Thabang Madiba and Ian Don-Wauchope maintain a steady lead from the rest of the pack. Calitz touched down at the 20 km checkpoint 2 in first position, to claim the converted 'King of the Mountain' title and the R1,000 hot-spot prize.

By the 25.5 km Red Bull checkpoint, Calitz and Bailey had pulled ahead, with Reilly and Madiba close on their heels. It was on the final 5 km stretch that Madiba really put the pedal down in an attempt to catch Bailey and Calitz before the finish line. “I really pushed hard and took some bad falls in the process,” said Madiba. The effort paid off, however, with Madiba catching and overtaking the leading duo to claim gold in a time of 2:59:56, followed by Bailey in second place and Calitz in third – just two seconds separating each of them. Katya Soggot had little trouble clinching the win in the Ladies race in a time of 3:37:17, making it two wins out of two and proving what a force she is in trail running. Soggot also maintained her 'Queen of the Mountain' title for being the fastest lady to the 20 km CP2 at Bergriviernek – the most technical portion of the route. In second was four-time Dusi Canoe Marathon Champion Robyn Kime in a time of 3:46:07 and Anita O’Brian was third in 3:58:03. In addition to the 35 km Extreme route, the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge also had around 300 trail runners who took part in the 21 km run. These runners tackled a 1,171 m vertical height gain over a route that was a mix of mountain hiking trails and forest jeep tracks. They also had to carry some equipment to help them complete the race successfully. The easier Jonkershoek Mountain Run over 10 km offered 350 runners a gentler route on mountain bike trails and jeep tracks. These various runs allowed trail runners of all fitness levels to experience the magnificence of the Jonkershoek Mountain valley.

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The responsibility of hosting the inaugural national event (the South African Long Distance Trail Running Championship) was awarded to Wildrunner, a specialist trail running company that was a pioneer in establishing the sport in South Africa when it began organising races in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2007. Wildrunner launched the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge in 2010, so this year will be the third event and the first championship event.

The allure of trail running is that it takes athletes to places of natural beauty and as a result, environmental and conservation concerns are very much part of the organisation of each race. Over the years, Wildrunner has contributed over R150 000 to a variety of conservation projects. As part of this ethos, there was a crew of very fit 'sweepers' who follow in the wake of the runners to ensure that all the course markers and any stray litter is collected after each event. The Managing Director of Wildrunner, Owen Middleton, said the first-ever SA Long Distance Trail Running Championships is a milestone in South African trail running and will be a wonderful showcase for spectators to this exciting new sport. Thank you to our 2013 sponsors: Aca Joe and Red Bull, as well as Cape Nature, and Mobii. •

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To view the full results from the 35 km, 21 km and 10 km races, go to site/jonkershoekmountainchallenge/results-1 Entries for the 2014 Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge will open on the 19 February 2014 on

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RUNNING: Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge makes History  
RUNNING: Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge makes History  

DO IT NOW Magazine, Running. Four seconds was all that separated the top three in the 35 km Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge Extreme held on S...