UTi Rhodes 52km Trail Run, Rhodes, Eastern Cape, 6 July
On race morning, the village awoke to the traditional pealing of church
bells. The rain was clattering off tin roofs and the wind was making its
cold-self felt as 302 runners lined up in balmy 3?C conditions. Leading to the
first checkpoint were local man Sydney Speelman and defending champion Iain
Don-Wauchope. However, an official kit spot-check saw Sydney having to sit out
a 60-minute time penalty for not carrying the stipulated safety items, and Ian
sportingly shook hands with his rival before heading into the Kloppershoek Kloof.
Pacing himself well, Iain then took firm control of the race.
A cold headwind took the wind chill factor below freezing and rain
squalls blasted the crew ‘up top’ as they waited for the runners. First to emerge
at the Ford Ranger Checkpoint at the top of legendary Mavis Bank, Iain took a
quick breather, then headed on for Lesotho View and the Hooggenoeg Ridge
section. Following some six minutes adrift of Iain at this point were Hylton
Dunn, who was second in 2011 and won the inaugural PowerBar Carlisle Climb
earlier in the week, and previous Rhodes winner Johnny Young. Fourth to crest
Mavis Bank, in a new women’s best time of 2:21, was Su Don-Wauchope, closely
followed by Megan MacKenzie.
Iain summited Hooggenoeg Point in a new best time and extended his lead
to cross the finish line in 4:16, improving on the previous course record set
by Johnny in 2008 by some 16 minutes. Hylton pulled clear of Johnny to take
second in 4:33, while the former winner and record-holder came home in 4:42. Sydney,
meanwhile, put in a strong run after his enforced stop to claw his way back up
to 12th position overall.
Maintaining their positions well inside the top 10 overall, Su and Megan
were having an intriguing race. Su took Hooggenoeg Point in a new best time,
but on the run-in a stronger finishing Megan took the lead, and fifth place
overall, to win the women’s title in a new course record 5:01. Su came home in 5:07,
also inside the previous best time, and sixth overall. The time gap between the
first and second women was the closest in the race’s 25-year history. Mary-Anne
Niewoudt was third in 5:54.
Interestingly, the top three men had all finished in the top two
positions previously at Rhodes, while the top three women were all novices. Best
conditions and already five best times, and the 25th run still had a
few more ‘bests’ in store as Diane Duggan took 35 minutes off the previous course
record in the women’s 60+ age category, clocking 8:05.
PowerBar Carlisle Climb
The inaugural 5km PowerBar Carlisle Climb is a wonderful addition to the
Rhodes Trail Run, held on the Wednesday before the 52km ultra. According to the
organisers, “Most of the Rhodes runners arrive on the Friday before the trail
run and leave on the Sunday. We are conscious of the need to assist local
tourism and we believe that a short ‘leg-stretcher’ before the main run gives
visitors a reason to extend their stay.”
With a generous cut-off time but a healthy challenge ahead, the new race
brought together top trail runners and social runners alike. The Carlisle Climb
pits runners against the steep hairpin-infested uphill section of Carlislehoek,
which has an almost 1:3 gradient in places, and which the trail runners faced
downhill on the following Saturday.
First across the line was top trail runner and newlywed Hylton Dunn, who
would go on to finish second in the ultra a few days later. He was followed
home by Andrew Raubenheimer, while third overall and first woman home was none
other than Sunelle, who wed Hylton three weeks before the run.
A fun aspect of the event was that no-one was allowed to run with a
watch or phone, and everyone had to predict their finish time. This ‘event
within the event’ was won by Patrick Nolan, who finished just one minute and 41
seconds outside his predicted time.