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Champion of the traverse

Words & Photos: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

The 8th edition of the Merrell Outeniqua Traverse presented by Nikwax took place on Saturday, 14 June 2014, with top athletes from across the country arriving in George to compete on one of SA’s toughest trail routes. The convergence was also due to the fact that the race counted as the Long Distance South African Championship for trail running and the ultimate naming of the SA team to compete later in the year at the World Long Distance Championship in Colorado, USA.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

Starting from the botanical gardens, various distances were offered by the race organisers, Mountain Runner Events, to accommodate all levels of fitness. The full distance of 38 kilometres was only for the extremely fit and technically adept, as the route took you through the Outeniqua Mountains with three major ascents, slippery river crossings and various scrambles on the edge of eye-popping drop-offs. A shorter version of 25 kilometres was also available in similar but not as extreme terrain for the less foolhardy. For the beginner trail runners, there was a very comfortable 10-kilometre distance through the forest with some river crossings, making for a perfect introduction to quality single track.

On race day, warm conditions took many of the runners by surprise, with severe cramps and dehydration taking its toll on a number of the long distance entrants. The early stage of the men’s race was dominated by the trio of Thabang Madiba, Michael Bailey and Lucky Miya, all making a bid for the number-one position. With 10 kilometres to go, Thabang put the hammer down to finish strongly in a new record of 3 hours and 42 minutes. He was followed by Lucky Miya in second and Melikhaya Msizi, a newcomer to the sport of trail running, claimed an impressive third. The winners were already showered and relaxing by the time the cold front arrived to bludgeon the back of the field in walls of freezing rain and strong gusts of wind. Just as impressive as the winning time was that of the final finisher in truly miserable conditions, Chris Viljoen in a staggering 9 hours and 23 minutes.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

With some of the top ladies absent from the race due to injuries, the division was not as closely contested as the men’s. Danette Smith took top honours in a commendable 5 hours and 9 minutes, beating second and third position by 10 and
45 minutes respectively.

Winners for the 25-kilometre race were Keith Clark in 2 hours and 25 minutes and Melissa van Rensburg in 2 hours and 46 minutes. Ruan de Jager won the 10 km race in an unbelievable 38 minutes and 20 seconds, with Liz Mills taking it for the ladies in just over 49 minutes.

Scratched and bruised, torn and cramped runners enjoyed their complimentary Aquelle water during the festive prize-giving, held in the picturesque botanical gardens. Proceedings culminated in the naming of the team that will proudly represent South Africa at the 2014 World Long Distance Champs, in Colorado, USA, on 16 August. Good luck and bring the trophy home guys!

Till next year, do it in Merrell style - get outdoors and stay fit.