Hobbit Trail Run - King of trails

5 December 2014

Words & Photos: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media


Just the name ‘Hobbit Trail Run’ conjures up ideas of mystical creatures in a faraway place covered in mist-covered mountains and lush forests. When you then hear that it's in Hogsback, in the Eastern Cape, well, then the ideas just get an additional stoke of the coals.

Towering mountains covered in forests, both indigenous and pine, rivers and streams, waterfalls and mushrooms, birds frolicking and unique inquisitive monkeys observing you as you make your way along the single track, and so the list continues. Run this event and you will find it hard to find another to compare it to; not necessarily because it's the best, longest, or hardest, but because of the combination of core ingredients that make for a genuine, pure trail run.

Make no mistake though, it's as tough as they come, with numerous runners throwing the towel in along the 100 km adventure, which took place over 28 and 29 November 2014. Starting at Maiden Dam, just outside of King Williams town, the route follows the beautiful six-day Amatola hiking trail. Due to logistics, the race is limited to only 45 runners, who each have their own story to tell as to how they arrived at the starting line. From an American biologist to a lab technician from Tembisa, it was a field with variety and spice and a huge amount of heart.

Each day the runners covered approximately 50 km and needed to be self-sufficient, as only one water table was available over the two days.

Water in the mountains is plentiful due to all the streams, however with that comes technical terrain, something many runners underestimated and this resulted in longer-than-expected times out on the route.

Day 1

On day 1, Jacque Mouton (Team Merrell) managed to squeeze into the halfway hut in first place, although he took a 30-minute detour due to losing his way. He was not the only one, with Suzette von Broembse, who was leading at the time, also getting lost en route and ending up in the local township. Although the locals kindly pointed her in the direction of the waterfalls she needed to reach, Race Director Graham Bird called her back to make sure she was on the correct path. Ultimately, she came in two hours after the leading lady.

At the back of the field, organisers made sure any backmarkers were redirected onto a shorter route because of the fast-approaching inclement weather. Once all were safe and sound in the hut, the organisers put out an array of food for the weary field. From hot dogs to vegetarian pasta, marshmallows and Quality Street chocolates, and for those still feeling up to it, an ice-cold beer was also on offer.

Day 2

Day 2 dawned with near-perfect but slightly cool conditions, which changed to warm weather later in the day. Runners were sent off for an early morning ascent prior to making their way through more indigenous forest and pine until they reached the famed Hog, or to be specific, Hog One, as there are three Hogs. With just over 30 km on the legs, runners emerged from the forest to face a 700 metre zigzagging, scrambling ascent prior to summiting. Once at the top, their efforts were well rewarded with amazing views.

The final stretches of the run saw runners mainly on forest roads that meandered through pines all the way to the famous Kettle Sprout Waterfall. Once here, many of the competitors stopped briefly to refill their water bottles with the crystal-clear liquid that would get them to the finish line, and where cold Aquelle water awaited them.

The encore came in the form of pure single track, with a gentle decline to the district road and home. The men’s race saw a relatively unknown Izak van der Merwe emerge as the overall winner in a time of 14:50, ahead of Nick Mulder, who once again had a good showing with a time of 15:21. In the ladies, Suzzette von Broembse made up for her first day's mishap by coming in strong on day two. However, the overall title went to four-time finisher Shelley Hufner in a time of 19:23, with Harriot Cullinan in second place in a time of 19:49.

The organisers of the Hobbit Trail Run cater for all levels of runner, with distances of 38 km, 16 km and 5 km for the beginners. In the 38 km discipline, Samel Luqongo had a good showing with a time of 5:22:52, while Jane Barnado took the ladies race in 6:10:48. In the 16 km race, Graeme van der Nest won in a time of 1:40:00 and Mariella Dierks showed the rest of the ladies up in a time of 1:52:20. The 5 km sprint race was a hotly contested affair, with the eventual winner De Waal van der Heever coming home in a cracking time of 0:29:51. The first female, and junior, was Neve Hayman in 0:31:55.

Prize-giving took place at the host hotel, The Arminal, and the sponsors spoilt all the finishers with hampers packed with Nikwax and Isostar product, plus some Merrell vouchers for good measure.

To all the starters, regardless of the time you crossed the finish line, congratulations!

While racers return home and the forest becomes still once more, the organisation of next year's Merrell Hobbit Trail Run is already underway, with some exciting changes to be announced. Until then, get outdoors and stay active!

More information
For more information about the Merrell Hobbit Trail Run, visit http://mountainrunner.co.za/events/hobbit-trail-run/

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