Words: Bruce Viaene ǀ Photos: Bruce Viaene & Craig Muller
Endless rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, labyrinths of animal and man-made tracks, and of course indigenous forests littered with towering yellowwoods, dwarfing anyone who comes near them. Sound like something out of The Lord of the Rings? You wouldn’t be too far off. However, you won’t see hobbits running around these forests, but rather a gathering of trail runners who came from far and wide to undertake the Merrell Hobbit 100 km, presented by Nikwax.
The Merrell Hobbit 100 km run started outside King William's Town, at a popular trout fishing dam known as Maden Dam. Runners were thrown straight into the forest and were only be able to pop their heads out of the canopy 50 km later. Two-time race winner Ryno Griesel, commented that this was is the most beautiful race he has ever done. Many others echoed his sentiments. Year after year, brave souls come back for more, ready to conquer the undulating trails, while many fresh faces join the ranks of those who can proudly say that they tamed the Merrell Hobbit 100 km.
Day one broke hearts, souls, and calf muscles with a total elevation gain of 2,600 m, while a few of the runners took a wrong turn and ended up with over 3,000 m! The route is a semi-marked hiking trail that is part of the Amatola Hiking Trail and normally takes six days to complete. It is not a walk in the park. War stories consisted of exposed roots and low-slung branches deviously tripping any runner who looked up and gave those who didn't look up a wake-up call to the head. “Trail running is not the same as the road. You can’t look down at your feet all the time, nor can you chat and let your mind wander aimlessly. If you make a mistake, you have to go back to where you went wrong,” claimed race-sweep, Michael Webb. Each step is a journey as you discover not only your beautiful country but yourself, as you trek on kilometre after kilometre. The climb up to Cata Mountain Hut, a remote overnight stop, was enough to make any grown man cry. Just when you thought you were at the top, you still had a long way to go. But once there, the view of the hut, with its plume of smoke from 'the donkey', marked a place of warm food and
Day two wasn’t much easier, shorter, or less beautiful. With 2,300 m of total elevation gain, runners were more on ridge lines than hidden in the canopied forest. Running past waterfall after waterfall, it is no wonder why this hiking trail is also known as the Waterfall Trail. In the height of a drought, these sources of life still trickle with the freshest water that Mother Nature has to offer.
The highlight of the day came in the form of Hogsback. At a height of 1,746 m, runners were cursing as they made their way up this iconic mountain, but the view from the top soon changed all of that. A sweeping vista of the Amatola region cleared everyone’s senses and gave them the extra vasbyt needed for the last 9 km stretch home, to the Arminel Hotel and Merrell Hobbit's headquarters. For those who only wanted a taste of the 100km run, they had the option of running a 38 km, 16 km or 5 km trail run. This was just enough to whet their appetites, see some incredible views and waterfalls, and be a part of the festivities in Hogsback.
It is impossible to come back from a race like this unchanged. From the moment you arrive in Hogsback, you can understand J.R.R Tolkein’s fascination of the area and why it was such an inspiration for the trilogy of The Lord of The Rings. Every now and again, we, as trail runners, need to be humbled by the Earth. We search for something deeper than a tar road or treadmill has to offer. We search for the connection with the world and what this one life has to offer. And in the never-ending words of J.R.R Tolkien, “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
For the full race results, visit http://mountainrunner.co.za/race-results/ and for race photos, visit www.facebook.com/MountainRunnerEvents