No ordinary trail run - Wartrail Challenge 2014

Words: Jazz Kuschke ǀ Photos: Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar

Rated as one of South Africa's most hardcore off-road multisport events, the LED Lenser Wartrail Challenge saw competitors battle it out on a 65-kilometre mountain run (the Skyrun Lite route with 3,500 metres of climbing), 137-kilometre mountain bike leg and 65-kilometre paddle.

Photos by: Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar

Athletes entered a single leg only or tackled the full event as a three-member relay. However, the full solo event was the ultimate challenge. It may seem like a near-impossible off-road IRONMAN of sorts, but with one discipline per day it is essentially a stage race.

The solo race was won by Wojtek Orzechowski, novice Wartrail racer who finished third on the run, second on the bike and convincingly won the paddle. I caught up with the man who Race Director Michael de Haast describes as ‘something of an enigma’ a few days after the race.

On tackling Wartrail for the first time

This was my first Wartrail Challenge. I live in Plettenberg Bay and a great mate of mine James (Lettuce) Stewart is the man behind the Pennypinchers AR Team. He was instrumental in getting me into playing in the hills on the bike and trails. With a playground like we have surrounding us, it’s not too difficult to be inspired to mix up different sporting disciplines.

The only other AR type event I have done is the Eden Duo one day, over a 150 km marked course. I haven’t heard of any events of the same nature.

On taking the win

It was unexpected! This was a completely new experience, so my objective was to race the course and have huge respect for where I was at all times. To quote Mike during the race briefing, "High altitude; low attitude." I found myself in the front group as it got light on the morning of the first day, we had just gone through the first checkpoint when I realised this was no ordinary trail run. It was self-navigate and choose your own route.

The views were truly mind blowing, it just felt right to be running along these mountain ridges. In the front group, there was a lot of experience and Alex Wagner led us for nine-and-a-half hours; it was truly humbling to be with these fun-loving mountain goats.

The mountain bike on day two was a new and more challenging route than in the past; amazing sweeping passes and valleys. I managed to get away within the top three. Tim Dean then broke away and took out twenty minutes on Alex and myself, a solid performance – he rode like a machine. It was then that I realised that there was a race on.

I come from a paddling background so on day three it was time to exploit my experience in the boat. In this sport there is no place for arrogance and not for one moment did I think that it was in the bag. These adventure racers are wily, competitive and never to be underestimated characters. From the start I had to put the hammer down and get on with paddling on my own, four-and-a-half hours later after crossing the finish line did I hear that I had taken enough time out of Alex and Tim to take the race.

On training for the event

In January I decided to commit. Mid April was my 50th year, so a good time to have a new challenge to work towards. The Wartrail has been on my wish list for a few years and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. I did an average of about 15 hours of training a week. Resting was key!

On doing it again

Yes I would love to go back and race again. Defend the title? That would be an arrogant assumption to say the least and just to do well again would be awesome. Everyone that finishes this event is a winner. During the afternoon, I heard the competitors coming in and I realised then how massive the achievement was for each person. I felt these guys were so stoked to have been out there and to have completed each stage even if it took the entire day, tired, sore and hungry.

The non-stop is a real challenge. It could well become a main feature of this event, and a great opportunity for those that want to experience a taste of adventure racing. Yes, I reckon it’s worth a go.

Photos by: Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar

Training tips

Wojtek Orzechowski’s top tips on training for an ultra-endurance multisport event, such as the LED Lenser Wartrail.

01. Train smart
Make time to spend hours on feet, bike and boat. Quality rest and interval training is key to feeling sharp and to gain fitness.

02. Work on your weakest discipline But never neglect your strongest.

03. Keep humble
Set (realistic) goals and train and race happy. Consider those close to you and keep this self-absorbed time in perspective.

04. Race the course
Rather than the other competitors. You're out there for hours at a time over three days, things change all the time.

05. Never cheat the required gear and safety equipment
You are in the wilderness and will be alone at some stage, something can go wrong very easily.

For more information about the Wartrail Challenge, visit