Quest accepted!

Words & Photos: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

'Quest' is defined as a long, arduous journey for something, and in this case it was the finish line 108 km from the start. Snaking through some of the most spectacular indigenous forests South Africa has to offer, this wasn’t a trail run or multistage race, it was a journey of mind, body and spirit for the hard core and genuine folk who, by their achievements, stood up and accepted the challenge to complete the inaugural Outeniqua Quest presented by TriSport.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

Taking place in the Outeniqua Mountains and Knysna forest on 7 and 8 June 2014, the event offered three variations and levels of hard core: the one-day Lite Quest covering 48 km, a full distance two-day Ultra Trail Run of 48 km, or the Non-stop Ultra Trail of 108 km. The route followed the Outeniqua hiking trail, with water points placed at hiking huts, where runners were also allowed to rest or sleep if necessary. The Non-stop racers were allowed no more than an hour of stoppage time at the halfway point at Millwood hut before pushing on.

The Quest was created with hard-core trail runners in mind. Those who are committed to overcoming a challenge in conditions dictated by Mother Nature externally and overcoming physical and mental extremes based on the mileage, nutrition, and sleep deprivation internally. Running through indigenous forest by yourself, traversing fern and moss-lined trails, and crossing over white-boulder rivers all added to the appeal and challenge of this quest, and competitors had to dig deep into their psyche to challenge themselves to carry on. Proof of this was the number of withdrawals throughout the 48 hours. Fortunately, the barrage of cold fronts took a two-day siesta and although chilly, running conditions were perfect, with vantage points along the route offering panoramic views as far as Knysna and George.

Night-time through the lichen-dappled yellow woods brought on a whole new challenge with a cacophony of sounds, including screeching fruit bats cheering on the back of the field.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

Covering terrain in darkness pierced only by a half moon and headlamp resulted in speed having to be reduced to a brisk walk at best, in temperatures below 10 degrees. A number of sightings of bushbuck, bushpig, and rare birds were noted, however one very special sighting of elephants took top honours. The lucky runner who spotted them was Caroline Lee, who also happened to complete the Comrades the week before, and this could possibly explain her lack of direction, which added 11 km to her 108-km distance.

Finishing such a race is commendable enough and everyone is a winner. But based on times, the winner of the Non-stop distance in an incredible 13 hours and 35 seconds was Samuel Holtzkampf for the men, and Linda Doke in 16 hours and 34 minutes for the ladies. To put those times into context, the final finisher, Caroline Lee, finished in 33 hours and 4 minutes (next time don’t spend so much time watching elephants!). A strong trio made up of Renee and Richard Cheary and Richard Schroder crossed the line at the same time in 15 hours and 50 minutes to win the two-day Ultra race. Nell Harris did the ladies proud by winning the Lite version in 6 hours and 55 minutes, while top honours for the men went to Andrew Hutchinson and Philip Doubell in 11 hours and 28 minutes.

South African trail running has a new benchmark in ultra-distance running. Add to this unbeatable terrain and you have an event that will dominate the calendar. Undoubtedly those that did not finish will return next year and with numbers limited make sure you don’t miss out when entries open for 2015. Accept the challenge and I'll see you at the start line of the Outeniqua Quest next year.

More information
For more information about the race and all the results visit