Man vs Machine

The uniqueness of a train race is that it pits man’s strength against a machine, and not just any old machine, but that of a steam engine! A race that caters for individual or team participation. A race which fosters team spirit and tests determination in hope of man being victorious over machine.

The Steam Train Challenge, an exciting race, is built on the tried and tested concept of humans racing a vintage steam train, but is unique as it involves trail running and mountain biking. Both sports which are amongst the fastest-growing in South Africa.

The race will take participants over a distance of approximately 90km’s, through the picturesque scenery between the towns of Wellington and Ceres.

The Steam Train Challenge not only promises a fun day out with the family, but it also has the goal of playing a significant role in uplifting local communities in the area by supporting and helping those who are less fortunate. To make this a reality, visit to read more about these initiatives in the “Charities” section of the website.

The idea for the Steam Train Challenge came about when Pieter van Wyk, route designer for the Cape Epic and native of Wellington (Western Cape), saw the railway line navigating the breath-taking scenery between Wellington and Ceres.  Being an avid mountain biker himself and a respected route designer, he decided that this could be the perfect place to host a “train race”.  It reminded him of the many years of enjoyment that the Great Train Race between Port Elizabeth and Loerie provided to relay teams, racing the narrow-gauge Apple Express steam train.










The PPC /Spoornet Great Train Race initially stemmed from a University Rag gimmick in 1964 when athletes pitted their strength against a steam train that traveled from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The Great Train Race commenced with humble beginnings in 1980, as 16 relay teams challenged the famous Apple Express train to a duel from Port Elizabeth to Loerie, a distance of 72 kilometres. An eight man University of Port Elizabeth team won the inaugural event in a time of 3hrs. 42min. 45sec. and beat the train. In 1999 nearly 5 000 athletes challenged the train to one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the race. The team that beat the train only won by a mere 2 seconds.



























The infamous Apple Express steam train photo credit:

In an exciting annual event, the Great Train Race became an institution with many schools, clubs and corporates from all over South Africa and was ranked alongside the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans as one of South Africa’s most popular long-distance races. It attracted over 600 relay teams (10 team members each), including many top South African and African athletes, with more than 25,000 spectators gathering at the finish line to see whether man or machine would be victorious.

The last Great Train Race was in 2004 and the belief is that this annual race will soon recommence for South Africans and the International Community to enjoy.

Source credit:  Wes Kruger

Currently, there is also an annual Greatest Train Race, with teams racing a train from Witbank to Middelburg.  This race, which celebrated its 30th year in 2016, attracts in excess of 21,000 participants.


The Rotary GTR, started in 1987, is a charity road running race set between the two coal towns of eMalahleni and Middelburg, open to young and old participants with the aim of raising funds for the less fortunate while having fun!

Athletes taking part in the Rotary Great Train Race 2017 photo credit: Rotary GTR Facebook page

The first train race hosted by the Witbank Coalfields Rotary Club was in aid of Child Welfare and Society for the aged. The Rotary GTR is a community investment project driven by the community for the community. Over the last 30 years a number of charities benefited from the Rotary GTR and many more will benefit in years to come. The GTR creates a platform for the community and local businesses to rise up, in unity and power, to create change and bring relief for those who are in desperate need of upliftment and help.

2017 saw The Rotary GTR race change from a relay run to a team run which enabled team members to enjoy the race together from start to finish encouraging one another en route.

For more info on the Greatest Train Race visit the website

Source credit: Witbank News/Middelburg Observer





About Paiter Botha

Paiter’s running career started when he was 8. Since his early teens he’s been running cross coutry and road races and at the age of 12 ran his first full standard (42,2 km) marathon - the Voet of Africa Marathon - in a time of 3 hours and 20 minutes. At 18 he won the Junior section of the same marathon. Paiter was one of the top senior middle distance, cross coutry and road athletes in the Western Province in the 80’s and 90’s during his school and university careers running 4 min for the mile, 30 min for 10km and 66 min for 21km. Paiter stopped running competitively in 1994 to pursue his profession and later also started a family. Paiter started training seriously again and doing trail running after being invited by one of his old friends in January 2013 to team up with him in the 3 day AfricanX trail run that was held in Grabouw. Although his team mate had to pull out during the second leg of the race due to a calve injury, Paiter went on to finish as the third fastest Veteran in the competition in a combined time of 7 hours, 55 minutes for the three stages. On most weekends you will find Paiter in the mountains around his hometown of Paarl.

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