SA Trail Champs 2014| Merrell Outeniqua Traverse Race Report
Friday night was windy and unusually warm with a bright full moon creating the uneasy atmosphere that is so typical before a big event. However, by the time registration started on the Saturday morning, the wind began to die down and with the forecasted rainstorm still hours away, the weather was perfect for a big showdown. The only indication of something brewing was the serious look on the faces of the top athletes and a flurry of warm-up routines from early on.
The Merrell Outeniqua Traverse has an excellent starting venue with the Botanical Gardens in George offering big grass lawns and good views on the mountains and the approaching runners. As an added bonus, the athletes knew that with the very experienced Tatum Prins and Graham Bird as race organisers, the route would be well marked.
Although the 10km and 25km routes offered something for anyone on the day, the attention was clearly on the 38km race where the elite athletes lined up for the SA long distance Trail Championships. The course is known to be tough and demanding right to the end but it was generally expected that Jacques Mouton’s men’s record of 4:19 would be broken.
The women’s field had a fresh look with our leading runners opting not to run for various reasons. This year saw the implementation of a system whereby runners could also qualify for the World Trail Championships by running a series of qualifying races. This presented elite athletes such as Landie Greyling (just back from racing in Spain), Meg McKenzie (injury) and Sue Don-Wauchope (upcoming race overseas) the opportunity to rest, while Chantel Nienaber was injured and Tracy Zunckel, Katya Soggot, Anita O’Brien and Jane Barnardo decided not to be considered for the national team this year.
The situation in the men’s division was much more complex and nobody could afford to sit out if they wanted to make the team to the World long distance Trail Challenge in August in Colorado, USA.
They were off by 08:00 and at about one-third into the race, the updates indicated that the leaders were Michael Bailey, Kane Reilly, and Thabang Madiba with race-favourite Lucky Miya outside the top 10. In the women’s race it was Danette Smith leading with Leilani Scheiffer just behind her but soon after that the news came that Scheiffer had to withdraw.
For the rest of the race no reception was available on the course and everyone at the finish waited in silence with eyes staring into the distance to see who will emerge from the trees first.
Then, just before 12:00 a figure emerged in the distance and it became clear that Thabang Madiba (Gauteng) was going to retain his crown as national champion, crossing the line in a time of 3:42:40, shattering the old record by about 37 minutes. He collapsed on the line and had to be treated in the medical tent soon after. About 2:39 minutes later, Lucky Miya (Gauteng) jogged over the line, also totally spent after a stunning comeback in the latter stages of the race. Madiba and Miya were in a class of their own on the day as it was only 10 minutes later that Melikhaya Msizi (SWD) surprised everybody by taking the last place on the podium with early leader, Mike Bailey (WP), finishing in fourth.
Msizi was only the first of several surprises with Duncan O’Regan (5th, WP), Chad Gordon (7th and1st Veteran, Boland), Andrew Hagen (9th, Boland) and Victor Gugushe (10th, SWD) also getting good positions and it’s refreshing to see these runners coming through. Christiaan Greyling (6th, Boland) had his usual solid performance, while Kane Reilly’s (Boland) lack of preparation due to studies forced him into 8th position.
The women’s race saw Danette Smith (Boland) lead from start to finish in 5:09:22 becoming the 2014 SA Champion for the first time. She was followed by Olivia Read (Eastern Cape) and Driekie Black (KZN).
1. Chad Gordon SA Champion 1. Driekie Black
2. Anton Chevalier Silver 2. Caroline Balkwill
3. Johan Olivier Bronze 3. Michelle Nagel
1. Noel Ernstzen SA Champion 1. Frances Orzechowski
2. Graeme McCallum Silver
3. Keith Moodie Bronze
Complete results on www.mountainrunner.co.za
Trail Running South Africa would like to thank Graham Bird, Tatum Prins and Merrell for their great organisation and their attempts to make this a truly prestigious event.
Please remember to support us in our efforts to get this team to the World Championships in the USA on the 15th/16th August 2014 by sending an SMS with the keyword “Pinktrail” to 40158. Proceeds thereof will go to our newly elected beneficiary – The Pindrive in their efforts to get another Mammography truck on the road and the rest will go towards our Team of Athletes going to the World Championships.