An action-packed weekend in George, South Africa saw Ryan Sandes (RSA) and Sylvie Scherzinger (RSA) claim victories at the first ever UTMB® World Series event in Africa, winning the men’s and women’s 100-Miler distance category at the inaugural Mountain Ultra Trail (MUT) by UTMB®. A successful weekend of racing which saw 1 450 trail runners cross the finish line.
“We are honoured that George has been able to host this UTMB World Series event,” George Executive Mayor, Alderman Leon van Wyk. “We were highly impressed with the organisation of the event from the first visit to the race village at Witfontein as registrations commenced. The good weather conditions should have assisted the participants. Congratulations not only to the winners but to all participants. We trust that your visit to George and our Outeniqua Mountains has been enjoyable. We look forward to your next visit.”
The 100-Mile trail runners kicked off the weekend of racing and set off at 14h00 on Friday, 26 May. The men’s start list featured the likes of Ryan Sandes (RSA), Omar El Sawy (EGY), Grobler Basson (RSA) and Douglas Pickard (RSA). With the women’s start list featuring Sylvie Schezinger (RSA), Michelle Gordon (RSA), Danelle Joubert (RSA) and Colleen Browne (RSA). However, it was Sandes and Scherzinger who took the top spots by claiming victory in the men’s and women’s category in a time of 21:46:32 and 38:4524 respectively.
Commenting on a dominant performance, Sandes shared, “I started out feeling really good but I felt a little tired and sleepy early morning at around three to six. That was probably the toughest part for me but other than that I felt comfortable the whole time.”
He continued, “It was tough out there as the conditions were muddy and technical which meant slow moving. The route itself was amazing and the event had a cool vibe. I am excited that South Africa has a UTMB World Series event now. There is always going to be pressure to perform and win at these events, but I always try to channel it in the right way. I think it was Alistair Brownlee (two-time Olympic Gold Medallist) who said that pressure is a privilege, you just must channel it in the right way. There was a bit of pressure on me to win this race, I really wanted to qualify for the UTMB World Series Final in France at the end of the year. So, I am happy to have achieved that.”
Sandes was greeted by his wife, Vanessa Sandes, and his seven-year-old son on the finish line. Delighted with her husband’s performance, Vanessa commented, “It’s been incredible following Ryan’s progress throughout the event. I love crewing him because it is always nail biting and it is always exciting. Last night (Saturday night) was just amazing live tracking him and seeing the dot go across the mountains because you know exactly where he is on course. It gets nerve wrecking at moments when he goes through the overgrown areas with poor signal, when the satellites don’t pick him up for a little while you get worried because you think they have stopped. And you watch the guys that are chasing him slowly catch up, it gets really nerve wrecking.”
On her women’s 100-Miler distance category victory, Scherzinger commented, “Oh my gosh, that was insane! It was like a mud bath; it was so slippery which made it difficult to run. I was aiming for around 35 hours but with that mud, I was slowed down drastically.” She continues, “The course is fantastic. Those were some of the best views I have ever seen. The whole course is just breath-taking, the wilderness, the mountains, it is all just mind-blowing!”
The 100KM race distance saw runners set of early Saturday, 27 May, on an adventure in the Outeniqua Mountains. With victories from Bruce Arnett (RSA) and Tarrin van Niekerk (RSA) who won the men’s and women’s category in a time of 13:39:13 and 15:02:39 respectively.
Upon crossing the finish line, Arnett compared this year’s 100KM distance to last year, “This year was tougher, I wasn’t as strong. It was also so much muddier, that mud really made the conditions a lot tougher. I was slipping and sliding everywhere, I had several falls. I had a really bad spell at about 20KM into the race, whereas last year I was strong the whole way. I actually dropped back to third place at one stage, luckily, I recovered well. All in all, it was a good day though a tough day. I enjoyed it.”
On defending her title 100KM race distance title, Van Niekerk shared, “It was a totally different course to last year. It was so muddy this year, which made the run very hard and the course a lot slower. It was still a spectacular race; it is such a beautiful course with amazing views. The last stretch to the finish line, I lost my humour a little bit, I was so tired. It was hard work. Sometimes those hard races make it even more worthwhile.”
The 60KM race distance runners set off early on Saturday, 27 May. A day that saw Johardt Van Heerden (RSA) and Kim Schreiber (GER) both setting new course records in the Outeniqua Mountains. Van Heerden and Schreiber took the top spots by claiming victory in the men’s and women’s category in a course record time of 05:55:18 and 07:19:18 respectively.
Recorder breaker, Van Heerden, shared upon crossing the finish line, “What a day out, a beautiful morning. It was very muddy and slippery in some sections, but I managed. The last 10km was very hard and I knew I needed to conserve some energy. So, I took in some calories. What a beautiful day out, brilliant course, brilliant race. Very muddy and slippery but it was fun.”
Fellow record breaker in the women’s category and the only international athlete to claim victory shared, “This is my second time in South Africa. I visited Cape Town last year to race but George is so different to Cape Town. It’s crazy how unique and beautiful it is.” Schreiber continued, “The race was brutal to be honest, it was super technical, unbelievably muddy, slippery, and steep. It did not suit my strengths; I am not a technical runner. However, that did not matter today because I was blown away by the scenery and beautiful surroundings, it was so special being out there. The most special thing for me today was the sunrise. I have never started a race in the dark before, so seeing that sunrise in the trails and mountains was just insane.”
The marathon race distance runners also set off early on Saturday, 27 May. A day that saw another record being shattered, this time by Bianca Tarboton (RSA), taking top honours in women’s category in a course record time of 04:36:55. With Ian Peterkin (RSA) sharing the top podium spot in the men’s category with Jacques Buys (RSA), both crossing the finish line together in 04:31:00.
The South African marathon record breaker shared, “The race was amazing, it was tough and super muddy. The downhills were slow but despite all that I loved it, and it was beautiful. Outside of the muddiness, the weather conditions were good. The course was relentless, there was a lot of climbing I had a foot injury coming into the race so to not only finish but win feels amazing. I was not focused on the opposition for this event because of my foot, I was running my own race and focused on myself. I was just making sure I was listening to my body the whole time, but I surprisingly felt strong.”
Crossing together with Peterkin, Buys shares, “I started off conservatively because I knew the first climb was a make or break. You don’t want to go off hard in the first ten kilometres. Around the halfway mark, Ian [Peterkin] and I decided to stick together, we are good friends too. So, we decided that if we are able to stick with each other until the last two kilometres, we would call it truce and finish together.”
Peterkin also commented, “The course was extremely muddy, I couldn’t have prepared for that. I had the tactic to run my own race and not worry about others. When I caught up to Jacques [Buys], we worked well together. It helped to have someone to chat to and get me through the dark spots. It helped that we are good friends and HOKA teammates. So, it was a special win for us.”
MUT Challenge and MUT Lite
The inaugural Mountain Ultra Trail by UTMB also saw victories in the shorter distances for Anderson Ncube (RSA) and Lijan Van Niekerk (RSA) winning the 25km race distance in the men’s and women’s category in a time of 02:01:22 and 02:25:57 respectively. And Lunga Nolakana (RSA) and Bailee Nell (RSA) taking the spotlight in the 10km race distance.
Anderson shared, “The day went well for me as I am familiar with the course, having run these trails before. I didn’t know how strong my competition was, so I took the first section easy to scout out the opposition. When I realised the guys were going slower than my goal pace, I decided to up the pace and I took off.”
On her victory in the women’s category Van Niekerk shared, “I felt strong, and this was my best time on this course. However, the conditions weren’t the best. It was cold in the morning, there was like a winter wonderland out there. It felt like we were running through fields of frost, it was all white. It was beautiful though. There were even blooming proteas, it was stunning like the Outeniqua Mountains always are. The mud did make the pace a little slower than I would have liked. I took the downhills cautiously so that I don’t twist an ankle or hurt myself because I have another important race coming up in two weeks in Austria. I now have two weeks to recover nicely, then back to racing again.”