At 5:30am on Saturday some 160 intrepid skyrunners will be hyped and ready on the start line for the 9th and final race in the South African 2015 Skyrunner® Series, the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT).
LUT, which in 2013 was Africa’s original Ultra SkyMarathon®, is now in its third running, and has fast garnered a reputation for being the most testing 50km race in the Mountain Kingdom. With 2 500m of vertical ascent through the beautiful Maluti range, the demanding course takes runners through river crossings, up steep gradients, along high altitude contour paths, and down technical descents on a profile that epitomises the essence of what skyrunning is all about.
Competition at this year’s race will be tight. Defending his 2014 Skyrunner® Series title will be experienced skyrunner Lucky Miya, who will no doubt be kept on his toes by fellow elites Ben Brimble, Quinton Honey, Gaizka Barañano (Spain) and Tsokolo Moavhi (Lesotho). Tracy Zunckel and Karien Bezuidenhout will need to work hard to pip Canadian Alissa St Laurent, who in August this year became the first-ever woman to clinch an overall win at the Canadian Death Race. (She beat the winning man by almost 90 minutes).
“One of the many highlights of LUT that has stood out since its inception in 2013 is the international flair the race attracts. With a strong presence from Canada and Spain every year, it’s only a matter of time before we have an international winner in the men’s or women’s race,” says race director Andrew Booth of KZN Trailrunning.
Weather always plays an exciting role in skyrunning events, and this weekend’s forecast for the Maluti mountains proves no different, with cool conditions predicted for the start, cold temperatures at the highest point of the route (3 200m), and rain in the afternoon and evening. As is standard for mountain races, mandatory kit is essential and will be routinely checked.
Altitude will be one of the greatest challenges of the race, with 10km of the route at 3 200m above sea level. The ascent to that altitude from a starting elevation of 1 900m at Maliba Lodge will also be very challenging, with the purpose-cut trail and exquisite views the only respite from burning lungs and aching quads.
“For a relatively young race, LUT has gained great traction in the trail running scene. The appeal of taking on the challenge of an Ultra SkyMarathon® is immense for those hooked on mountain-style adventures. The course is tough but not ridiculously so, and the finishing rate amongst those who start is around 90%,” says Booth.
“With sponsors like The North Face and Metropolitan Lesotho, the race is set to grow from strength to strength over the next few years, and firmly establish itself on the list of must-do races on the southern African trail calendar.”