Race Report – Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge 2018

Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge 2018 - Image by Mark Sampson

Saturday 19 May 2018 was picture-perfect from the moment the sun rose. Both JMC runners and crew turned off their headlamps and looked up at the mountains that beckoned. Adventure for the 38km, 24km and 11km runners lay ahead, as they prepared for the first of three races that make up the Bos Sport Mountain Challenge Series, amplified by Jaybird.

It was a windless, chilly morning as the 38km ‘A’ Batch set off. Speedsters Bernard Rukadza, Edson Kumwamba, Robert Rorich, Jonathan Black and Andrew Hagen set the pace in the men’s race, with Katya Soggot establishing an early lead amongst the women. A further 3 groups left the finish chute in 2 minute intervals, the beep of their Finish Time trackers signalling the start of an arduous day out on a gruelling route, with 1 880m of ascent.

The unrivalled alpine-like landscape of the Jonkershoek mountains makes this the most spectacular big mountain run in the Western Cape, and it throws every expected element of mountain running at each participant. Steep climbs, sharp drop-offs, technical single track and tricky descents with breathtaking, panoramic views. Recent rains in the area resulted in numerous fast-flowing streams en route, which became welcome water points for runners as temperatures rose in the latter part of the day.

At 08:20am a capacity field of runners tackled the 11km route, and 10 minutes later a further 400 runners set off to complete the 24km JMC Lite. From the outset, the top 5 in the 24km field included new-comer Cana Peek and well-known young talent, Hayley Preen with Roger Dickson and Johan Kellerman playing tag for top spot.

Only 50 minutes and 12 seconds later, junior runner Stephen Millard broke the 11km tape, followed 8 seconds later by Bronwyn George. Marshal Abrahams rounded out the men’s 11km podium. First woman home was Gianna Marais in a time of 58 minutes and 25 seconds. She was followed by Mary de Boer in a time of 1 hour, 1 minute and 31 seconds. Anna-Mart Rabie took third.

Word from the 38km course was that Bernard Rukadza had a marginal lead, with Edson Kumwamba hot on his heels. Rukadza has recently returned to trail, having spent some time immersed in the road running scene. His trail fans have welcomed him back with open arms, but few rival the enthusiastic support he receives from Cape Town’s “galloping granny”, aka Marianne Nelson. A beaming Rukadza went straight to Tannie Marianne for a hug after breaking the 38km tape, and Kane Reilly’s 38km record, in a spectacular time of 3 hours 26 minutes and 21 seconds. He was followed by Kumwamba who finished in 3 hours 29 minutes and 29 seconds, with sandal-clad Robert Rorich closing out the 38km men’s podium in 3 hour 36 minutes and 30 seconds. A bleeding and visibly shaken Jonathan Black was fourth over the line, sporting evidence of a high speed altercation with some Jonkershoek rocks.

Katya Soggot claimed first spot in the women’s race in 4 hours 18 minutes and 13 seconds, as MC Sean Falconer aptly welcomed her across the line as “trail royalty”.  She was followed by Marna van Deventer in a time of 4 hours 44 minutes and 16 seconds. Mia Uys was third in 4 hours 49 minutes and 24 seconds.

The 24km race, with 1 105m of ascent, produced a few surprises. First over the line was veteran runner Roger Dickson in a time of 2 hours 12 minutes and 5 seconds. Only 16 seconds behind him was first woman and second overall, Cana Peek. Cana, a second year student at Stellenbosch University, won this year’s Dusi Canoe marathon, but she is new to trail running, and a name to follow in coming years. She was followed by second woman, fourth overall, Hayley Preen, who finished in 2 hours 14 minutes and 41 seconds. Second man, third overall was Johan Kellerman in a time of 2 hours 14 minutes and 12 seconds. Third man was Matthew Leppen in 2 hours 17 minutes and 33 seconds. Third woman was Lijan van Niekerk in 2 hours 18 minutes and 37 seconds.

And those are just the stories from the sharp end. For many hours after, runners were welcomed home with cold Saggy Stone beer, gin and tonic on tap, live music and an array of food truck options. Medics iced swollen ankles and patched up wounds and the sports massage crew worked non-stop on tired legs and broken bodies. War stories were exchanged from the comfort of bean bags as the prize giving and lucky draws took place.

There were many who did not complete their races, but there were more who made it back. The stories of triumph filtered in, but few could top the emotive tale from the back of the 24km field, where sweep Sierd der Bij brought a gentleman called Si home to his medal. “When we ran into Si about 8km into the race, we weren’t so sure. The oom at the checkpoint had just said that it didn’t look good. Him saying it in Afrikaans made it sound a bit more serious… The Panorama on the JMC Lite is a relentless climb. One of those that eats you up and spits you out. Si wasn’t so stoked to see Johann and I. Were we the boo men flagging him out of the race? No, there was only one way back anyway. Consistency and picking your battles are key in any race, no matter your level of fitness. Run, walk, powerhike and bomb the downhills. He took it home. The toughest thing he had ever done, he said. A year prior he weighed 120kg, he lost 30kg to claim that medal. We all know that it doesn’t stop with a 24km. I’m pretty sure we will see him run an ultra in the next two years. Before that he wants to lose another 15kg. Legend.”

The second race in the series is the Helderberg Mountain Challenge on Sunday 19 August, followed by the beast of the three, Marloth, on Sunday 7 October.

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