“This is a big one” nodded Richard Ayres with wild eyes, 40km and 10 hours into the Merrell Hobbit 100.
The trail lends itself to superlatives and exaggerations but his understated affirmation captures the essence of this legendary race. It is a passage up and across the Amathole mountains, through waterfalls and indigenous forests, over magic mushrooms and under massive yellow woods. More than that, it a trek deep into one’s own self, searching for the spirit and strength to move relentlessly onward and upward, to resist the temptation to sit down and curse with the goblins this treacherous way.
27 brave souls set off and just 17 completed the full course of this ultra-tough two day traverse. From Maden Dam at dawn – to long after dusk for some of them – they ran, stumbled and trudged to arrive at Cata Hut and lay claim to a bed after a hot shower and very welcome dinner. The next morning promised the descent into the village of Hogsback and the finish line at Arminel Hotel, but with the Hog standing firmly in their path they still had a further 2100m to climb up and over.
On their way back they were joined by competitors tackling the shorter, but no less technical, 38km and 16km routes, possibly the most difficult for their distance races in the country and in the words of one seasoned athlete “The best value per kilometre” in terms of terrain, views and overall experience.
The Merrell Hobbit weekend, presented by Nikwax, in this magical pocket of the Eastern Cape attracts runners who aspire to Live the Adventure. The event organisers, Tatum Prins and Graham Bird of Mountain Runner Events are both accomplished adventure racers and ardent advocates of an outdoor, active lifestyle. They designed the 5km fun run specifically to introduce and encourage new feet onto the trails. Local resident Landile Malamlela quickly sourced an alternative to his flip flops when Graham offered him a free entry after he showed interest during the set up and came flying into first place with a time of 23:27 followed by several speedy and sure footed juniors from all over, signalling an exciting future for the sport in our country.
Beyond PBs, each route in this event inspires a person to give their best and by that, be their best.
Congratulations to everyone who made it past the start, and the winners of the 100km; Steven Erasmus and Christine Coppinger. Jade Muller and Lizani Grant won the 38km and Rory Scheffer and Alexia Loizou headed the 16km. All results and superb photographs from Bruce Viaene are on “MountainRunnerEvents” facebook page and www.mountainrunner.co.za