Almost 200 runners and their support crews flocked to the KZN Midlands this past weekend to take part in the Karkloof100, one of only three 100-mile trail races in the country.
What was most extraordinary about the event was not that the field more than doubled from last year; or that the average finisher rate was 83% in both distances (the event also includes a 50-mile distance), something relatively unheard of in ultra-marathon distances. Nor was it the extreme weather conditions which included sunshine, heavy rain, hail and a wild lightning show. What was most extraordinary is the story behind the winners of both the 100 and 50-miler, both members of local NPO Southern Lodestar Foundation’s new “Dream Team”.
The “Dream Team”, launched earlier this year, is about affording talented runners an opportunity to realise their dream of regularly competing in races while at the same time becoming role models for the younger generation in their local communities.
The team now has 11 athletes, 10 males and one female, of varying running experience, and there is an appetite to expand this group. Providing the athletes with running kit, race entries, training and support, the team adopts a personal approach to nurturing passion and building talent and is hands-on with its runners.
New course record
Running his first 100-miler this year, 39-year old Albert Phungula (pictured above) crossed the finish line of the Karkloof100 victorious, having run the 100-mile route in 17:52:40 – setting a new course record. Phungula, originally from Underberg, now lives in Pietermaritzburg and has two young sons, both of whom followed his progress throughout the 100-miles and were waiting, tired but excited, at the finish line for him.
Phungula has a track record in road running and ran his 11th Comrades Marathon this year, but clearly he has a talent for trail running and a head for competing. He ran a thoughtfully planned race that led him to the finish line with a lead of more than 30 minutes over second place Andrew Erasmus, from Ballito.
In the 50-mile competition, which set off from Benvie Gardens on Saturday, September 22 at 7am, it was another “Dream Team” member, Muzi Madikwa (36) who took the honours in 07:06:26.
The shorter race was a nail-biter as Madikwa jostled for first place with Ruan van der Merwe. At the final checkpoint, Madikwa, only minutes ahead of Van der Merwe, received the news that Phungula was leading the 100-miler and likely to win; but Van der Merwe made a quick stop and left the checkpoint ahead of Madikwa. With just 18km remaining, it was anyone’s guess who would prevail.
As Madikwa rounded the final corner, a mere four minutes in the lead, the crowd erupted as they realised that the Dream Team, against all odds, had achieved something extraordinary and inspired a captivated audience with their sheer determination and raw talent.
This year’s race again attracted some of South Africa’s elite ultra-marathon runners, including the likes of Jock Green, twins Andrew and Steven Erasmus and last year’s winner, Bennie Roux. As one of only three 100-mile trail races in South Africa, “the popularity of this year’s event is testament to the success of last year’s inaugural event and the growing popularity of ultra-marathons, making it a firm fixture on the ultra-running calendar,” said co-race director, Andrew Booth of KZN Trail Running.
His partner, Jack Davis of The TrailLab, said: “We’ve been blown away by the support! There’s been so much positivity generated through the race which is more than we could ever have hoped for and we’re looking forward to a bigger and better event in years to come!”
Karkloof100 will be back again in 2019.