High mountains, arduous climbs, thin air, incredible vistas and the adrenalin rush of running on technical trail – the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT) promised everything a skyrunning experience should offer, and it delivered even more.
As Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, the announcement of the LUT drew much attention in the world’s skyrunning arena, and the event did not disappoint. The race, which was staged in the Maluti Mountains of northern Lesotho, just 50km of the border of South Africa, attracted athletes from around the world, including South Africa, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Australia, Canada, UK and USA.
Affectionately known as the Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho boasts some of southern Africa’s most beautiful skyrunning terrain with its vast wilderness of unspoilt mountain vistas, and is regarded by many as a paradise for skyrunners. The LUT was hosted by the Maliba Mountain Lodge, providing a superb hub for the efficient organisation of the event.
Both the men’s and women’s field provided a tightly competitive edge, with many of South Africa’s top trail runners vying for top honours. The day brought its share of surprises and made the race even more exciting than predicted.
For the first third of the 50km race, the trio of Lucky Mia and race favourites Iain don Wauchope and AJ Calitz led the field, with several fast runners forming the chase group as they climbed the 1 150m of vertical gain over 15km to reach 3 145m, the highest point of the route at 23km.
Thick mist on the 10km stretch of ridgeline above 3 000m reduced visibility and made the sighting of the bright yellow route markers difficult for the runners. With the front three runners Mia, Don Wauchope and Calitz temporarily losing their way, the chase group of Andrew Hagan, Quinton Honey and Spain’s Manual Diez Raobago took the lead, and the race was on.
Hagan, well known for his high-speed downhill running capability, took full advantage of the 8km technical descent, earning him enough of a lead on Raobago and Honey to maintain the gap over the next nasty climb, which called for a 720m vertical gain over 6km. The final 700m technical descent further clinched Hagan’s lead, and he took line honours in an impressive 6:07:22.
Raobago came in 2nd place in 6:22:14, followed by Honey in 6:23:10.
The ladies race was just as hotly contested, with Robyn Kime and Tracy Zunckel leading the fray together until the 37km mark, when Zunckel took command over the final 13km, achieving an 11 min gap on Kime to win the race in a convincing 6:56:17. Kime finished in 2nd place in 7:07:28, followed by Canadian Stacie Carrigan in a very solid 7:23:36.
Speaking about her experience at Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, Carrigan was ecstatic. “When I arrived at Maliba Lodge, I was blown away by the scenery – it was incredible. The race course too did not disappoint, and my hopes for a challenge were met. During the low points when I started to feel beat up and broken, I would look up and catch a glimpse of a waterfall, river, the mountains and valleys and all the beauty of my surroundings was enough to make me smile and keep pushing to the finish line,” said Carrigan.
LUT race organiser Andrew Booth sees skyrunning in southern Africa as the exciting future of trail running. “For years South African trail runners have watched with envy as the sport of skyrunning grew in Europe. Now, with the formation of the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA), the discipline has officially arrived in southern Africa. That means we can have a national skyrunning series in our own ‘backyard’, accessible to all,” said Booth.
The LUT was SASA’s second sanctioned skyrunning event – the first being 36km Matroosberg Skymarathon®, which was staged in the Western Cape in October.
“The success of the Matroosberg Skymarathon® and the Lesotho Ultra Trail has seen much excitement, and the imminent announcement of the launch of a national skyrunning series in 2014 has got the trail community in South Africa quite abuzz,” said SASA chairman James Hallett.
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