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Embrace an opportunity to not only take part in one of South Africa’s toughest races but also be privy to a VIP package that will allow you to experience the journey of a lifetime.
Following on from a successful inaugural experience in 2014, Salomon SkyRun are now offering a very exclusive package for 15 very lucky individuals in 2015.
The Salomon SkyRun is a true mountain running experience on an unmarked course in the stunning Witteberg Mountains just off the southwest corner of Lesotho. Offering a variety of tough and challenging terrain, SkyRun is a self-supported and self-navigation journey of 100-kms.
Leaving the town of Lady Grey behind, the beauty and remoteness engulfs each and every runner. It is not uncommon to run for the entire race without seeing much civilization around you except those involved in the race.
BIG NEWS a $10,000 prize purse is available for the first male to go under 12-hours or the first lady to go sub 14-hours 30-minutes.
View race images HERE
To experience first hand the journey of SkyRun, listen to Episode 75 of Talk Ultra HERE. It is a special show that discusses in detail the route, the experiences of South Africa and has in-depth chat with Gary Robbins who placed second in the men’s race. The show also has interviews with ladies first and second place, Landie Greyling and Julia Boettger. In addition the show brings sounds of SA and interviews the race directors, Adrian Saffy and Michael de Haast.
An evening in Lady Grey post race allows some rest and recovery before the 3-hour transfer journey to the stunning Moketsi Game Ranch.
Moketsi is a jewel. A five star resort offering luxury accommodation on a full board basis.
Moketsi provides an opportunity to experience wildlife on a personal level that is seldom scene or experienced. Go on safari in custom made Land Rover vehicles, drink a ‘sundowner’ as the sun departs the day and if you are lucky, experience the reserve ‘on foot’ under the guidance of the Ranch Manager, Gustav.
The Ranch covers some 6,000 hectares (65 km²) of beautiful grassland plains and contrasting mountain landscapes in a unique and comfortable setting for an exclusive and private experience. It may even be possible to run up Moketsi mountain… can you set an FKT?
Moketsi has a large variety of game with four of the Big Five (including Lion, Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard). The varied landscape, range of animals, birdlife and luxurious accommodation make for a true outdoor experience.
Leaving the quiet seclusion on Moketsi Game Ranch, a 90-minute transfer to Bloemfontein and an internal flight to Cape Town will awaken the senses to the bustle of South Africa’s second largest city. Hooking up with the local run scene, you will climb Lion Head, run up and down Table Mountain.
By contrast you will relax on the wine route visiting vineyards, watch the penguins at Boulders Colony and chill in Hout Bay with some quality seafood.
Package (excludes flights to South Africa)
£975.00 (€1250 or $1750)
Only 15-places are available for this incredible experience distributed as 5 to the USA/Canada, 5 to Germany and 5 to UK/ Europe.
The trip starts from Bloemfontein with a transfer to Lady Grey on Thursday 19th Nov and finishes with departure from Cape Town on Nov 28th.
Please note that all arrivals must be in Bloemfontein on Thursday 19th November 2014 by 3pm.
All meals not stipulated in package
All beverages except at Game Lodge
International flights: into and departing South Africa – arrival Bloemfontein, departure Cape Town.
How to book:
To book a place a non-refundable 25% deposit secures your place. Full balance is due, on or before 1st August 2015. Please specify your booking country.
PACKAGE PLACES ARE AVAILABLE FROM DEC 8th 2014
The Witteberg is a South African mountain range just off the south-west corner of Lesotho. The range, which rises to 2408 metres, stretches for about 60km from Lundin’s Nek in the east to Lady Grey in the west. The range lends its name to the Witteberg Series, the uppermost fossiliferous sequence of the Cape System of sedimentary rocks in South Africa. The race starts in the town of Lady Grey which is famous for its annual Nativity Play and its quaint houses and incredible scenery. Discover the wonder of Balloch cave along the route with it bushman art and idyllic setting nestled between some of the highest peaks in the Witteberg.
The Witteberg range is one of the most picturesque places in South Africa with some distinctive peaks like Avoca and Halston Peaks dominating the skyline.
The Salomon SkyRun and SkyRun Lite are unique in that they are truly self-supported and self-navigational races, where athletes tackle the remote terrain of the Witteberg Mountain range with a Map a Compass or GPS unit and a back pack containing all there food, water and compulsory equipment that will enable them to survive in this harsh environment, while operating at an average height of between 2200-2500 meters above sea level.
The trail starts in Lady Grey and the first 65km of the route is the same for both races, after the compulsory stop and medical check at Balloch are the Skyrunners allowed to continue while the Lite runners have completed their journey. The route climbs sharply out of Lady Grey to the first check point at the Tower; this is about a 12km run and is a combination of hiking trails and mountain running. As you climb the trail to the tower the majestic landscape unfolds in front of you and it now feels as if you are on top of Africa. Following the fence line you make your way along the ridge line to the second check point which is at Olympus, this is another 10km and the terrain is now devoid of paths and trails and athletes must decide which is the best route to the check point. After Olympus the athletes can pick up a small trail that will lead them to Snowden which is check point 3 another 11km or so, there is a natural spring just past Snowden where you can fill up your water bladders (does depend on how much rain has fallen so not always guaranteed a lot of water) before making your way to Avoca Peak the highest point (2756m) on the race. The climb up Avoca peak is challenging as the gradient is steep and the terrain is rough especially after good summer rain. From Avoca the route takes you over the “Dragonback” a ridge line that is about 3 meters wide with steep descends on either side, a fantastic formation of rock that is a feature of the race and a spectacular viewing point on a clear day. The route flattens out for a while as you move towards CP6 at Skidor which is again a leg of about 10km. At Skidor you descend into the valley down a technical descend before picking up the river that will lead you to the compulsory stop at Balloch Cave having now covered about 65km of the race.
Once Athletes have done their medical and been give the all clear by the doctor, it upwards and onwards as they take on the challenge of Balloch Wall a climb with a vertical ascent of over 500m in just 3km and back down the other side on the way to CP 8 at Edgehill Farm. Most athletes will now be operating in the dark as night fall will have replaced the harsh African sun. Navigating through the Bridal Pass from EdgeHill to the turn is tricky with a lot of athletes losing a lot of time trying to find the correct entrance into the pass that will lead them onto the ridgeline again. The Bridal pass has now been included as a waypoint on the route to assist athletes in negotiating the pass. A steady climb up the Pass will take you onto the ridgeline and to the check point at the Turn. From here you will double back toward the Wartrail Country Club via Halston Peak which is the last check point on the route. The climb down from Halston’s is technical and is made more difficult by the fact that you are very fatigued at this stage but buoyed by the fact that you are now heading to the finish at Wartrail Country Club.
RESULTS *to be updated
Ladies results to follow.
More images to follow.
Julia Boettger loves and excels at long and hard races. Raid de la Reunion, Tor des Geants and epic solo journeys ‘just for fun’ show all of us what a multi-talented ultra runner she is.
In 2014, Julia started the season placing 2nd at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and what followed was a series of top quality results that reached a peak with an outright victory at Andorra Ultra Trail – Ronda dels Cims.
In just one week, Julia will toe the line at the Salomon SkyRun in South Africa. I caught up with Julia to find out how she feels and how the preparation has gone.
How have the last couple of months been from a racing perspective?
I had a great season with mixture of racing and running my own projects. The last successful race I did was the Transalpine Run which was unusual for me but we I had fun. It made a change to all the long distance runs I did during the summer.
How’s training going – have you done anything specific for SA?
Well for the moment I am doing a lot of long runs in the mountains. It has been hard to keep up motivation for training, as this season has been very long. However, I always really enjoy being out in the mountains all day. I have had to keep in mind to speed up or to do more elevation so that it is specific for the SkyRun.
Maybe you have been brushing up on your navigation and looking at some maps?
I already run most of the time with maps and on new trails etc. So I’m not too bad with navigation or orientation. But I think in a race it will be different.
Are you intimidated by the navigation element of the SkyRun?
Yes. South Africa is a completely different country, which I do not know at all. Weather, landmarks etc. will be completely different from my local terrain: the Alps.
The course sounds extreme, particularly if the weather turns. Have you researched the course?
Not yet. I will speak to my friend Stephan Repke who did the race two times and I will ask him about race specifics and the course.
Michael De Haast has put up a great price purse should somebody post a great time, is that an incentive for you?
I just learned about this incentive … but no – this run will be a big adventure for me and the goal is to get to the finish line and to survive. If I can do it in a course record (which I don’t think so) it will be fantastic.
Have you been to SA before?
No. It will be my first time. I am looking forward to new experiences. People, landscape, and animals – everything will be different, new!
South Africa is one of the places I have always wanted to explore and to learn about. To run in nature, to experience the original freestyle trail running of the Salomon SkyRun will be inspiring. I like to challenge myself on long distance courses and the SkyRun will be definitely be a different kind of ultra distance challenge. But beside the race I am glad to have the opportunity to meet local people and to spend some time with them.
AJ Calitz lines up for the high-intensity Red Bull LionHeart event and just one week later will toe the line at the ultra-distance Salomon SkyRun.The two races will require a particular change in gears particularly as Calitz is attempting to stand on the podium at both events.
Two years ago Calitz set the pace at the inaugural Red Bull LionHeart, a 4, 4-kilometre duel from the base of Cape Town’s Lion’s Head peak to the top and back down again. Rather than a mass start, the race pits runners against each other in a head-to-head duel. Contenders run again and again, knocking out rivals on their climb up the ranks. Last year Calitz defended his title and beat Thabang Madiba by a mere 11 seconds to claim his second LionHeart title – and setting a new course record (26:46) at the same time.
Calitz has been training on Lion’s Head in preparation for this year’s event, which takes place on Saturday 15 November. When asked how he aims to pull back more seconds from his previous record runs, Calitz replies, “It is always possible to go faster; I am a lot faster on the downs this year”.
He finds the stretch of jeep track to be the hardest section of the course. “Coming down from the top is quite a rush!” he adds.
Calitz is back for the third time. Aside from defending his crown, he is attracted to the race because of its man-on-man heat setup. “Whoever is prepared to hurt the most will win,” he says.
A week later Calitz transitions physically – and mentally – from the fast-paced action of LionHeart to the 100-kilometre mountain race, Salomon SkyRun. He has been out in the Witteberg mountains, familiarising himself with the route and the terrain.
“Yes, it helps a lot to be familiar with the course; route knowledge is 60% of the race at this event. To be fair, with racing at altitude and living at sea level I have to manage my expectations.”
Last year the race was cut short due to bad weather. Howling wind, torrential ice-rain and fog brought dangerous conditions to the mountains and Calitz, who was chasing race leader Iain Don-Wauchope, was nearly hypothermic and he withdrew from the race. He learned from this experience.
“Last year was rough,” he says of his first experience at SkyRun. “I learned that I should start slower because it is a long day out. Also, I have to focus on navigation, pacing and nutrition from the start.”
Red Bull LionHeart website (www.redbulllionheart.com).
The Salomon SkyRun (www.skyrun.co.za) starts before sunrise on Saturday, 22 November 2014 from the town of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. The most up-to-date content during the race will appear on the event organiser’s Facebook page (Pure Adventures).
Gary Robbins has an incredible story… like all Canadians he played Hockey, his first race ‘off the couch’ was a 10-miler but in his late teens the lure of a good party and soft white snow saw him become a ski bum.
Like many, he had a cathartic moment. A moment when you look in, shake yourself up and decide that you need to get a grip. Gary travelled and travelled extensively. It was the millennium and those magic numbers, ‘2000’ provided a stimulus for many, not just Gary.
The process of finding fitness and health was a gradual one. When back home in Banff the partying continued but it was now on a back burner. Running became a normal activity and the mountains provided an incentive for adventure.
2002 ultimately was a key year, Adventure Racing was booming and Gary had seen the EcoChallenge. What followed was a journey into the unknown and Gary raced with his team the Raid the North Extreme, Mind Over Matter Adventure Racing and the booming Primal Quest.
In 2008 a shift to purely running came and for many, this is the Gary Robbins we all know. His history and story around Hurt 100 makes incredible reading and listening. In 2010, Gary tackled Hurt and not only won the race in 20-hours 12-minutes but broke a Geoff Roes course record… that doesn’t happen very often!
What followed is possibly one of the greatest comebacks in sport. Whilst out training with Geoff Roes and Max King, Gary broke his leg on the Hurt 100 course. At first he thought it was no big deal, however, what followed was a period of his life that may well have seen Gary never run again.
But mile by mile, Gary eased his way back into the sport with help of fellow ultra runner, Luke Nelson. In 2013, Gary went full circle and returned to Hurt 100, a place of so much glory and so much pain. He had a point to prove and prove it he did. He won the race and a little like Roy Hobbs in the the film, ‘The Natural’ Gary had his moment once again. A moment he followed up in 2014 with a repeat victory.
Hurt 100 holds a special place in Gary’s heart and it is his experiences in Adventure Racing, triumphing over the 100-mile distance, his incredible comeback that will now see him toe the line at the Salomon SKYRUN in South Africa.
IC: How have the last couple of months been from a racing perspective?
GR: From a racing perspective I built out my year to attempt to peak for The Salomon SkyRun and as such I’ve had an unusually low mileage summer of running. I raced the Cascade Crest 100 miler on August 23rd. It wasn’t my best day, especially after a sleep deprived week of race directing my own Squamish 50 just six days prior. I ended up sitting in an aid station just 30 miles in for over twenty minutes after walking for the hour prior. It wasn’t pretty. I stuck with it though and had a great second half rally in which I managed to climb my way back up to finish 3rd overall. Seth Swanson (2nd WS100) took the win in a CR time.
IC: Do you have any targets between now and your trip to SA?
GR: My target is a big month of training and to show up in peak fitness and injury free. I will be racing Rocky Man Brazil on November 8th though, before flying straight to South Africa.’RMB’ is a relay event in which teams compete by Nationality. It’ll be the first time a Canadian team has competed at Rocky Man and I’m quite excited with the team we’ve built. For me it’ll be a 35km mountain run along with a team based outrigger canoe paddle. The team if five members and the disciplines include surfing, skate board half pipe, SUP, mountain bike, men’s run, women’s run and a team outrigger canoe and team run stage.
IC: How has training gone, you are a busy race director yourself?
GR: It was quite the summer of race directing to be honest. I now oversee twelve races and it’s certainly kept me on my toes. I had a very successful first seven months of training, followed by a few months of non-structured training with lower overall mileage. I’ve just now started bumping up the distance again with a successful three day circumnavigation of the 150km long Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier. That capped off a 110 mile week and thankfully all systems seem to be a go right now.
IC: Navigation is a key component of the Salomon SKYRUN have you been looking at some maps of the Drakensberg?
GR: I unfortunately have not, and navigating was never my strong suit in adventure racing. I hope to work this in in October.
IC: You have a great adventure racing background, are you intimidated by the navigation element of the SkyRun?
GR: Thus far no, I’ll just follow the route Ryan Sandes did for the course record…!
IC: The course sounds extreme, particularly if the weather turns. Have you researched the course?
GR: I struggle to look past the next event on my calendar and typically work through one event at a time, as such I haven’t been able to put much focus on my SkyRun research just yet. I direct my final trail race of the year this Saturday and following that it’s 100% focus on South Africa.
IC: A strong local contingent will be toeing the line… Iain Don Wauchope, AJ Calitz and so on… do you know much about them?
GR: I do not know much about these runners personally, but what I do know is that South Africans in general are incredible tough and talented runners. There’s no doubt in my mind that South Africans could very literally run away from the rest of us on race day. Home field advantage is certainly a reality over any terrain in which flagging isn’t utilised.
IC: Michael De Haast (race director) has put up a great prize purse should somebody post a great time, is that an incentive for you?
GR: I think it’s great that Michael has been able to put up such a prize purse. Personally I’ve never targeted an event due to a prize purse and am more driven by the aesthetic of a race. Prize purse or not, I can’t wait to run in South Africa! My wife will be joining me for two out of the three weeks that I’ll be in South Africa and we’ve been looking forward to this trip together all year long!
IC: This trip will provide two great opportunities – travel and racing!
GR: In terms of the race itself, I’m really excited to do a slightly non-conventional and more challenging form of a trail race. It seems more akin to an adventure run and I do love me a good adventure run. From a travel perspective, I’m stoked to run in a completely new country, while Linda and I are both really looking forward to taking in a safari while we’re there. Her face also tends to light up real bright when she says the words “dinosaur footprints,” which we hope to check out at some point as well.
The Salomon SKYRUN takes place on 20th-23rd of November and an exclusive package is available for those who may like to join us for the trip of a lifetime. Info HERE
‘I really like what the Salomon SkyRun is as an event, an honest to goodness bad ass mountain race. A lot of races out there like to brand themselves as such, but the Salomon SkyRun appears to be fully legit in this regard.’ Gary says as a parting shot, ‘I think few places in the world would embrace and even sanction an event such as this and I believe that offers great insight into the people, both behind the scenes and those lining up to tackle the race itself. This won’t be easy, as is evidenced by Ryan Sandes course record of almost twelve and a half hours.’
Having said all that, there’s an undeniable element of intrigue that emanates from everything surrounding the Salomon SkyRun.
You can listen to interviews with Gary Robbins below:
Episode 54 of Talk Ultra – Gary Robbins once again returned to the tough and gnarly Hurt 100 and came away with another victory, in this weeks show he tells us all about it and his plans for 2014. HK100 took place just a couple of weeks ago and young Australian sensation, Vlad Ixel placed 3rd overall in a top quality field, we interviewed him about his running and what the future hold. Talk Training as ‘Hint’s n Tips for running from Speedgoat himsel, the News, a Blog, Up and Coming races.. another great show in store!
Episode 29 – has come back man Gary Robbins telling us what it’s like to return from 2 years of injury to not only win Hurt 100 but to set a new CR. Jez Bragg tells us about completing ‘The Long Pathway, Te Araroa’ in New Zealand. Joe Grant says goodbye and heads off to the Iditarod. Colourful Catra Corbett tells us about drugs, alcohol, running, tattoos, clothes and Truman. In addition to all that, we also have… phew; Talk Training about the long run, ‘A year in the life off…, part 3 of our Marathon des Sables special, A Meltzer Moment, Up & Coming races and of course the News.
What a race eh… it’s a race that has been on the radar of many a runner for years. Established 16-years ago, the Salomon SkyRun has often been perceived as a race just for South Africans, however, that is all about to change…
‘2014 is going to be a great year for the race. This year we will elevate the race to a new level with a strong International contingent to take part’ says Michael de Haast, race director for the Salomon SkyRun.
This will be the 17th edition of the race and it has a great history. Created by a group of guys who were ex Special Forces, one day they decided they would visit a friend… he just happened to be 125km away… they undertook the journey on foot!
‘Looking back, it almost sounds a little like how Ironman started… I wonder if beer was involved?’ said Michael, ‘Created in ‘95’, they called it the Sky Walk and in ‘97’ the race started officially on the same route. I have made some slight changes since. We use to finish at Tiffindel Ski Resort. Now we finish at the War Trail Country Club as the ski resort closed 4-years ago.’
Taking place in the southwest corner of Lesotho, the Witteberg mountain range is part of the Drakensberg range. The route has high elevation with an average of around 2700m. On the ridges, runners are always at altitude, it has no paths, and therefore everyone needs to make his or her own trail. It makes this challenge unique.
Drakensberg will ring true for so many at the moment, Ryan Sandes recently completed the Drak Traverse, however, this course takes place in a different region. ‘The Drakensberg is a massive range of mountains,’ explains Michael, ‘this race is on the Eastern Cape side essentially where the Drakensberg ends.’
Lady Grey provides a backdrop to the race start. ‘It’s a beautiful and quaint town. Very small, picturesque and it’s a great place. It does offer some logistical issues though as hundreds of runners arrive looking for accommodation. One of the advantages of our elite athlete package!’ Michael says.
A severe course with extreme logistics, the race is at a maximum with 300-athletes. Two races are on offer, the 60km ‘Lite’ and the 100km SkyRun. ‘Safety is paramount and we need to manage the athletes on the mountain, for example, a winner can take 12-hours but the last person may take 36-hours. The course is remote and difficult, we can’t just drive in; everything is done by foot. It’s complicated but we are very experienced. We split the numbers as 200 for the full race and 100 for the ‘Lite’.’
The trail is very tough, technical and harsh. The 2013 edition had very tough-conditions and for the first time in its history the race had to be cut short for safety reasons, so, this is no easy undertaking. ‘The weather can change at a drop. You can have 3-seasons in one day. At altitude, weather is a factor and it can’t be underestimated.’
The race is self-supported (particularly water) and runners need to navigate. GPS units are allowed and a GPX file is provided by the race organization, however, as Michael de Haast says, ‘some local knowledge and good map and compass skills often will have an advantage over any GPS user. Preparation is key and for those who want to win, a little homework will go a long way.’
The highest point of the course is Avoca Peak at just under 2800m. All the race peaks have British naming. The settlers settled in the Lady Grey district with British ancestry in1820, hence the names and history.
The course has over 1000m of climbing in the first 10k to The Tower, following a ridgeline to Olympus and CP2. The key is not to loose height. Snowdon at 30k offers the first feeding option where water is available. The route climbs again and you climb to Avoca, the highest point. From Avoca, the course is beautiful. It has iconic landmarks, the famous Dragon’s Back, a 2m wide ridge, which you run on, and you have vertical drop offs on either side… insane running! It really is incredible. Coming into Balloch, CP6, this provides an access points for spectators; it’s just over halfway. Climbing out of the valley, participants go up a steep ascent of 700m only to drop down once again into another valley. The Lite race finishes at the Country Club but the 100km entrants must go out for another 40km loop. After CP7 you climb the Bridle Pass; it’s a tough climb and the locals use it for getting cattle over the mountain. The terrain is tough but the views are incredible. Looking out over the Eastern Cape with approx 75km covered, a path becomes more defined and then at CP8 you turn back and return to the finish. From CP9 you have a severe descent that will test each and every participant to the line. It’s a tough race that should not be undertaken lightly!
‘It’s an emotional journey SkyRun.’
Ryan Sandes holds the course record in a time of 12:36 and the race has had great competion from AJ Calitz and Iain Don Wauchope. In 2014, the race are offering $10,000 for the first runner to break 12-hours. This is a record that may well go this year… ‘We would love to give the money away. With the International field we are lining up, we think the record may well go should the conditions be favorable.’
An International field will race and currently Nick Clark (Altra) and Gary Robbins (Salomon) are confirmed. Nick Clark is an experienced mountain runner who has placed well at Western States and Hardrock 100. He also competed in the Grand Slam of ultra in 2013. Gary Robbins has a strong adventure racing background and is the current course record holder for Hurt 100. More runners will be added, and in total, the race will have 4-male and 2-female international athletes.
The opportunity to race and have the experience of a lifetime is not going to be reserved just for elite international athletes. For the first time, the Salomon SkyRun will open its doors offering 14-16 international runners from any racing background the opportunity to join the ultimate racing experience.
Michael de Haast explains:
We are offering a once in a lifetime experience to international runners for the package price of £999. Runners will need to arrange their own flight/travel to arrive in South Africa on the 20th November in Bloemfontein. Transfers will be arranged to Lady Grey for 3-nights including race entry.
On Monday 24th November, this select-group will then participate in a workshop with the elite international runners, this will include Nick Clark, Gary Robbins and Ryan Sandes plus others as and when confirmed.
November 25th everyone will transfer to a Moketsi Game Lodge for 2-nights that will include full board.
To finish the trip off, we will then all transfer back to Bloemfontein and onward travel with 2-nights in Cape Town.
The elite athletes will be present for the entire race package offering an opportunity never offered before. (Ryan Sandes will be an exception who will be at the race and the clinic but will not be at the game lodge.)
This is an opportunity that will be available only to a select few. The combination of the race, the elite international package and an opportunity to relax and enjoy South Africa to the full is just incredible.
If you are interested, please complete the form below:
Ian Corless had an opportunity to speak with Nick Clark and gather his thoughts on his current racing and the opportunity that the Salomon SkyRun will provide.
Interview with NICK CLARK (Altra)
IC – Nick, you are becoming regular interviewee…
NC – Yes I am, it’s great to be back
IC – A great Grand Slam in 2013 and the TCC earlier this year, things are rolling along nicely. You have just raced UTMF in Japan.
NC – Japan was fantastic. A great trip, the race was good for 70-miles and then not so good for the last 30…
IC – Was that when the tough climb started?
NC – I had been fuelling really well. I got to mile-70 and had some soup and it turned my stomach. I basically couldn’t eat for the remainder of the race and yes, that coincided with that brutal climb. Good to get around the mountain, I had points when I wasn’t sure if I would!
IC – What was the racing experience like out in Japan? Is it very different to Europe and the US?
NC – The racing was incredible. The level of detail that went into this race was mind blowing. They must have had over 1000 volunteers…
IC – Wow!
NC – Yeah, it was like UTMB. The course was marked every 20m or so. Incredible. Every detail was, as you would expect from the Japanese. It was meticulous, a really great and well-organized event
IC – Impressive. I spoke to Mike Foote (The North Face) recently, he had a great race…
NC – Yep, he sure did!
IC – You ran with him for quite a while. He said the course was interesting as it combined so many elements. It didn’t suit anyone style? Road, trail and climbing; did it suit you?
NC – Funny, I think they achieved what UROC have been trying to do for 3-4 years. They wanted a course that didn’t cater for any strength but I personally feel they favoured road guys. The Japan course had good stretches of road, that’s fine, I don’t mind that. You get in a rhythm, click off the miles and then you’d do 10-miles of road and then you would be in the mountains and it would take 4-hours to do 12-miles… crazy. We must have had 4-5 miles of rope sections that gives you an idea of how steep it was in places. A real mixed bag and I think that worked well. No particular style was favoured.
IC – Sounds like a course that would really suit you?
NC – Yes, I work on my speed, I don’t mind road and I love the mountains, so, yes, I was in great shape and I thought the podium was a distinct possibility. I was running with Foote and he made the podium. I’d like another crack at it I think…
NC – Well, lets talk up about South Africa and the Salomon SkyRun, which takes place in November. Michael de Haast was telling us all about this race, it’s in its 17th year. This race is tough, gnarly and I guess it’s just getting on peoples radars… funny, this race is going to be quite a contrast to UTMF. No markers, navigation, tough and a 100km long. What are your thoughts?
IC – It’s going to be amazing. I have never been to Africa so that will be awesome. I’m looking to experience the country and then thrown into the mountains is going to be fantastic. You know the navigation will be interesting. I don’t usually use a GPS but I can use one here so that will be essential I think with little or no time to prepare. I will need to try to get on a level playing field. I have no issues with map and compass either so it’s a great challenge. I am thrilled.
IC – This race is navigation, you come from the UK where fell running and navigation events are normal. However, I would imagine this is not something you experience in the US? So, do you feel comfortable with this?
NC – Yes I do. You are correct; navigation in the US is not required for an average race. You run, drink beer and have a burger…
IC – You make it sound great!
NC – It is once your done! I do lots of navigational stuff in the off-season in Colorado so it comes natural and I feel good with that. I can hone my map and compass skills and I feel comfortable. I think for this race though I will have a GPS. Having said that, you still need to take the correct line.
IC – I think back a few years when you came to the UK and you did the Bob Graham Round.
NC – Oh yes, the BGR!
IC – When you did the BGR you had guides, did you get involved in any navigation?
NC – No, not really, the year I did it, 3-years ago I think. It was December 21st, shortest day of the year…
IC – Perfect timing!
NC – Oh yeah, perfect timing! You don’t get much daylight in the UK in winter anyway…
IC – And didn’t we have bad snow?
NC – Yes, thick snow in places but it all depended on the terrain. Conditions were atrocious. Probably 3-4 foot snow in places. It was up to my chest at times. It was cold, wet and miserable. A great experience but I pulled the plug as it was become too extreme. I had been severely cold for ages; I couldn’t feel my feet. I had someone with me all the time but on the ridges and open places it was extreme. You couldn’t see 3-5 feet at times so the help of others was essential. It is what makes it so unique. You put your head down and go for it.
IC – Sounds like perfect preparation for the SkyRun! I’m sure you are aware that the 2013 edition of the race was the worse conditions they ever had. It was the first time in the 16-year history that they cancelled mid-race. Visibility was zero, runners were hypothermic… I can see the BGR being a great prep. The race takes place in the SW corner in the Witteberg Mountains, Ryan Sandes holds the CR in just over 12:30. Michael the RD is putting up a $10,000 prize purse for anyone who can break 12 –hours
NC – I didn’t get that memo! Wow, that is definitely worth going for. Very motivating. I think I am going to have to do more research.
IC – When I spoke to Michael, he did say that GPS units are allowed and they would provide a GPX track. The hitch is, the track is 4-5 years old. It’s valid of course but the local guys… AJ Calitz, Iain Don Wauchope (maybe Ryan Sandes) they will know a few shortcuts, so, a little pre race map time will be required.
NC – Yes, you are correct. Locals will have an advantage but I will just do what I can. Importantly I think I will make sure I am on someone’s heels who knows the way.
IC – A good tactic!
NC – Yes, oh yes and then we can have a 5k race at the end.
IC – The race description says… grading is difficult to extreme, depending on temperatures it may be very extreme. Expect 13-36 hours to complete. A massive difference! The field isn’t huge, just 250-people, one of the advantages that we have this year is along with yourself we do have other International Elite runners joining. Gary Robbins from Canada will join us and we will add 4-more. I guess one big bonus is that this trip is open to 14 to 16 runners to join us. What aspects of this are you looking forward to?
NC – Listening to all that I just think wow, once in a lifetime deal. For me it is about soaking it all up and experiencing everything to the full. I’ve never been on a reserve, the mountains will be incredible and the whole experience sounds immense.
IC – Do you know the area Nick or will this be an open eye experience.
NC – I know the Drakensberg Mountains but I know little else to be honest; that is what makes this trip so attractive. I think it what will appeal to everyone.
IC – Gary Robbins will join us, he was out in Japan with you but he had an injury. You guys have gone head-to-head before; you know each other well? Gary has a strong adventure racing background that will work well in SA!
NC – Oh yeah, for sure!
IC – Do you think looking at yourself you will be at a disadvantage? I know you have Western States coming up so I guess you will focus on SkyRun after.
NC – WSER is in June. I will get that out of the way, I am on a training block for that at the moment after a 2-week rest block post UTMF. I actually go to Gary’s race in August, the Squamish 50 in British Columbia. I have other projects planned that will definitely work well for November. I will be in the mountains doing off trail routes, so all will be good. I plan to be out in remote terrain so this will be perfect for South Africa.
IC – It’s an exciting prospect. Pretty sure we will catch up after WSER and it will be great to discuss how you prepare for SkyRun and if you work out how to use a GPS…
NC – Thanks, a pleasure to chat and thanks for the support. I turned 40-today, so Western will be my first ‘masters’ race.
Images – ©Trautman/Nikon/Lexar
Images – ©Kolesky/ Nikon/ Lexar
Race Website – HERE
The heat subsides on the island of La Palma, the waves continue to splash on the shoreline and a new week begins. It’s only 10-days since the incredibly successful, dramatic and exciting Skyrunning Transvulcania La Palma. But wait a minute, days away, the iconic mountain race, Zegama-Aizkorri kicks off. Ask anyone about ‘Zegama’ and they say, it’s ZEGAMA! Nothing more needs to be said… it’s a race that excites mountain runners like few other races do.
It’s a brutally fast and technical race that is not for the feint hearted. Located in a natural park, Aizkorri-Aratz, it brings respect and excitement to every mountain runner that toes the line.
Zegama this year may very well just be a classic in the making, we had fireworks at Transvulcania, but one look at this line-up and I think we may well have fireworks once again but this time on the proportions of a New Year’s Eve get together…
Kilian Jornet, Luis Alberto Hernando, Marco De Gasperi, Tom Owens and Pablo Villa illuminate a top-quality men’s field.
Emelie Forsberg, Maite Maiora, Stevie Kremer, Kasie Enman, Elisa Desco and Nuria Picas add no element of softness to the race line up, these ladies are as tough as nails and may well take down a few of the top ranked men.
So, what is going to happen on the trails and mountains of the Aizkorri-Aratz?
A medium mountain route over the Aratz massif and the Sierra of Aizkorri, which includes the four highest peaks in the Basque Autonomous Region (Aratz – Aizkorri –Akategi and Aitxuri). Starting in the town of Zegama (296m) the race climbs up to the high point of Otzaurte (652m) and then follows a mountain pass and a route along paths and mountain tracks of great natural beauty. It combines forests with steep rocky slopes and high grazing land. It is very technical and with a high level of difficulty.
Date: 25th of May, 2014
Start and finish: Zegama ( guipúzcoa ) –09:00 start.
Total length: 42.195 km.
Control points: 14 Refreshment points: 13
Flying sprint: Aizkorri (22.58 km)
Accumulated height gain: 5.472 meters
Maximum altitude: 1.551m Aitxuri
Minimum altitude: 296m Zegama.
Technical percentage of course: 70% approx.
Climate: medium mountain, possibilities of intense heat, strong winds, fog or rain.
Time limit: 8 hours.
Closing time of check points: Click the button to see the control time
The men’s race is full of talent and like Transvulcania, a winner could come from any direction; are we due a surprise? However, based on the La Palma showdown, one has to conclude that Luis Alberto Hernando and Kilian Jornet are HOT favourites for the win.
Luis Alberto Hernando fulfilled a dream at La Palma and coming to Zegama he will either be immensely satisfied and looking for a victory loop or he will be fired up and ready for more… I’m going with the latter! He’s a fierce competitor and his powers of recovery post Transvulcania will be good. Zegama suits Luis and he only ‘just’ missed out on the win in 2013 by seconds, pushing Kilian Jornet all the way to the line.
Kilian Jornet now has one race under his belt and all the competition will now know that his training is done… I joke, but Kilian usually only needs one race to loosen up and he is back in his stride. If we look at 2012, Kilian placed 3rd at Transvulcania and then just 1-week later dominated Zegama in atrocious conditions. For sure, Kilian doesn’t like heat and he will be hoping for cooler conditions come the weekend of the 24th. If he could choose, he would like rain, some snow and wind. If we get those conditions, Kilian will almost certainly be hot favourite. Should we get sun, heat and calm conditions, I think Kilian is still the hot favourite BUT it will be close, very close.
So close that Marco De Gasperi will almost certainly make Kilian and Luis potentially repeat the Zegama finish of 2013 or we may have a ‘replay’ of the Kilian and Marco sprint from the Dolomites Skyrace in 2013. One thing is for sure, the legend that is Marco De Gasperi will be pushing the Spaniard and the Catalan over every meter of this course and if he is not pushing them, he will be leading them. Marco keeps telling me that he is getting old but class is permanent and that class will shine in Zegama.
Tom Owens had a superb Zegama in 2011 and 2012 and then disappeared in 2013 with injuries. However, Tom is back! A recent 2nd behind Ricky Lightfoot at the Three Peaks in the UK and a stunning 6th at Transvulcania, his first ultra, without doubt elevates Tom to hot and he will be looking for a podium place. For Tom to place 6th in an ultra and then drop down to his preferred distance, SKY, can only mean that he has an even greater chance of rocking the cart. His strong fell running background is a perfect fit for this race. Podium potential for sure.
Tadei Pivk produced a stunning run in 2013 taking the final podium place ahead of Zaid Ait Malek. Both of these runners will make an impact one again. In particular, Zaid has progressed in the last 12-months with a series of quality results and performances. He’s a small guy with a huge character and personality. They will both be up at the front.
Michel Lanne will be leaving his helicopter at home and once again lacing up his ‘Sense’ to test himself against the best in the world. He will be in the mix, he always is, however, he just needs that touch of extra luck to help him move up to the very front end of a pure mountain race like this. Michel had a string of top-3 performances in 2013, a notable 2nd to Francois d’Haene at Mont-Blanc 80km a highlight. Just recently he placed 2nd at Trail du Ventoux, so, the form is good.
Pablo Villa is going to be on a high after top-10 at Transvulcania and like Tom Owens will be looking to carry the momentum on here. It’s going to be a tough call and although I don’t see him contesting the podium, the Scott runner will be in the mix if recovered.
Inov-8, Skyrunning partner are sending a very strong field that can be broken down into several levels. I see the strong performances coming from Eirik Haugsnes, Aritz Egea and Alex Nichols. Anyone of these guys could make the top-10. Oli Johnson placed top-10 at Mont-Blanc Marathon in 2013 and will represent the UK at the up and coming Skyrunning World Champs, he has the run ability and skill set to excel at Zegama, however, I am not sure he is 100% at the moment, so, I think he will have a presence at the front end, his performance will very much depend on his progression in the last 2 to 3 weeks. Pierre Laurent Viguier recently won Trail du Citadelles but like Robbie Britton, this race may well be too short, too technical and too fast for them to excel. I see Zegama, as being a learning curve and Chris Steele will no doubt embrace the opportunity and give it all he has.
Alex Nicholls gets a nod in the inov-8 line up but we have other quality overseas competition coming from Cameron Clayton (USA), AJ Calitz (South Africa) and we should have had Vlad Ixel arriving from the Southern Hemisphere, however, recent injury has put a stop to that. A real shame, Vlad is my hot-tip as one of the new ‘surprises’ in the trail and ultra world. No worries, we will get to see him perform in June at the World Champs. AJ Calitz pushed at the front end of the 2013 Zegama and then it all went pear shaped when he tried to follow Kilian on one of the descents, he hit the deck and his race was over… AJ swore he would be back and he is! I still think he is in for a learning curve experience but I do expect to see him in the mix. Cameron has all the speed needed to race at the front but this race is like no other. It’s fast, furious, relentless and technical. The question for Cameron will be can he use all that natural ability and perform on what for him, will be very technical terrain?
Martin Gaffuri raced really well in 2013 earning some very cool Skyrunning stripes. He started 2014 with a warm up in Costa Rica laying a great foundation and at Transvulcania he raced the half-marathon so as not to use up too much energy and gain a confidence boost. However, the race didn’t go well… just a bad day I am sure. However, it may play on Martin’s mind? Martin has the right skill set, speed and downhill ability to do well at Zegama so we will just have to see what happens.
To be honest, Zegama has an elite list that extends well beyond 50 runners, so, here are a few notable mentions that we can almost certainly expect to see in the mix:
Who have I missed? In a field this stacked, it’s impossible to account for everyone, particularly local runners who I may not know too well but who will excel on local terrain.
Check out the men’s elite field at http://www.zegama-aizkorri.com/en
Rewind to Transvulcania and I think we may well see some similar performances with the exception of Frosty who will not be racing at Zegama. What we have, is a who’s who of female mountain running and it’s wide open.
Nuria Picas is on fire! As I write this, she has just won TNF100 in Australia setting a new course record. Add to this win, two incredible 2013 wins, one at the 105-mile UTMF and the other at Transgrancanaria and Nuria is the female to beat at any distance and on any course. However, she pulled out of Transvulcania (correctly in my opinion) and although Nuria is on the start list for Zegama, I expect a similar withdrawal this coming week? However, should she race, she will be pushing at the front, of this I have no doubt. The question mark will come on how fresh she will be for a short, fast mountain race after racing 100km’s or more in the early part of 2013. Nuria placed 2nd in 2013 behind Emelie Forsberg and finished just seconds ahead of Stevie Kremer. It’s an exciting prospect. Update 21/05/14 : Nuria will not race stating that recovery is paramount after her win in Australia.
Emelie Forsberg is just off skis and other than running half of the Transvulcania VK and a couple of hours in the Transvulcania main event, has little running in her legs. Add to this a bad fall in La Palma, stitches and some recovery time and Emelie may well be going to Zegama the most underprepared ever. She was relatively underprepared in 2012 when she arrived an unknown, however, look what has happened since… She has said to me that Zegama is no longer an ‘A’ race and she will use it to find form, however, Emelie on an off day is still a formidable force and I still see her in the mix. Emelie won Zegama in 2013 and pretty much everything else in her long and demanding season. When knocked off the top slot, particularly in mountain running, it was by Stevie Kremer! Firstly at Mont-Blanc and then at Limone, so, Emelie will be taking Zegama with one eye on the trail and the other on Stevie.
Stevie Kremer is also just off skis but unlike others, Stevie does maintain some running during the winter months. It may not be a great deal of hours or mileage but that connection with trail certainly puts her in a good place for the first race of the season. She showed this last year at Zegama when she flew down the final descent (she says she can’t descend) and nearly caught Nuria for 2nd place. Notorious for being nervous on the start, Stevie turns that energy into exciting running. She can climb with the best and although she thinks that she can’t contest the downhills, she can! Stevie just needs to believe it. My tip for the race victory!
Maite Maiora is a class act when it comes to mountain running. Her recent 2nd place at Transvulcania shows a new side to this slight but extremely strong runner. With added endurance, boosted confidence and great technical ability, Maite will be in the mix at Zegama and testing the other ladies to the limits. I see her on the podium; the question will be at which level? To be honest, if her recovery has gone well post La Palma, I see her going head-to-head with Stevie.
Elisa Desco returned to racing in 2013 and won the highly prestigious Sierre-Zinal. Her recent win at the Transvulcania VK and half marathon confirms that her form is good. Elisa has all the right elements to perform well at Zegama and without doubt she is podium material. The ladies field is so strong, it may well just come down to who makes the least mistakes? Elisa won’t make many!
Uxue Fraile once again produced an incredible race in Transvulcania. I said in that preview that she lacks the outright speed of some of her rivals, however, what she does have is staying power and true grit. So, should any lady falter, Uxue will be in the mix to take places. I see this happening again at Zegama. She will definitely be in the top-10, probably in the top-5 and may just sneak the podium.
Kasie Enman is coming over from the USA and will add an interesting dynamic o the race. She’s a fast lady and as Stevie says, she is without doubt one to watch. The trails and technicality of Zegama may not allow Kasie to unleash her natural speed, however, I don’t see her being off the pace. The biggest question will come in her form, as this is a return to racing after having a child.
The ladies race has less depth than the men’s field, however, you can expect to see the ladies listed below in or around the top-10.
Who have I missed? It’s impossible to account for everyone, particularly local runners who I may not know too well but who will excel on local terrain.
YOU CAN CHECK THE FULL LIST HERE
Trail Magazin, Germany 2013
Lady Grey, the start of the 2013 Salomon Skyrun powered by Red Bull, was ravaged by some of the worst weather seen in the 16 year history of this extreme race. Testing from the begining with monsoon conditions greeting the runners at the 4am start on Saturday morning, fierce winds gusting up to 80km/hour were the order of the day as rain and low cloud cover made visibility very poor. The runners were battered by these conditions throughout the day, as the temperatures plummeted and the terrain became very tricky for both athletes and marshals. The very real risk of sever hypothermia and exposure to the brutal elements, left event organisers with no other option but to shorten the race. Always a difficult decision however the safety of runners was top priority. The Salomon Skyrun is an extreme mountain challenge at the best of times but when conditions are as hard as during this year’s race, the need to carry all compulsory equipment as well as a solid event organisation are critical to ensure that all athletes come off the mountain safely. “This year’s race will be spoken about for many years to come by all who were at the Salomon Skyrun 2013 and can only add to the reputation that makes this race one of the toughest ultra-mountain runs in South Africa, if not the world” said Race Director Adrian Saffy.
The Skyrun Lite remained unaffected by the decision and all athletes that reached Balloch completed the race in its entirety. The Skyrun Lite was won by Chris Cronje, with Murray Sanders in 2nd place and Justin Short in 3rd. The Ladies Lite was won by Laura O’ Donoghue, with Taryn Mc Donald in 2nd and Janneke Laesk in 3rd.
Iain Don-Wauchope took 1st position in the shortened Men’s full route, with Hylton Dunn in 2nd and Steven Erasmus in 3rd. The runners will however have to wait another year in order to take a crack at 2012 winner Ryan Sandes’ lightening quick record of 12hrs36min. Salomon sponsored Sandes did not compete in this year’s event as he will be racing in The San Francisco 50 Miler at the beginning of December. In the ladies race, 1st place in the full route went to Annemien Ganzevoort, with 2nd going to Su Don- Wauchope and 3rd to Tatum Prins.
There is no doubt that athletes will look back on this year’s running of the legend that has become the Salomon Skyrun with a mixture of frustration, relief and respect as so well put by AJ Calitz “ I was humbled by the route, weather and our Maker….felt pretty small out there in the mountains. The fact that everyone is safe is testimony to Pure Adventures incredible team. Well done Mike and Adrian, your team and the mountain rescue crews. 2013 is a year I will never forget…all the athletes are truly bound together by this EPIC experience. See you in 2014.”
For full results and pictures please visit www.skyrun.co.za