As eagles soared high above the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho, participants gathered at South Africa’s only ski resort, AfriSki. The promise of an epic mountain run, with breathtaking views over the escarpment and altitudes of more than 3000m, beckoned.
Top Trail runners Dreyer van Huyssteen (4th in Skyrun) , Bruce Arnett (multiple winner of the Sky Run), Dirk Cloete (3 times winner of Augrabies Extreme Marathon) and Ryno Griesel (winner of the Cape Odyssey), competed against each other for the podium.
On day one, participants ran a circular 32km and on day two, a hilly and technical, 16km section. After a tough day in the mountains, athletes were treated to a delicious meal by friendly staff at the Sky Restaurant at AfriSki – officially the highest restaurant in South Africa – and accommodation at the Race Village at AfriSki Mountain Resort. Family and friends were able to support runners at a number of points along the route.
Athletes experienced a sense of total freedom in the mountains. While running on cattle tracks, they encountered local herdsman, sheep, goats, donkeys, cattle and the occasional group of wild horses. The predominant sounds were those of bells; which hung around the necks of sheep. Every now and then, runners saw majestic eagles, soaring high above them.
Athletes faced a tough climb out of Afri Ski, on slopes which usually play host to snowboarders and skiers during winter. Forerunners included Dreyer van Huyssteen, Ryno Griesel, Dirk Cloete and Bruce Arnett.
Dreyer and Ryno set their own pace and held a good lead. Sonja Otto (organizer of this event) predicted the course record would be sub-4 hours, only to be blown away by Dreyer’s performance (3:21:13). He didn’t look tired as he crossed the finish line; however, he aims to run the race in under 3 hours next year. Ryno (3:34:18) crossed the line next. He had decided to walk some of the route, but when he saw Dirk Cloete behind him, he dug deep and began to run. Dirk (3:35:36) closely followed, hoping to catch up with Ryno.
The first lady to cross the finish was Deidre Watson van der Merwe (5:31:30). She was joined by her husband Adriaan van der Merwe, and was amazed by the beauty of the route. When Adriaan turned back to warn her about a slippery section, he slipped and fell. Needless to say, he was dirty crossing the line – yet still, smiling and joking.
John Rollason, our oldest participant, was determined to finish the race, even when thunder began to roll across the mountains, and hail and big fat rain drops came down. As the rest of his company decided to call it a day and get a lift back to Afri Ski, Rollason decided to soldier on. Hano followed him for the rest of the route (15km still to go) on a quad bike, while the photographer Anja ran alongside him, taking snaps. John crossed the line in 9:33:05, and everyone cheered him on.
Athletes were in high spirits as they ascended the valley – one participant even offered to jump in the river and make a splash for the camera. Dreyer and Ryno ran down the last stretch for a close finish. Coming down the slope, Dreyer’s long legs pushed him ahead and he finished the second day in 1:47:41, with Ryno hot on his heels (1:48:30).
Next to cross the finish, were Bruce and Dirk. Dirk was ahead on the final hill and knowing Bruce was right behind him motivated him towards the finish line; arms flailing as he tried to keep his balance on the ski slope. Dirk came across the line in 2:00:56 and Bruce in 2:01:25.
Deidre once again took first place for the ladies on the second day, and enjoyed the technicalities the route had to offer. Deidre crossed the line in 2:58:54 with Amanda Viljoen coming second in 3:38:25. Amanda had lost her running partner Conrad along the route, when he took a wrong step and sprained his ankle. Nonetheless, she finished the race with Andre Knobel and Egbert Vermeulen.
Athletes agreed that Afri Ski is the ultimate place for high altitude training, or just to extend your fitness levels.
The Soaring Eagle 2 Day Trail run was unlike most other “traditional” trail running events. Athletes ran with preprogrammed navigational systems, to ensure they stay on the planned route. Various check points, manned by the local herdsman with red bibs, were located along the route, to keep track of their progress. A number of locals, who have an intimate knowledge of the mountains and valleys, were employed as marshals. The Facebook page (TriSport) and TrisportSA Twitter were continually updated with progress reports, as well as a minute-by-minute account of the race, via youtube links and photos.
Trisport organisers, Hano and Sonja Otto are very excited about the future of this event and plan to host it annually. They are also planning on hosting a 2 day Mountain bike event at Afriski next year. The Soaring Eagle Run featured on “YouTube” during the 2 days of the Event and was managed by Pure Adventures, organizers from the Skyrun, 4 Peaks and War Trail. For more information and the YouTube link during the race go to www.trisport.co.za or www.facebook.com/trisportsa
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