Underberg – The 2018 Ultra-Trail® Drakensberg festival of trail running’s agenda appeals to runners from novices to the most hardened elite ultra-marathoners and has drawn runners from all over the world to the Southern Drakensberg for the running bonanza from Friday until Sunday.

2018 has seen the introduction of the UTD160, a 100 Miler that takes runners deep into the Highlands of Lesotho before they take on the peaks of the Southern Drakensberg, and a handful of elite athletes and endurance athletes have put their hands up to take on this challenge.

Dubbed by organisers as the hardest 100 Miler in South Africa, Salomon’s Jock Green has put his name forward as a potential race winner. Green’s UTD100 ended in withdrawal last year and he is going into the 100 Miler with a much more reserved attitude.

From the ladies perspective look no further than Robyn Owen. The pocket-rocket has become a household name in adventure racing and despite UTD160 being her first 100 Miler she will be formidable over the gruelling terrain.

The UTD160 is going to be quite unlike anything that many of the runners would have ever seen before as they regularly scale heights over 3000 metres above sea level. These heights will increase to around 3482 metres when the UTD160 runners tag the top of Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest in Africa peak south of Kilimanjaro.

The Ultra-Trail Drakensberg continues to be at the cutting edge of mountain running with a number of other options for runners with a 100km, 62km, 32km as well as two-day event on offer.

The UTD100, which was the flagship event of the debut edition of the UTD in 2017, will once again provide all runners with a stern test. 2017’s winning time was 12 hours 30 minutes, set by nuggety Frenchman Vincent Viet who emerged victorious from the first edition.

Amongst the names challenging for the 2018 UTD100 title is Stuart McConnachie. Ultra-Trail Cape Town’s McConnachie finished fifth in the GCU62 last year and has upped the distance for his 2018 attempt.

Excitingly for the race organisers there are a number of runners from outside South Africa that will be taking part in the UTD100. Runners from Reunion, Uganda, Great Britain as well as the Czech Republic will be on the start line for the 100km challenge.

The Giants Cup’s Uncut is one of the middle distance events and follows the famous Giants Cup trail through the Southern Drakensberg.

While Christiaan Greyling won’t be out to defend the GCU62 he won last year, another highly respected ultra-distance runner has been the centre of chatter ahead of the race. Nkosinathi Duma, racing for Arthur Ford, came 16th at the 2017 Comrades Marathon and will be trying his hand at trail running.

Thuso Mosiea, who came in the top 35 at Comrades in 2017, will also be running the GCU62 as part of his build up to the 2018 edition of the famous ultra-marathon.

Lance Wynne, who finished third at the SDR30 last year, will be back on the start line for the same event in 2018.

Encouragingly, half of the field entered for the SDR30 are women. With the longer distances dominated by male entries it is heartening to see the trail running bug biting across the board.

The two-day Drakensberg Rock Jumper gets underway on Saturday with two different distance options for runners.

The shorter DRJ15/12 offers runners 15km on day one and 12km on day two while the longer DRJ21/15 sees runners take on a half marathon distance on the first day while they will run 15km on the second day.

Each of the events on offer is challenging proceeds back into the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife Act, with the shorter distance events also contributing the Cancer Association of South Africa.

For runners taking part in each of these events, the forecast of mild warm weather for the duration of the three day trail running festival will be most welcome, with no wind of any significance and clear, sunny conditions with the mercury seldom rising above 20 degrees Celsius.

More information can be found at www.ultratraildrakensberg.com or www.drakrockjumper.co.za