It was just after 7:35am when the Cathedral Peak Challenge starting bell cut through the tranquillity of the crisp Drakensberg morning on Wednesday, 18 July 2018. The silence of the mountains was broken further by the rumble of the adrenalin pumped runners as they set off – restless but ready to tackle the mountain that dominated the landscape. The second in the Cathedral Peak series of five events, the Mandela Day bonus race was added to the schedule as a means to honour Madiba and in a small way, mirror and reflect the challenges he faced and overcame throughout his life. For many of the participants the race was just that and they had to dig deep to keep moving.
Matthew Slabbert, a 20-year old mechanical engineering student at UJ, flew out the starting blocks quickly breaking away to establish a lead; a position he maintained for the duration of the race. With a two hour lead on the rest of the field, he finished the Mandela Day race in an impressive time of 03 hours 27 minutes, clinching the men’s title. Commenting on the race, this fairly new comer to the sport said that he had outrun the time his coach had forecast. “I am really surprised at my race time but very proud to have achieved this win. It was gruelling at every point of the route and I was conscious of the pain – particularly on the many uphill climbs. But the views are breath taking and it’s a truly worthwhile event,” says Slabbert.
Second place in the men’s race went to Clint Austin who finished in 05 hours. Austin who is a regular road runner but new to the trails, said the event was one of the hardest things he had ever taken on, but declared it an epic experience.
“I learnt some serious life lessons along the route. It was tough but I can’t thank the organisers enough for the opportunity to participate. On a day like today, a really remarkable day in South Africa’s history, we must appreciate where we have come from and where we’re headed. Like today’s race, instead of being discouraged by how slow our progress is – we should instead look back and celebrate each milestone achieved – while continuing to chip away at our goal until we get there,” says Austin.
It was a clear but freezing day with snow on the mountain making conditions slippery, but news of a race engagement on the trail quickly spread across the mountain and everyone was fortified on hearing of the proposal.
Nicole Capper, Tammy Taylor Mrs South Africa 2018 was first down the mountain in the ladies’ race, finishing third overall in just over 07 hours which is a new personal best. Although Capper has already participated in the series, this time was different; she was helping raise funds to purchase sanitary pads for the Caring4Girls programme. More than that – she was there to support those making their first ascent and positioned herself on the route so she could encourage the brave contenders to push on and test their resolve. The field was very spread out and Capper waited for the leading group to join her on the summit. She spent a good 67 minutes on the peak reflecting on the significance of summiting on the centenary of Madiba’s birth – and all that it means to overcome personal challenge. As a mother of a child with a rare disease, she is no stranger to hard knocks.
“Mandela Day is an opportunity to challenge yourself for a purpose, and that’s exactly what we did. Together we climbed the highest freestanding peak in the Drakensberg. Ordinary South Africans – challenging ourselves to achieve something extraordinary for a purpose,” says Capper. “‘Madiba Magic’ and his legacy is built on the pillars of unity, courage, strength and the ability to change and that’s what we all should aspire to be like. I am proud to have supported the Trek4mandela Kilimanjaro summit on a local peak, raising funds for Caring4girls to keep a #GirlChild in school and thank you to everyone who climbed and donated to this deserving cause.”
Melissa Charnley, a Mrs South Africa finalist for 2018, joined Capper in the fundraising drive and had this to say about the race, “I completely underestimated this mountain. Nothing prepared me for the enormity of the endurance needed to complete the race. What made it so significant is that just four years ago I was 25kg heavier than I am today and could never have attempted this feat. The fact that I could take on this mountainous challenge on Mandela day means so much. I will carry this with me for the rest of my life and I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. This has been a life changing experience and I now have even more respect for Nicole. She is such a warrior.”
With a demanding ascent of 1531m, at an altitude of 3005m, over a distance of 21km, the race requires skill, athletic ability, fitness, and a bold-faced attitude to keep you moving beyond Bugger Gulley all the way to the summit.
Although the majority of the field finished, and there were plenty of stories of triumph, some were turned back by the race sweepers, Rob Thomas, from the School for Mountain Leadership, and local mountaineer and guide, unwittingly known as Happiness. For those who didn’t summit, the message from the organisers was clear: the race was never intended to be a call to beat the mountain but rather an invitation to reconnect with the wilderness in its purest form. An adventure into the great outdoors, which has been described by many, as a life altering experience. Just ask our last participant across the finish line, Neo Makhubu, a hostess from Gemelli Cucina Bar, who completed the race at 5:30pm making it a 10 hour baptism by fire – that truly was all about the challenge.
For the athletes who are in it for the overall series’ title, the route with its knife edge ridges, has been described as technical, tough but runnable, with an incredibly steep climb that will spit you out if you are not prepared.
Substantial prize money up has been put up by the race organisers – Cathedral Peak Hotel – and R25,000 is on the line for each of the three race categories, including the fastest male, female and mixed team of two. The men’s leader board remains with Christiaan Greyling who conquered the peak on 8 June in 02 hours 29 minutes. Slabbert’s win has moved him into 10th place; a position he has claimed from Michael Ferreira. Having completed the challenge in a time of 03 hours and 19 minutes, also at the 8 June event, Jeannie Dreyer has retained her position in the ladies’ race. Megan MacKenzie’s 02 hour 53 minutes benchmark time set at the route launch in May is as yet unchallenged by any of the ladies who have run the distance.
For those who cannot make the full ascent but want to participate in this soul enriching experience – there’s The Cathedral Peak Challenge Mini. It’s the same route, but stops shy of the peak, ending at the Base Camp just below the summit. It is an untimed and unsupported route that can be completed on any day (weather permitting) between 1 June and 30 September.
The Cathedral Peak Challenge takes place over four events with one bonus event:
- 8 June – Race #1
- 28 July – Race #2
- 25 August – Race #3
- 22 September – Race #4
- BONUS: 18 July – Mandela Day Mountain Race
- While one doesn’t have to stay at the Cathedral Peak Hotel to race, participants who do will receive a 25% discount for the duration of their stay while running the challenge.
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