Something extraordinary unfolded in KZN over the weekend, as almost 200 runners and their support crews, flocked to the Midlands to take part in the Karkloof100, one of only three 100-mile trail races in the country, that also boasts a 50-mile event.
What was extraordinary was not the fact that the field more than doubled from last year; or that the average finisher rate was 83% in both distances, something relatively unheard of in ultra-marathon distances. Nor were the weather conditions which included sunshine, heavy rain, hail and a wild lightning show all that extraordinary. What was extraordinary is the story behind the winners of both the 100 and 50-miler, both members of local NPO Southern Lodestar Foundation’s new ‘Dream Team’.
The ‘Dream Team’, launched earlier this year, is about affording talented runners an opportunity to realise their dream of regularly competing in races whilst at the same time becoming role models for the younger generation in their local communities, showing how running can change lives for the better. The team now has eleven athletes, ten males and one female, of varying running experience, and is keen to expand. Providing the athletes with running kit, race entries, training and support, the team adopts a personal approach to nurturing passion and building talent and is hands-on with its runners.
This approach clearly works.
Running his first 100-miler this year, 39-year old ‘Dream Team’ athlete, Albert Phungula crossed the finish line of the Karkloof100 victorious, having run the 100-mile route in a time of 17:52:40 – setting a new course record. Phungula, originally from Underberg, now lives in Pietermaritzburg and has two young sons, both of whom followed his progress throughout the 100-miles and were waiting, tired but excited, at the finish line for him. Traditionally a road-runner, Phungula ran his 11th Comrades Marathon this year but clearly has a talent for trail running and a head for competing as he ran a thoughtfully planned race that led him to the finish line with a lead of over 30 minutes over second place Andrew Erasmus, from Ballito.
In the 50-mile competition, which set off from Benvie Gardens, deep in the Karkloof on Saturday, 22nd September at 7am, it was another ‘Dream Team’ member, Muzi Madikwa (36), from Richmond, who ran in a winning time of 07:06:26. The entire 50-mile race was a nail-biter as Madikwa jostled for first place with Ruan van der Merwe. At the final checkpoint, Madikwa, only minutes ahead of van der Merwe, received the news that Phungula was leading the 100-miler and likely to win; but van der Merwe made a quick stop and left the checkpoint ahead of Madikwa. With just 18km’s remaining in the race, it was anyone’s guess who would land up victorious. As Madikwa rounded the final corner into the finish, a mere four minutes ahead of van der Merwe, the crowd erupted with emotion, as they realized that the Dream Team, against all odds, had achieved something extraordinary and inspired a captivated audience with their sheer determination and raw talent.
The Karkloof100, only in its second year, has already gained cult status amongst locals and ultra-runners across the country and this year again attracted some of South Africa’s elite ultra-marathon runners, including the likes of Jock Green, twins Andrew and Steven Erasmus and last year’s winner, Bennie Roux. As one of only three 100-mile trail races in South Africa, “the popularity of this year’s event is testament to the success of last year’s inaugural event and the growing popularity of ultra-marathons, making it a firm fixture on the ultra-running calendar,” said co-race director, Andrew Booth of KZN Trail Running.
This year, the Southern Lodestar Foundation came on board as the main race partner with the idea of taking the race to the next level. The partnership has already proved a huge success with the Foundation’s One Run. One Life initiative that was rolled out to all Karkloof 100-milers this year. Just by entering the 100-mile event, each participant will indirectly feed a child at Khipinkunzi Primary School in St Lucia (Dukuduku District), Northern KZN, for seven years – the duration of their primary school journey and the most important phase of growth and development in a young child’s life. “The response to this project from runners has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Booth, “And then to have runners from the Foundation excelling in the actual race, has been something really special and goes to show just how phenomenal this partnership is for the race.”
Agreeing, Booth’s partner, Jack Davis of The TrailLab, said: “We’ve been blown away by the support for the race from everyone! There’s been so much positivity generated through the race which is more than we could ever have hoped for and we’re looking forward to a bigger and better event in years to come!”
Karkloof100 will be back again in 2019.