A new chapter was written in South African Trail Running when, for the first time, a race invited some of the South African athletes to compete in an international team competition. A sponsorship from Old Mutual meant that all the expenses of the team were paid, the runners were specially kitted out for the tour, and a dedicated media representative could accompany the team. With Nick Bester as manager, the athletes left South Africa on Tuesday 20 October. Team Old Mutual SA were housed in chalets a mere 200m from the finish line where they prepared for Sunday's big race.
The Grand Trail des Templiers of 76km saw 2200 runners taking on some of the most beautiful but also tough terrain near Millau in the South of France. In the team competition South Africa, with 5 men and 5 women, were pitted against teams from France, Europe, USA and Japan, with the first three athletes over the line (per gender) scoring points for their team.
A chilly, overcast but calm morning saw the runners off in the dark at 5:15 with a fast start and hitting the first major climb of the day within 3km. The course was truly special with the athletes, apart from running through forests, near cliff edges and along rivers, also running through historic towns, past a busy paragliding launch site and even through a cave. The feeding points, of which there were four, were very professionally manned and laid out, with a wide variety of offerings including Roquefort-spread baguettes, chocolate biscuits and alcohol-free beer.
The team ran the first half well and at the second feeding station at 35km the men were in second position with Eric Ngubane, Iain Don-Wauchope and AJ Calitz all in the top 15. Eric ran especially strong and stayed just behind the leaders while Jock Green and Andrew Hagen were not far behind and still looked fresh after three hours of running. The women performed even better and with Nicolette Griffeon (7th), Su Don Wauchope (8th) and Landie Greyling (10th) Team SA maintained a strong third place through halfway. Tracy Zunckel was still in the top twenty and Nicky Booyens came through in just under 4 hours.
As is the norm in most ultra trail races the latter part saw the most developments; and Team SA's case Eric Ngubane developed severe cramping in his right hamstring, while Su Don Wauchope had a hard fall that affected her race. As is the tradition with our national trail runners, however, they all soldiered on and successfully finished the race. The last 6km of the route had incredibly steep singletrack climbs and descents with loose rock, sand and even ropes in certain places to assist you going down.
The atmosphere at the race finish was electric with hundreds of spectators lining the finishing chute and cheering loudly for hours on end, spurred on by two over-excited announcers. Every athlete received a medal and then proceeded to a special runners tent to get their finishers' jerseys and enjoy another wide selection of delicious French food and recovery drinks... It was truly an experience that left the runners with great memories but also very tired bodies.
The women did exceptionally well - not only did Nicolette Griffeon and Landie Greyling finish an incredible 6th and 9th place respectively (the best ever performance by a South African Team), but the first four women made the top 20! Iain Don Wauchope and AJ Calitz were the top men with hard fought 17th and 19th positions.
The team was exceptionally well received and cared for in all respects, and they thoroughly enjoyed the trip as well as the experience gained from racing internationally. The culture of trail running in France is absolutely remarkable and over three days, the Festival des Templiers saw 12 sold-out races (including two kiddies races and a women-specific 15km run) with 6890 finishers, as well as an impressive expo showcasing an array of top international trail races and the latest sporting gear.
Old Mutual's partnership came about on short notice due to the efforts of Team Manager Nick Bester and was gratefully received.
17. Iain Don-Wauchope 7:39
19. AJ Calitz 7:45
32. Jock Green 8:15
46. Eric Ngubane 8:28
50. Andrew Hagen 8:34
6. Nicolette Griffioen 8:35
9. Landie Greyling 8:49
16. Tracy Zunckel 9:39
18. Su Don-Wauchope 9:43
36. Nicky Booyens 11:16
Written By: Altus Schreuder
Images By: irunfar.com