The Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC) is the third and final race in Wildrunner’s Mountain Challenge Series. As the grand finale of the series it certainly doesn’t disappoint, and offers trail enthusiasts an opportunity to run along the actual route of the historical six-day Swellendam Hiking Trail, which is in fact ordinarily closed to the public. Beautiful, inaccessible trails aside, “its a demanding run,” says Race Director Owen Middleton, “and not for the inexperienced”. Aside from being physically challenging there are several other factors that may affect runners on the day.
“Swellendam Mountains are notorious for being very hot or very cold, and we’ve had two years in a row now with rain. Runners go up to 1200m, so if its 10 degrees in Swellendam, you’re looking at zero degrees on top. On top of that, the terrain is 55km of technical running, with very few free kays.”
The Wildrunner crew takes safety precautions seriously however, and even with unpredictable weather conditions and tricky terrain, runners can rest assured that their safety is taken care of. “We have all the safety points in place, and every ten kays there is a radio check point and sweepers, so from that point of view we have control mechanisms in place for safety out on the mountains,” says Middleton. “There is also a compulsory kit check to ensure runners are prepared for all weather.”
Why you should enter
Cautions aside, the MMC is worthy of your entry fee for a list of reasons too long for Middleton to recite. “There is no other race like this in the Western Cape that I know of; it’s tough, it’s got massive amounts of climbing, it’s proper wilderness mountains with proper mountain trails that you don’t have access to any other time of the year. This is inaccessible and exclusive trail and is stamped with privilege to be out there and to able to run this kind of thing,” he says.
Like it’s siblings, the MMC has three distances to ensure trail runners of all levels of experience can enjoy a part of the mountain on the day.
For first timers wanting to get a feel of the Marloth mountain, the MMC Lite is the perfect entry level distance and is 24.5km of challenging trail with 1668m of ascent and 987m of descent. For more experienced trail runners that are not quite ready for the full distance, the MMC Extreme is ideal. Runner’s leave the start at Goedgekloof hiking hut and finish 35km later in Swellendam, after experiencing the technical single track, immense climbs and fast descents. For trail runners that want to end the year with a personal challenge and with an incredible achievement, the MMC Ultra is designed for you. With a challenging route over technical, rocky terrain, the MMC Ultra is a 55km loop that starts and finishes in Swellendam. Runners climb an incredible 3 494m during the day, making it officially part of the SA Skyrunner® Series and a qualifier for the UTMB.
What to expect
Like all trail races, the route maps and descriptions are available online and entrants are urged to familiarise themselves with the route before the big day. That said, it always helps to have an insight from the Race Director regarding particularly tricky sections.
“The first section I’d caution runners about is the very first climb. You get to a false summit at about the 8 or 9km, and the actual top is only at the 14km mark. Be aware of this so that you aren’t mentally sapped for energy when you realise you’re not quite at the top yet,” says Middleton.
On that note, he also cautions runners to take it easy on the first leg, which is mostly climbing. “Don’t overdo things and burn out,” he says.
Middleton then talks about the descent after the 32km mark. “After 32km you do a short climb and then start big decent. It’s very technical and slippery and you can really do some damage if you’re not cautious, plus your quads are going to absolutely scream at you.”
What to look forwards to
So you’re aware that this is going to be tough, in fact you’re thinking maybe too tough? Don’t let all the details and precautions scare you off, entering the MMC will be an unforgettable experience. If you enter the Ultra, not only will you have achieved a unique running accolade, you’ll experience views, geographical wanders, satisfaction, new boundaries and trails that literally only a handful of people in the country have.
“The majority of first climb is through beautiful indigenous forests, and when you top out you get a majestic view overlooking the southern planes and you realise just how remote you are. In the middle section you experience more big views and if you’re lucky might spot fresh leopard spoor. At the high point the typography changes and vegetation becomes scarce and you will be blown away by the rock formations and features. And while the descent is technical, it’s some of the best running you’ll experience. From highlight perspective you get complete 360 degree experience of the Swellendam Mountains, from the southern wooded forested slopes, to thick Fynbos vegetation and to northern sections where it’s more sparse with spectacular rock formations,” grins Middleton, clearly reliving the route in his mind.