Oudtshoorn’s April and Ncube win Traverse

Oudtshoorn’s own John April (red shirt) and Anderson Ncube (white shirt) taking on the Rhodes Dryland Traverse. Photo: Shift Media

EXPERIENCE counts for much when it comes to tackling a four-day trail running event, and few runners bring more experience to the Rhodes Dryland Traverse in the Klein Karoo than Oudtshoorn’s own John April and Anderson Ncube.

Coming into this year’s 11th edition of the event, April had won the men’s team category four times with various running partners, including the 2019 win with Ncube. April also finished second in the men’s team category in 2017, as well as last year in the men’s solo category, but this past weekend, he and Ncube combined all their experience and running talent to add another team win to their names.

Running as Team Raasbekkie in memory of the late Carel ‘Raasbekkie’ Bezuidenhoud, the race commentator who passed away last year, April and Ncube dominated the event from start to finish.

They won the 9.5km prologue on Thursday evening and then took line honours in the two longer stages of 25.7 and 25km on Friday and Saturday, as well as the 10km final stage on Sunday. They finished the 70.2km of racing in a combined time of 5:54:54, well ahead of the second-placed Team PT (Gareth Cunningham and Jonathan van Wyk), who finished in 7:20:51. Third was Team Lebombo (Willem Human and Martin Els) in 7:29:08.

The event returned to its traditional roots this year, with the prologue once again starting at the entrance of the Cango Caves. This gave the more than 200 participating runners a truly unique experience of racing through a section of the world-famous cave network, before hitting the stunningly scenic trails that criss-cross the Swartberg Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other notable landmarks that runners experienced included starting halfway up the Swartberg Pass on the Friday stage and summiting the 1190m pass, and running along the banks of the picturesque Raubenheimer Dam on a wind-still Saturday morning. The race was based at the remote De Hoek Mountain Resort, where most runners camped for the weekend.

Podium Positions
In the solo men’s category, Franz Erich Streicher also posted four stage wins as he finished with a combined time of 6:24:08, with Bert Verlinde second overall in 7:03:31 and Sakkie Hanekom third in 7:18:57. (This was Verlinde’s second consecutive year of finishing second, having taken the runner-up position in the mixed team category alongside wife Melanie last year.) The women’s solo title was convincingly won by Estee Cockroft in 7:01:55, with Leigh Callaghan second in 7:21:01 and Rebecca Goble rounding off the podium positions in 7:37:40.

In the mixed team category, Nadia Jooste and Dale Moulten (Team Axxess) were in a class of their own as they took four consecutive stage wins, finishing the event with an overall time of 7:02:05, more than two hours clear of second-placed Anja Conradie and Cornel van Zyl (Team Adoonsies, 9:04:29). Third place in this category went to Margi and Juan Muller of Team Bergskilpaaie in 9:41:23. (Jooste won the women’s solo category in 2021, but opted to run in a team this year, and has said she may return in 2023 in a women’s team to try complete her collection of category wins at the Dryland Traverse.)

The women’s team competition saw Lijan van Niekerk and Sume van Heerden (Team Van Girls) claim line honours in a combined time of 6:46:31, followed by Chloe Bishop and Caro Jordaan (Team Blister Sisters) in 8:00:44. (Bishop came into the race as a defending champion, having won this category in 2021 alongside Chantel Nienaber.) Third team home was Lani van der Merwe and Melissa Phelps (Team Drylands Darlings) in 8:35:06.

Something Different
When it comes to awarding the top runners, the Rhodes Dryland Traverse doesn’t only focus on the fastest of the fast, as there are a number of fun categories that runners can also sign up for, whether running as solo entries or as part of a team. Women over 50 can race in the Mdala category, while the Mafuta category is for men weighing 90 to 99 kilograms, and the Makula Mafuta category is for men weighing over 100 kilograms. Mafuta means Fat Man in isiXhosa, while Makula Mafuta means Very Fat Man, and male runners are invited to weigh in at registration to qualify for these categories, with coveted hippopotamus trophies up for grabs. This year, another weight category was also added, the Amakhulu Thambo category for big boned women weighting more than 70 kilograms.

After four days of racing, the leading Mdala was Analie Heyns (8:26:37), followed by Anita Boehmke (9:37:00) and Nicola Lloyd (10:25:11). The new Amakhulu Thambo category went to Louisa-Anne Ungerer in 9:00:16, with Lizanne Pieterse second in 9:57:09 and Elmarie Spangenberg third in 10:41:58. Only two entrants in the Mafuta category made it through all four stages, with Retief Lampbrecht taking line honours in 11:44:56, followed by Christo van Heerden in 12:04:12. Last but not least, the Makula Mafuta win went to Michael Charton in 10:13:45, with Alfred Thorpe (10:44:06) and Stefano Arecena (11:49:09) rounding out the category.

Fantastic Running!
Following yet another successful edition of the Dryland Traverse, Dryland Event Management’s Bernard Le Roux says it was fantastic to once again present runners with the opportunity to race through the Cango Caves and explore the wonderful trails of the Swartberg Mountains.

“It was great to host the 11th edition of the event and once again present runners with the best trail running experience of the year. The combination of running through the Cango Caves, traversing the majestic Swartberg and world heritage site, running challenging but rewarding and purpose-built trails as well as the great vibe at the race village proved to be the reason behind the big smiles, positive feedback and that emotional sense of accomplishment on the finish line on Sunday. That is what brings back so many runners every year and why the race is known for the great vibe and all-round most memorable trail running experience.”

The 2023 Rhodes Dryland Traverse will be taking place from Thursday 2nd to Sunday the 5th of November. Entries will open on Black Friday (25 November 2022) with a limited number of early-bird spots available at a 50% discounted rate. For more info, visit www.drylandtraverse.co.za or contact Suné Van Wyk of Dryland Event Management on Tel. 044 279 1013 or sune@dryland.co.za. (Supplied)