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Mnweni Race Report by Melvyn Quan

Mnweni Race Report by Melvyn Quan

About Melvyn….

I’m and road and trail runner and have done Comrades and Two Oceans and lots of trail runs around the country, including WildCoast Wildrun, Richtersveld Wildrun, Three Cranes, Golden Gate Challenge, AfricanX, Namaqua Quest. I have recently ventured beyond the borders of SA and done trail runs in Patagonia and San Francisco. On the calendar is a trail run in Iceland in July and the Paris marathon next year.

2015 Mnweni Race Review…

It’s simply the most beautiful trail run in the country! Maybe that is why I was lining up for the 9th time in rural KwaZulu-Natal on a dark Saturday morning for the 2015 edition of the Mnweni marathon.

The Mnweni marathon is a 38 km trail run that starts at the Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Centre and ascends 1800m up the Mnweni Pass to the top of the Drakensberg, traverses for a short stretch through Lesotho and the source of the Orange River, before descending the aptly named Rockeries Pass.

The run is wild and untamed. Except for the first and last few kilometres on gravel roads, the route follows a hiking path up and down the Berg. It is self-navigated, which used to be an issue a few years ago, when it was a given that someone would take a wrong turn somewhere along the route, sometimes landing up as far away as Ifidi Pass, or arriving back at camp in the middle of the night after a day of bundu-bashing, but the paths are a lot more distinct now and there are GPS tracks that can be followed. There are no water points en route: instead, you scoop up water from the numerous streams and rivers along the way. There are no escape routes, if you land in trouble you either have to go back the way you came or continue on the route until the end.

When I last did the race in 2013, we started in the rain, which first turned into sleet, and then snow as we ascended Mnweni Pass, arriving at a surreal winter wonderland at the top of the Berg. This year, it was unusually warm and I lined up at the start line without arm warmers or jacket. The first few kilometres are on gravel road, which makes for easy running to warm the legs up. You leave the road with a rude uphill, which leads to huts and ploughed fields that dot the hillside. Once you find your way through the braided path network, you traverse a wetland before ascending the Dassie, a foothill at the base of the Berg. Some easy running through Protea grassland follows, which eventually winds down to the Mnweni river. The route follows the Mnweni cutback, criss-crossing the river, and from here the going starts to get tougher and more technical, as the incline starts to get progressively steeper. In places, you get swallowed up by grass taller than you, which obscures the path and hides rocks in the path. Out of the grass patches, you have to boulder hop across the boulder strewn Mnweni river. Eventually though, you arrive at Chichi Bushcamp, where the path makes a sharp left and leaves the river. This signals the start of the Mnweni Pass. In the space of about 2 km, you ascend 7-800 m, in other words this is where the real climbing starts. I had taken things quite easy till then, and the pass was no exception, keeping a steady pace with short steps. Looking back, I had magnificent views of the Mnweni pinnacles across the valley. After about an hour of climbing, passing the Twelve Apostles, Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo on the right, I arrived at the top of the pass feeling quite good. It was time for an almond and cranberry bar, before the 2 km walk/run traverse along the top of the Berg, heading for the lowest point of the saddle on the horizon. I was thankful there was no mist this year, as it can make finding Rockeries Pass very difficult. The grass tufts made the running difficult and provided a good workout for the ankle stabilisers. Soon, the spires of the Rockeries came into view. I looked at my watch and had got to the start of Rockeries Pass in 4 hours.

Rockeries Pass is steep and full of loose rocks. I’m Captain Cautious on the downhill, as I still have Comrades in 3 weeks, and Laugavegur marathon in Iceland in July to think of. Even so, I still landed on my bum once or twice. The route follows the Ntonyelana river down the valley. It was starting to warm up and this was motivation to try get back before the heat of the afternoon sun. I passed some hikers with big backpacks hiking up the Pass, and I can imagine from the looks on their faces that they thought all the runners passing them were all a bit insane. I was glad to finally cross the river, as I knew it was easy running thereafter, first about 2 km on good singletrack and then the rest on gravel road on the opposite side of the river. I reached the road at 6 hours and was still feeling strong, so managed to run the whole road, bar a short uphill section after the concrete bridge. It was nice to be received home by a cheering welcome party and a cold cooldrink.

Everyone made it home eventually and many a war story was swapped over the braai fires that evening. Even though the event is not actively advertised, the number of entrants has grown over the years and the campsite was bursting. A new camp area means that there is space for the event to increase in size. It is still quite a small, intimate affair, with about 170 participants. Many of them were returning from previous years and it was good to catch up with old friends.  Until next year then!


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Zelda Coetzee

Media Manager & Blogger at UltraRunner ZA
Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.
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About The Author

Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.

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