Ultra-trail Cape Town receives rave reviews
Ultra-trail Cape Town is set to increase its status as an important international sporting event next year, as the trail dust settles on another outstanding of ultra-distance trail running on and around Table Mountain.
Rave reviews for Cape Town and an extraordinary performance from an English paediatrician proved the main talking points of last week’s racing over distances between 21 km and 100 km, and the UTCT has now cemented itself as one of the county’s top sporting events, and regarded as a “must-do” race for the world’s leading ultra-distance athletes, several of whom were in Cape Town for the final race of the Ultra-trail World Tour.
French athlete, Fracois D’Haene, and American Courtney Dauwalter are widely regarded as the world’s leading ultra-distance athletes and both were part of the Cape Town show this year. Neither of them won titles. D’Haene had a rare day when things did not go according to plan and he ended running second to Arizona-based American Cody Reed. And a hip injury prevented Dauwalter from getting to the start line, other than to cheer on her fellow athletes.
Athletes around the world are beating a path to Cape Town’s door to run what are regarded as some of the best trails on the planet and expect D’Haene and Dauwalter to be back to complete unfinished business in a quest to secure one of the world’s most-cherished titles.
“For sure I’ll be back,” said D’Haene. “My race was not perfect this year and I would love to return to see if I can do it better. There are some changes afoot on the world tour, and I think iconic races, such as UTCT, which offer something special will be even better placed to attract top runners.”
If sporting event success in Cape Town were measured by the percentage of international competitors, UTCT would likely be in pole position in South Africa. Foreign athletes accounted for no fewer than 580 out of a total of 1750 entries for the four races over 21 km, 35 km, 65 km and 100 km, with 150 out of 260 in the 100 km event going to visiting athletes. With visitors staying in the Mother City for up to three weeks, the impact on the local and regional economy has been significant.
“This is truly one of Cape Town’s best events,” said City of Cape Town Safety and Security Portfolio Committee chair, Mzwakhe Nqavashe. “There was such a vibe and buzz when I arrived at the start. For sure the City will back this event next year and beyond.”
The quality of racing at UTCT improves with each passing year and no fewer than four records in the open categories were established this year. The talented Cape Town athlete, Hayley Preen, added the 21 km record to the 35 km one she already holds, shaving a minute off Bianca Tarboton’s time last year in clocking 2 hrs 09 min 42 sec. Italian Andreas Reiterer downgraded from the 100 km to win the 35 km in record time in 3:38:21 – 7 minutes inside Raydon Balie’s 2018 effort- while talented Turk, Mehmet Soyturk, eclipsed French athlete Vincent Viet’s 65 km record, winning in a fast 6:38:40.
But looking back, there is little doubt that the performance of the weekend came from British athlete Beth Pascall, who smashed Aussie Lucy Bartholomew’s 2017 record by 26 minutes to win in 10:55:25, remarkable by any standards, but exceptionally so for the paediatrician, who at times has had to work up to 100 hours a week at her profession while fitting in a training regime as a world-class athlete.
Although the 32-year-old Derbyshire-based athlete had achieved a more balanced work programme leading up to the Cape Town race, which enabled her to train up to 100 km per week, her training volume remained considerably lower than that invested by leading ultra-distance trail athletes.
Pascall’s Cape Town performance could well prove a stepping stone to a memorable 2020, when she plans to take a “running sabbatical” between February and August, where she can focus primarily on her running while also getting married mid-year. Podium positions beckon in the world’s ‘big two’ ultra-races – the Western States and Ultra-trail Mont Blanc both over 100 miles.
Pascall left Cape Town reluctantly, after enjoying two mountain trail “warm-down” runs on successive days after the race – including one to the top of Table Mountain with Dauwalter and Bartholomew. “I enjoyed every second of those 10hrs 55mins,” Pascall admitted. “I’m pretty sad to be saying goodbye to Cape Town - it’s been a blast!”