With August being Women’s Month it was gratifying that in this, the fourth event in the Cathedral Peak Challenge series, staged on 25 August 2018, that women shone, inspired, set new race records, and moved mountains to overcome personal challenges to summit and finish this gruelling event. The women who participated embodied the essence of what the race is all about and it would be fair to say that because they believed they could – they did. They were fearless in the pursuit of their goals and tears, of both pain and elation, were shed over the course of the day.
The new contender for the series title and now at the top of the female leader board is Nicolette Griffioen, who wrapped up the race in a mere 2 hours 44 minutes and 27 seconds. A pro-athlete in every sense of the word, she crossed the finish line strong, despite being ill the week prior and was quick to confirm that it was good fun!
“I prefer mountain running to trails, I am always keen to try new challenges and I love the Berg. That, plus the amazing prize money, made it impossible to resist this event,” says Griffioen who has been trail running for about seven years. “What’s exciting about this event is it’s the only one of its kind locally. It’s a direct run to the peak and back which is more commensurate with European challenges.”
An athlete passionate about the discipline, Griffioen added that she would like to encourage more women to participate so that the female field increases in size, adding, “It’s not gratifying to win an event when the competitive field is small and as a sport, anyone can do it. It’s a great way to get outside and see our amazing country.” Demonstrating more girl power, Griffioen’s mother also participated in the event and finished with a smile, echoing her daughter’s sentiments saying, “That was stunning!”
The second female in was a novice new to the trails, Jessie Eerens from the Netherlands who finished in 4 hours 26 minutes and 3 seconds. “I have never done a trail run before and only began running three months ago. For me this was a race that was more about stamina than technical proficiency and unlike some others, I wasn’t scared at any point. I absolutely loved it.”
Top trail runner Karine Bezuidenhout (individual time 3:07:45) entered as a mixed team with Arlo van der Heerden (individual time 2:34:55), finishing in 5 hours 42 minutes and 40 seconds, setting yet another new combined course record. Bezuidenhout who is a physio by profession says, “Gender falls away in this sport and the playing field is much more even when it comes to performance. You can’t muscle your way down a mountain – and woman as a rule are lighter which is an advantage. They also have more intuition which plays a big part in successfully navigating a course.”
Adding to this she said that the course setting is magnificent, “This mountain is really bad ass, but the beauty of the views definitely helped override the discomfort. Overtime I have learnt that you have to become more comfortable with pain and just stay with it.”
Salomon athlete Tarryn Lopez and her fiancé, Stephen Erasmus, crossed the finish line together and their combined time of 6 hours 41 minutes and 38 seconds put them in second place in this category. A vulture sighting was a real highlight for the couple who are as passionate about the area as they are the sport.
The first man home was 25 year old Nelspruit lawyer, Johardt van Heerden, who set another new record, finishing in 2 hours 19 minutes and 33 seconds. “Of all the events I have done this is by far the coolest summit. Being a standalone peak makes it really special. My climbing legs took strain but I paced myself on the way up and then made my move, breaking away at Buggers Valley. Despite two falls on my descent, I kept a close eye on my time and kept pushing through the technical slippery terrain. In the end my training at all hours of the night and early morning definitely paid off,” says van Heerden.
Second and third place went to the talented Gijima runners, Mlungisi Mazibuko in 2 hours 22 minutes and 9 seconds and Kwenza Ngubane in 2 hours 31 minutes and 16 seconds. Both athletes have already completed the race and returned to improve their time which they did, shaving off 8 minutes and 20 minutes respectively; both were truly gutsy performances.
Yet another display of female fortitude was witnessed when fit mom and adventure lover Cindy-Louise White climbed the peak in a Mini-Moo cow suit; a feat that was designed to raise awareness for CHOC and childhood cancers (http://choc.org.za/). Terrified of heights, White faced her demons and summited. It was here that she called out and recorded the echo of four young children all six and under, who had lost their battle to cancer. All friends – she has felt first-hand the trauma these families have gone through. She also left messages on the mountain for the little warriors who are so deeply mourned by so many. Her mom has also faced and beaten cancer twice making her even more passionate about disease profiling.
“Wearing the suit not only attracts attention and starts conversations. It’s hot and uncomfortable to run in and creates discomfort so we can be reminded of the suffering children go through during their chemo treatments. Bereavement has many façades and I have seen people show up at these events and run and push themselves to wild extremes just so they can numb their pain. As a mother I cannot begin to imagine the horror of losing a child so young, so this is my way of doing something small to help,” says White.
Suzette Thompson finished in just under 7 hours, collapsing as she rang the bell. Her tear stained face a monument to what she had just accomplished in memory of her late mother who recently succumbed to cancer. “My mom rang the bell after her last chemo session and what pulled me through the dark points on the course, was thinking of how she ran her race with such dignity right till the end. When I rang that bell at the end of my challenge, my emotions overwhelmed me.”
Running her first ever trail race, creative Vega student, Refilwe Sofute was bubbling with excitement when she finished and she perfectly articulated the strength of the women who participated in the event: “You have to trust your instincts. We all possess strengths that we don’t even know we have and I got to witness that first hand today. There were points I really wanted to turn back but I had to remind myself that I am no quitter and now wasn’t the time to start. You have to push forward, follow your dreams and trust your instincts. We can do anything – we are women after all!”
The predominant comment of the day was without doubt – “I have run the comrades; it’s got nothing on this!” Despite the sentiment – everyone dug deep and finished the event – richer for the experience.
The final event and the last supported race in the series is scheduled for 22 September. The event is already closed with a field of close to 70 already committed. There is a waiting list so on the off chance that anyone pulls out – those still interested in participating should email email@example.com. For those who cannot make the full ascent but want to participate in this soul enriching experience – there’s The Cathedral Peak Challenge Mini. It’s the same route, but stops shy of the peak, ending at the Base Camp just below the summit. It is an untimed and unsupported route that can be completed on any day (weather permitting) between 1 June and 30 September.
The series leader board results can be found here:
The Cathedral Peak Challenge takes place over four events with one bonus event:
- 8 June – Race #1
- 28 July – Race #2
- 25 August – Race #3
- 22 September – Race #4
- BONUS: 18 July – Mandela Day Mountain Race
- While one doesn’t have to stay at the Cathedral Peak Hotel to race, participants who do will receive a 25% discount for the duration of their stay while running the challenge.