As I begin to reflect on a race weekend in Cape Town, South Africa one thing is clear – the changes, investment and effort the race organizers behind Ultra Trail Cape Town (UTCT) have put in have paid off in a better than ever 8th edition of the event. Those changes include new 55-kilometer, 23-kilometer, and 100-mile races that now round out the race weekend that features the previous marquee 100-kilometer race, and the existing 35-kilometer race. While the 100-kilometer race was still the feature event of the 2022 edition, I have to believe the 100-mile race is only going to gain traction after a successful inaugural running.
When asked to describe the course in one word a theme appeared – this track is hard. I was told of the rocks, the sand (a 10-kilometer long beach section in the 100-mile event) – I was told of the technicality, the heat, and how it felt impossible to find a rhythm. One runner in describing the trails laughed, “This course makes the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) look like the autobahn!” While the course has always been hard, this years edition featured changes to the original 100-kilometer course that removed two of the fast downhill sections and replaced them with rocky trail and down climbing through boulders that included navigating metal rungs. While these changes made for slower times, most of the runners also seemed to relish how beautiful the new sections of the course were. From the Platteklip Gorge climb, to the new descent down Llandudno Ravine the course offers features not seen in many other races around the world. While many runners proclaimed “never again!” at the finish line, I know more than a few of them will book their tickets to come back.
While the course is known to be front loaded as you quickly ascend to the top of Table Mountain in the first 25 kilometers of the race – the first 20 kilometers also are some of the smoothest of the day making for a race that usually goes out fast at the front. This years race was no different with a group of six men leading at the front, and Kelly Wolf taking command of the race early on the women’s side followed closely by Mimmi Kotka (both looking to better their 2018 finishes).
From cruising fast trails there is a sudden change of pace up Platteklip Gorge, a climb that is nearly vertical at times with grades at times exceeding 35%, the early pacesetters dug in. From there runners traversed the famous tabletop ridge and along a section known as the 12 Apostles which are 12 distinct sandstone buttresses that loom over Camps Bay. And this is where the race started to break up – with clear gaps forming in both the mens and women’s races. Llandudno Ravine added to that rift as the front of pack ran at their limit having to decide which risks were worth taking in a calculated manner as quickly as possible. By the time the runners reached Llandudno, the 42 kilometer aid station, Hannes, Dmitry, and Sébastien had separated themselves from the pack putting ten and half minutes on Drew Holmen and Jared Hazen. On the women’s side Mimmi Kotka came to the front and pushed the pace showing up in Llandudno bloodied with Kelly Wolf and Camille Bruyas in hot pursuit.
From Llandudno the runners headed up Suther Peak – or by the name you might curse on race day “Suffer Peak” – made harder in the direct sun. The boulder riddled climb is slow and independent of a breeze leaves you dry. This very section has taken out many a runner in past editions. From there a sandy descent takes you back down to the water running across the beach into the Hout Bay (or Wood Bay) aid station. While we knew Dmitry and Hannes were running near one another their approach to the Hout Bay aid station sent a clear signal – they were in lock step.
Mimmi still charging in the front of the field arrived at Hout Bay at most a minute up on second place Camille Bruyas, calm and efficient they both quickly moved through the aid station – a race was on at the front!
While the climb out of Hout Bay doesn’t look like much on the course profile this part of the course turned out to be a key part of the race. In the heat of the day the rolling climbing and descending through this section was relentless with more than half of the race in the rear view. This seemed to be the section that exposed any vulnerabilities, if you were feeling good there was time to be had. While Dmitry and Hannes continued on swapping leads at the front, Drew Holmen and Jared Hazen were making a convincing argument that the race was far from over as they both quickly clawed back time. In the same place we saw early race leader Mimmi Kotka start to falter and Camille Bruyas make a strong move to take control of the lead.
While we don’t have images from this next section of course it was clear that Dmitry and Hannes were alerted to the rapid pace at which their lead was dwindling behind them and while they remained in close contact the pace was most certainly turned up a notch. From Constantia Glen through Cecilia and the Newlands Forests the rocky nature of the terrain did not let up as the racers made their way to the final aid station on course at the University of Cape Town. With only 11 kilometers to go no one wasted time as crews hurried their runners back out onto course. Only one major obstacle left – the Blockhouse climb. While Drew and Jared were chasing a similar story was playing out on the women’s side as Varvara Shikanova steadily pulled back time on Mimmi Kotka. We were all left wondering what would happen over the final hour of the race – who was going to run out of distance and who was going to be saved by the finishing line?
Despite valiant efforts by Drew Holmen, Dmitry Mityaev and Hannes Namberger stayed away and ultimately crossed the finish line hand in hand in a time of 10:45:35. Drew would finish just five minutes back of the lead in third place, 10:51:20 on the clock.
After winning the 65-kilometer race back in 2018, and winning Grand Trail des Templiers just a month ago, Camille Bruyas pulled away from the rest of the women’s field winning in a time of 12:15:21. Mimmi Kotka bettered her third place finish from 2018, moving up the podium a step this time around in 12:35:28. Finally, running out of real estate, Varvara Shikanova pulled back nine minutes over the final ten kilometers of the race to finish just three minutes behind second in a time of 12:38:33.
1. Camille Bruyas (12:15:21)
2. Mimmi Kotka (12:35:28)
3. Varvara Shikanova (12:38:33)
4. Ekaterina Mityaeva (12:51:17)
5. Maryline Nakache (14:17:42)
1. Dmitry Mityaev and Hannes Namberger (10:45:35)
3. Drew Holmen (10:51:20)
4. Jared Hazen (11:02:28)
5. Daniël Claassen (11:26:42)
You can find complete results from the 2022 event here.