The 2023 Mountain Ultra-Trail (MUT) by UTMB® is set to take place from the 26th – 28th of May, in the Outeniqua Mountains above George in South Africa’s Western Cape.
Announced in November last year, the MUT by UTMB® was selected as the first ever UTMB World Series race in Africa and is set to welcome over 1 400 runners this weekend.
Famed for their rugged beauty, the peaks above the city of George rise from sea level to over 1 500 metres in elevation blocking rain carrying clouds as they blow inland. This gives the garden city of George its wet microclimate and helps foster the growth of indigenous forests and a plethora of fynbos species. The mountains also make for an exceptional trail running playground and are set to host a 100-Miler for the first time, as part of the fifth edition of the of the trail event which has now become MUT by UTMB.
Fittingly South Africa’s best known trail runner and ultra-running legend, Ryan Sandes (UTMB index 800), headlines the inaugural MUT by UTMB 100-Miler field. Having won ultra-trail events on every continent, including Antarctica, Sandes is a household name in his home nation, an uncommon feat for a trail athlete in a rugby, football and cricket crazed country.
“Ultra Trail Mont Blanc has become the pinnacle trail event globally, over the last five years,” Sandes confirmed. “I’d go as far as to say it’s like the Olympics of trail running! It is a real trail festival. With the newly appointed UTMB World Series it’s really awesome that South Africa has been recognised and that we have an event here. It’s huge for trail running in South Africa; in terms of how the new series works, with being able to qualify for the UTMB World Series Finals at UTMB Mont Blanc by participating in a race on home soil. Currently MUT by UTMB is the only UTMB World Series event in Africa, so it’s really important.”
“I’m also really excited to see how the Mountain Ultra-Trail by UTMB grows in the future,” he said. “I think it’s going to be massive.”
“I’m looking forward to the 100-Miler,” Sandes added. “I’ve run 95% of the route in the recces I’ve done out in George. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have run all around the world and do many of the biggest 100-Milers, and the MUT by UTMB 100-Miler course definitely stacks up against some of the toughest events out there. It has a lot of climbing and a real mixture of terrain, including some very technical sections but also a nice variety, from coastal to mountain and then more open running. It has a bit of everything. But at the same time what I’ve noticed from my recces is that there are no free miles! You have to constantly work to cover the ground, so that’s going to make it challenging. It is rewarding too and I’m excited for it. I’ve had a good training block and my excitement is certainly building by the day to line up at the MUT by UTMB 100-Miler.”
Sandes is not the only prominent South African trail runner taking on the MUT by UTMB. Other local favourites for the event include Bruce Arnett (UTMB index 710) participating in the 100-kilometres category; Kerry-Ann Marshall (UTMB Index 687), Johardt van Heerden (UTMB index 836), Brendan Lombard (UTMB index 765), Mvuyisi Gcogco (UTMB index 763) and Robbie Rorich who will be taking part in the 60-kilometre race; as well as Anderson Ncube (UTMB index 767), Lijan Burger [née Van Niekerk] (UTMB Index 689) and Vicky Welham (UTMB index 497) will be racing the MUT Challenge/25-kilometres. The women’s race in the MUT Marathon is likely to be one of the most fiercely contested titles in the entire event. Along with Bianca Tarboton (UTMB index 686) the field also includes George resident Rebecca Kohne (UTMB index 497), Mia Uys (UTMB index 573), Kristen Heath (UTMB index 618) and Sumé van Heerden (UTMB index 687).
Having joined a global trail running team in March 2022, Tarboton’s trail running has gone from strength-to-strength with increased European racing experience. “I’m really excited to race the MUT by UTMB Marathon,” the Chemical Engineering MSc student from Cape Town confessed. “I’ve never raced in George before but I’ve heard so many great things about the trails! I’ve heard the trails are very technical, so I’m expecting a tough race too. My training has been really good for the last few months, so I’m feeling strong going into the race.”
“It’s going to be really good prep as I’m going to Europe to race in June, so it’s a great test to see where my fitness is at,” Tarboton noted.
Local George trail running enthusiast, Rebecca Kohne, added: “Trail running is considered somewhat of a new sport, and it is certainly growing by the minute. Having MUT by UTMB opens up a lot of opportunity for us local trail runners. Qualifying for the UTMB World Series Final in France at the end of the year is almost every keen trail runner’s dream. Having a local race makes it just that much easier to try and live up to our dreams.”
Kohne said: “It is quite surreal to have the first UTMB® certified race here in our hometown, George. George is the most beautiful place, and we certainly have the most incredible mountain range. Some would say our trails are very similar to European trails in some sense. I am extremely excited for this event to take place, and for us South Africans to show off our spectacular mountains and trails. I hope every runner will get to enjoy them just as much as I do.”
Header image: Ryan Sandes having a quick sip. Credit: Zane Schmahl