It’s “Proper.” It’s “The Big One.” It’s tough, gruelling and exhausting.A 90km trail run with a total elevation of 4800m and drop of 4100m that leaves finishers absolutely elated. Physical stamina, mental endurance and an acute awareness of the privileged position one is in just to entertain this experience is crucial while attempting to complete the Merrell Hobbit Journey presented by Nikwax. Having a sense of direction, and failing that, a sense of humour, helps tremendously too.
Previously known as the Hobbit 100, years ago some runners felt cheated out of 10km upon learning the route was ‘only’ 90km from Maden Dam to Hogsback via a series of mountains. When it had taken them 12 hours to complete the first 47km however, they strongly vetoed the offer of an extra loop being tacked on.
The 90km of single track path is normally tackled over six days as the Amathole Hiking Trail. Each year Mountain Runner Events gives a select few the chance to run the full route over two days, with an overnight stop in a mountain hut. The instantly forged camaraderie and mutual respect is evident amongst the group here, sharing a hot meal and their day’s war stories around the fire before crashing to bed, ready for the next day’s 5am start.
The route is too taxing, too technical and too sublimely beautiful to blindly race at full speed. Both the trail and the environment demand presence and respect. And one must keep a sharp eye out for the mythical creatures lurking in the woods. For it was here, in the mystical Amathole mountains of the Eastern Cape in South Africa that J.R.R. Tolkein was reportedly inspired to create his endearing Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
Passing through dense indigenous forests, plantations, rocky outcrops and open mountain grasslands, across many streams and past cascading waterfalls, the small band of athletes have plenty of time and space for the contemplation and solitude that only a mountain range can evoke. The trail is maintained by the Department of Water and marked with their signs and painted symbols, which can at times be sketchy. Runners are given detailed maps, instructions and GPS co-ordinates yet race director Graham Bird has fielded several calls over the years from competitors “slightly off course.” Read Helena Ferreira’s amusing race report from 2013
So it’s the true adventurers who travel for this experience. Searching for the personal touch that is so often lost at many large races, and finding how deep within themselves they have to go to understand the classic Tolkein quote: `
“You really are just a little fellow in a wide world after all.”
The full event is limited to just 30 participants each year. Applications open 01 November 2015 for the 29/30 April 2016 event on the Mountain Runner website. Runners must be fit and have completed a trail marathon within one year of the start date in order to be accepted. If approved a full entry form will be sent for processing.
The public holidays next year of Wednesday 27th April and Monday 2nd May make for a perfect opportunity to take an extended long weekend in the Hogsback region with the family. While the Merrell Hobbit Journey captivates runners for two whole days, Mountain Runner also stages the Merrell Hobbit 38km, 16km and 5km Trail Runs, presented by Nikwax, from the Arminel Hotel on Saturday 30th April 2016.
The 38km run may be referred to as the short one at this event but is not to be underestimated. This phenomenal route has been noted as the ‘most value per kilometre’ trail run in the country and makes up in challenging terrain what it lacks in pure distance.
The 16km and 5km routes are neither flat nor easy, but very doable and see a mixture of racers and casual runners, young and old, all loving the magical vibe of the forest along well marked routes.
“Let’s go,” said Hobbit “on an adventure.”