About Ultra Trail Cape Town
The Ultra-trail World Tour series includes 21 races across the globe and ends with the last race of the year in Cape Town. The Ultra-trail Cape Town (UTCT) series consists of four trail races of 100 km, 65 km, 35k m and 21 km that navigate the mountains of the picturesque Cape Peninsula. All four races consist of technical terrain with steep ascents and descents.
Cape Town is a world-class destination that features highly on any tourist bucket list. The city is molded by two oceans and the Table Mountain National Park that stretches from Table Bay in the north to Cape Point in the south. 2018 marked the 5th edition of the Ultra-trail Cape Town.
1 750 participants shared in the adventure, with close to 400 runners who came from outside of Africa to conquer the beautiful Table Mountain. The races crisscrossed across sections of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Orangekloof, Llandudno, Hout Bay, the Constantia Winelands, upper slopes of Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve and Devil’s Peak. Table Mountain forms part of the iconic natural world heritage site and is one of the new Natural Seven Wonders of the World.
I did the 35 km race, and to give you an idea of the ascents and descents, Strava recorded an elevation gain of 1,857 m, but the race profile shows that it is an elevation gain of approximately 2 000 m (1 954m). No wonder it took me 8:44:12 to complete the race!
Weather can vary drastically with near sub-zero temperatures in the early morning on top of Table Mountain to 30 degrees or more during the latter part of the day. By the time I reached King’s Blockhouse towards Devil’s Peak, it was a scorcher. Luckily, I had just filled up my water bottles and water bag at the last water point at the University of Cape Town
The unpredictable weather conditions are also one of the reasons why the 100 km, 65 km and 35 km races have compulsory gear that you need to carry with you at all times.
This include a waterproof jacket, a buff, a running race pack, a long-sleeve thermal or arm sleeve protectors, a survival blanket, a whistle, a charged phone, a headlamp, adhesive bandage, food reserve of 250 calories, hydration with a minimum of 1.5L capacity, a personal cup for drinks at the water stations (this is to keep aligned with a green footprint in Table Mountain National Park), race number and the Liverun app to track you should something happen on the rough mountain terrain.
The 35 km trail has two major climbs up Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge (first half) and up Devil’s Peak via King’s Blockhouse (second half). The middle of the race consists mainly of technical ascents with some flat run-able sections, but don’t misjudge the Newlands contour of the climb known as the 400 stairs, or the extremely steep descent down Nursery Ravine. The race starts and finishes at the Gardens Tech Rugby Club that is easily reachable and affordable with Uber.
I can highly commend the race organizers for a well-organized event. The route was clearly marked with reflective flags and direction arrow boards and manned by volunteers to guide you along the route and to cheer you on.
The race started on time at 7 am with a climb from Gardens Tech Rugby Club to Kloof Corner, a trail that puts runners midway up Table Mountain’s north face. With the city at your feet, you run along the contour to Platteklip Gorge, the longest vertical ascent of the race – a notorious route with gradients exceeding 35 degrees, up Table Mountain. The climb is a long grind of 7 km with an elevation of 900 m. Luckily the spirit was electrifying as a volunteer played Scottish bagpipes while we ascended. That sound touches your soul and just motivates you to keep on pushing. My legs were heavy and loaded very early on in the race because of the sharp incline of Platteklip Gorge. When I reached the top and ran along the famous tabletop ridge towards Maclears Beacon, I stumbled and had a fall that guaranteed bloody scabs on my hands and elbows. Luckily the spirit was still intact. I kept going with the promise of the first water station at approximately 12 km. Maclear’s Beacon is the highest point of the race at 1 086 m.
It was a challenge across Echo Valley, the Valley of Isolation and onward to the Scouts Hut next to the dams on top of the mountain where the first Table Mountain Aid Station was located. The aid stations were God-sent, well stocked with nutritional fuel, much-needed water and hydration packs with toilets. The second and last water station on the 35 km route also had masseuses standing ready to work out any spasms or cramps. I managed to rinse off my bloody scabs.
Just after the first water aid station, the 35 km splits from the 100 km and 65 km races at the end of Woodhead Dam where we made our way to Nursery Ravine. This is where my second fall occurred down the steep ascent. I misstepped down the main stairs and fell on my coccyx. By now I was desperate and in between crying, praying and cursing, I was grateful that the steepest ascend was done. In Newlands forest, the 65 km and 100 km runners joined up again. This was followed by a steep drop down into the University of Cape Town’s upper campus, where the second aid station was located. The final 10 km, often into a strong headwind (the infamous ‘Cape Doctor’), requires digging deep with an intense climb to get up to the Blockhouse and lower traverse of Devils Peak. But on race day there was no wind and it was scorching hot when I reached King’s Blockhouse. The relief was incredible, knowing it marks the home stretch, with the reward of incredible views of the City, the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain, and Lions Head.
By now I was in a lot of pain with blisters on my feet and could not wait to finally go back down to the Gardens Tech Rugby Club to finish the race and my first ultra trail. Nearly 9 hours later, I finally made it. I was so relieved and grateful to receive some much-needed medical attention in the first-aid tent to clean my wounds, get a relaxing massage to get rid of some lactic acid and enjoy a cold beer as I waited for my friends.
Will I do it again? Hell yeah! It was hard, but it is the hard that makes it great!
For the entire race week, and before, Cape Town was buzzing with excitement and the trails were full of runners checking out the route or getting ready for the big day. There were various activities taking place during the registration period two days before at the race village. It was bustling with food trucks, beer, and wine, music, and great Salomon sales. There was also an eventing area where the world champs gave tips, race briefings were given and the screening of the official worldwide premiere of Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel’s Great Himalayan Trail.
What you need to know about UTCT
The website ultratrailcapetown.com has the full schedule of events available. Please note, no registration will be allowed on the morning of your race – you have to be in Cape Town during these allotted days, which were two days before the event this year.
Runcation SA was the official UTCT travel partner for 2018 and offered a UTCT specific experience from the minute international runners arrive, in the lead-up to the race, the event itself, until you head home.
You’ll be introduced to the Cape Town trail running scene, be shown the route by experienced local runners, and go on a sightseeing tour of the Cape Peninsula with UTCT route recce touches and more.
UTCT Trail and Environmental Fund:
You can race UTCT for free if you manage to raise R10 000 toward the UTCT Trail and Environmental Fund. All proceeds will go toward Table Mountain National Parks Honorary Rangers and developing athletes from previously disadvantaged communities.
UTCT 2019: UTCT 2019 will be on the weekend of 29 November to 1 December. Entries will open on 1 April 2019.