This past weekend, the WILDSERIES calendar got off to a storming start with the 11th edition of the Three Cranes Challenge. Hosted in the heart of the Natal Midlands, the Karkloof, this year’s challenge attracted a lot of first-time participants along with old familiar faces who never miss the opportunity to take on some forest running for a good cause.
The Karkloof boasts a unique mixture of indigenous and mistbelt forest which include Yellowwood and Stinkwood trees and a wide variety of wildlife which includes the Samango Monkey, Blue Duiker, Bushbuck and Crowned eagles just to name a few. The rolling misty hills and farmlands form a great part of the trails and the course that the runners traverse over the three days of the challenge. Most importantly this area is the Crane capital of KwaZulu Natal during the winter months and is an important breeding ground for this flagship species which the Challenge raises funds for.
The Chairman of the Karkloof Conservation Centre, Charlie McGillivray said, “The Karkloof is the cornerstone of the environment you seek to enjoy, that we seek to conserve. We are doing this for future generations; we hope to pass on smaller bonds and a greater heritage. That is what conservation is about.”
Ruan van der Merwe defended his title with an overall finishing time of 8:40:42, with Matt Dove closely behind him taking second place with a time of 8:50:48 and Paul Snyman completed the men’s podium coming in at 9:19:03.
The women’s competition tightened when Jo Keppler ran hard and won the third stage of the challenge with an overall time of 10:05:07. Unfortunately, her overall time was not enough to remove the 2019 South African Trail Champion Nicolette Griffioen from the top spot. Nicolette remained in the number one position to claim her first Three Cranes title in her first appearance at the Challenge with a time of 9:53:44. Veteran road runner and activist Karoline Hanks ran a steady race and took third place in the women’s category finishing in 11:33:00.
Day one’s weather conditions were perfect, with warm temperatures sweeping over the valley. The runners took their time and saved their legs for the remaining two days and the longer 40km distance that awaited them on the following day. Ruan and Matt ran side by side and were tied by the end of the first stage, Nicolette and Jo also ran a tight race with only three minutes setting them apart at the end of day one.
Day two of the Three Cranes is the longest and most scenic stage of the challenge. The runners track through Mbona Private Nature Reserve and have a unique tea and cake setting at Benvie Botanical Gardens where they can also enjoy a time out to recoup before taking on the remainder of the course. This day also kicks off The Two Cranes (mini challenge) as it has been nicknamed by participants. This is a shorter version of the race which offers a 25km option instead of the traditional 40km. It was introduced to make the event more accessible to shorter distance runners and other runners that couldn’t make it for the full three days.
After an amazing two days in the Natal Midlands, we wrapped up the Three Cranes Challenge in classical Karkloof style, after all what would the Three Cranes be without a bit of rain and mud to bid our participants farewell. An early 4:30am start sent our participants into a dark and wet adventure which took them to the top of Mount Gilboa, the highest point in the Karkloof, giving them breath-taking views of the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall.
Conservation is always the winner at the WILDSERIES. Participants help us raise funds through their race entries and also helped up raise an additional R4000 through a raffle competition. We also receive a huge boost through other contributing sponsors like Jonsson Workwear for the garments and the Karkloof Conservancy as our conservation partner.
Roelie Kloppers, WILDLANDS Executive Director, put his hand up and participated in the event for the first time ever. “It was an awe inspiring 3 days. Meeting and talking to runners who have such a deep love for conservation reminded me of why WILDLANDS continues to raise funds in this manner. People want to make a difference and how much better to do it by doing what you love? Thank you to all the partners, participants, sponsors and vendors who help us work towards a sustainable future for all and conserve our pristine environments for future generations.”
We would like to thank all of our runners for being with us this weekend and a special thank you goes to the Karkloof Conservancy for all the conservation work that they do to ensure that we have a pristine environment to relish ourselves in. A huge thank you once again to KZNTR who put on a seamless event in aid of our cause. See you all on the 15th August at the Royal Natal National Park for the Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge.
To find out more about our WILDSERIES events, please visit www.wildseries.co.za or like our social media pages @WildseriesSA on Twitter, FB or Instagram.
Pictured above: Nicolette Griffioen, 2020 WILDSERIES Three Cranes Challenge champion as well as the 2019 female South African Trail champion
Photo Credit to Phonix Capture.