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Tough Old Mutual mountain run

With just a little trepidation, we headed off to the Eastern Highlands for the long awaited third Old Mutual Vumba Mountain Run, plus some additional enjoyment of this beautiful part of our country.

OutDoors with Rosie Mitchell

This was our first time to tackle the event and all reports from previous entrants in its inaugural and second editions indicated this was likely to be the toughest half-marathon and 10km race we had respectively undertaken.

And they weren’t wrong! Sarah found herself initially somewhat demoralised by the shocker of a start to the 10km, which comprises over 2km of running steeply uphill, and like pretty much all 10km and 21km runners, was pretty exhausted by the end. I enjoyed myself better, finding the steep downhills so exhilarating and the scenery so lovely on the 21km, that I was well distracted from the equally steep uphill sections until the last 3km or so, and from the very demanding nature of this race.

This is undoubtedly one of this country’s toughest half marathons, if not the toughest!

Taxing it was indeed on one’s stamina and determination, but it was also a spectacular route, with the most amazing vistas to enjoy of these dramatic mountains, right into Mozambique. The lush green forests, mountain views, varied surfaces, terrains and scenery, with undulations beyond any I’d tackled in a road race, made this a unique and very enjoyable running experience. The only event I’ve run that’s steeper than this, is the Two Oceans 22km Trail Run — which goes straight up Table Mountain!

The Old Mutual Vumba Mountain Run offers runners extra challenges with its dramatic gradients, with extremely arduous uphills, and some wonderfully long, steep downhills. I rather love these, but I don’t speak for all runners, many of whom don’t enjoy these much at all, as they really hammer the knees and thighs. I love flying down hills at a fast run, and it helps make up for being a bit slow on the uphill sections!

The last 3km or so of the half- marathon and 10km race were gruelling — very much the hardest part of the course. The last few kays of any long race are always going to be extra demanding. When run on and around a thoroughly undulating golf course, mostly on grass with a few small sections on rough dirt paths, however, they are even more so! However, a race this tough provides an even greater sense of achievement in finishing and I was delighted to reach the very festive finish line much faster than I’d hoped on such a steep and demanding course.

I loved the beautiful forest sections and hearing the simango monkeys and birds calling, the spectacular mountain views along the way, and think this is one of the most scenically beautiful runs ever designed.

I fully recommend other runners try it next year — the date is already set for October 25! It was well-organised and marked with very regular water points. It was great to see all the Old Mutual flags and other signage approaching the Finish, reminding me of the excitement and fanfare at the end of the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, also backed by Old Mutual.

Over 100 half marathoners finished the race, while around 190 ran or walked the 10km and another around 90, the 5km, with total participants exceeding 400, pleasing the organisers, sponsors and beneficiaries greatly. While the 5km and 10km events started and ended at host hotel the Leopard Rock which was fully booked for the weekend, the 21km began near the legendary Tony’s Coffee Shop and ended at the Leopard Rock. Sadly, in seeing the 21km runners off and catching some pictures, Sarah ended up starting her 10km three minutes late as a queue of cars had formed behind a very slow moving heavy vehicle.

Helping to soften the struggle of the tough golf course section, though it was somewhat deceiving, was hearing the music and fanfare at the Finish at regular intervals, some kilometres before actually reaching it! This section snaked its way in a series of loops through Leopard Rock Game Reserve and round the edges of the vast golf course. Runners were easily lulled into thinking we were much closer to the end than was actually the case, by intermittent happy sounds of music and cheering coming our way!

Runners and walkers goodie bag contents were very generous and had an environmental theme, as proceeds from entry fees went to Wepu — the Wildlife and Environment Protection Unit in the Bvumba, which does a great job of keeping the environment clear of rubbish and protecting the local wildlife, and is a joint venture between Environment Africa, Tikki Hywood Trust, and National Parks. Wepu personnel were in attendance through the day, hosting informative stands at the Finish, where they sold colourful orange Wepu T-shirts encouraging us to “Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle”.

There was a festive atmosphere and lots of fun at the Finish before, during and after the events, while results were being computed. There was prize money from Old Mutual and many elite runners turned out and attained superb results.

Collin Kanyimo won the half-marathon in an astonishing 1 hour 9 mins 53 sec, Laino Muchena came second in 1:10:43, and first woman home was Rutendo Nyahora in 1:20:18. Winner of the 10k was Jacob Mugomera in an astounding 32 mins 53 sec. US$4 500 was raised for Wepu, and Old Mutual generously pledged the same again, bringing Wepu’s funding from the event to US$9 000.

We had an excellent Bvumba weekend around this running event, which drew hordes of people to the area, boosting the local economy. We stayed at the lovely Inn on the Vumba and thoroughly enjoyed a three day holiday, exploring the area and walking in the beautiful Bunga Forest Reserve — but you’ll need next week’s paper for more on the Vumba experience!

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