Fairytale start to Giant’s Cup for local hero Mdlala

Photo - Anthony Grote / Gameplan Media

Local wildlife ranger Thabo Mdlala took a massive step towards realising his dream of winning the two-day Giants Cup trail run by winning the first leg of the race in pristine conditions on Friday.

The 35 year old who works as an Endangered Wildlife Trust ranger in the Maloti Drakensberg Park has come close before, with a third and fourth place to his credit, but the Himeville local set out to stamp his authority on the 2017 edition of this unique event.

After completing the first seven kilometres of the stage in a group of three that included the women’s race favourite Su Don-Wauchope, Mdlala lengthened his stride and was soon leading the race alone as they descended the Gxalingenwa Trail beneath the snow-capped Drakensberg mountains.

“I know the trail well because I train and work here,” said Mdlala. “The way that the paths were prepared for this race was absolutely fantastic.”

The conservationist, who works on the African Crane Conservation Programme, was thrilled to spot a committee of Bearded Vultures during the run.

“I have always dreamt about winning this race. Maybe tomorrow it will come true,” he said.

The main beneficiary of The Giant’s Cup is the Southern Drakensberg branch of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which is based at Cobham Nature Reserve.

Fifteen minutes behind Mdlala, the leading woman Su Don-Wauchope, on the comeback after her serious ankle injury, was able to soak up the superb scenery and weather on the 32km trip from Sani Pass hotel to Castleburn Farm.

“Beautiful trails, wide open spaces, fantastic views and super weather, some chilly river crossings, it all made for the most amazing day out there today,” said Don-Wauchope.

“I ran for the first time here last year and it was misty. Today I kept stopping to take in the beautiful scenery, the snow-capped mountains, the winter colours of the grass and it was absolutely awesome,” she added.

“Because we were running on such beautifully prepared paths, you can actually afford to look around and not risk falling on your face!” she said. “At one spot we found a herd of Eland grazing, which was amazing to see.”

The two pace-setters were well clear of the rest of the field, followed home by Travis Green, Paul Mitchell and Robin Parfitt in a close tussle for the last step on the podium, all feeling the after effects of the distance and the deceptive amount of climbing.

The rest of the small, closed field made the most of the sublime weather and scenery as they completed the 32km on the Giants Cup hiking trail, using much of the trail that had been prepared for the recent Ultra Trail Drakensberg.

The second and final day of the race is a 30km stretch along days four and five of the Giant’s Cup trail and will see the athletes run from Castleburn to the Bushman’s Nek resort.

THE GIANTS CUP 2017 Stage 1 32km
1.Thabo Mdlala 3:49:00
2.Su Don-Wauchope 4:03:49
3.Travis Green 4:26:34
4.Paul Mitchell 4:27:17
5.Robin Parfett 4:28:30