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Expert Advice for tackling UTCT

Ultra-trail Cape Town is right around the corner and (if you’re human) the nerves are probably building as we head towards race day. UTCT has already established itself as a bucket list race for ultra trail runners and this year there are four events: 100km, 65km, 35km, and for the first time in 2018 there is a 21km route. I joined a panel of Cape Town’s best athletes to share advice on how to tackle the different races… I think I got cc’d into the wrong email lol. So here are Ryan Sandes, Meg Mackenzie, Kane Reilly and my tips to have your best day out at Ultra-trail Cape Town.


Since its inclusion in the Ultra-trail World Tour, UTCT is attracting some of the top international elite runners, with over 300 international entries confirmed for December – including some MEGA STARS


The consistent message across the 100km, 65km and 35km distances is the same: Pace yourself and don’t go too hard up Platteklip Gorge!



Ultra endurance runner and local legend Ryan Sandes came second to Prodigal Khumalo in the 100km UTCT last year, with both of them smashing the previous 2014 record. For tackling the 100km distance, Ryan suggests: “Mentally, break the race down into lots of mini-goals and bite-sized chunks, getting from one check-point to the next. A key section for me is from the start to the first major checkpoint at the bottom of Kloof Nek, and then the next one is at Llandudno, then Hout Bay, then Constantia and then UCT. I find that really helps. If you’re really battling at one stage of the race, at least when you get to that aid-station you can almost put the whole section behind you, and you’re “starting afresh.” It just helps to make it more  achievable,” he says.


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Ryan Sandes – photo by Nick Muzik



Trail running dynamo Meg Mackenzie recently placed 10th in the prestigious Salomon Golden Trail Series. Not only is she a badass out on the trails, she also coaches at The Run Project. When asked what advice she would give the 65km runners, she said: “Really hold back in the beginning. The more chilled you feel in the first 20kms the better your race will go! 65km is a long way and there’s always time to catch up. Take Platteklip like a relaxed hike, if you feel good after that you can start to open up. Don’t get caught up in the chaos of the race start, if you spike your heart rate early on it’s extremely difficult to come back from that. With a race of this distance you want your body to click into fat burning mode early on, i.e. under aerobic threshold pace. There’s a lot of climbing in the first 20kms so take that easy and use it as fuel for later. Also, be a bit careful on the downhills; if you run too fast too early on you might find your legs become really heavy or cramp from all the loading. If you can still feel strong by the time you get to Constantia, you’re golden!”


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Meg Mackenzie



Local trail-running star (aka the People’s Champ), Kane Reilly, recommends that for the 35km: “Firstly I would say approach Platteklip very strategically. Unless you’re very conditioned to climbing very hard early on in a race, I would resist the temptation of going too fast on Platteklip, keeping in mind that the last climb going up to the Blockhouse is super tough and it’s normally pretty late in the day and warm, given the time of year. You really need to focus on nutrition, a lot more than maybe for some other races of that distance, just because the end part is pretty tough. That final climb up to the Blockhouse is gnarly, and it’s a lot harder than it looks on the route profile.”


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Kane Reilly – photo by Xavier Briel



Then finally, they reserved the best for last and asked for my input on the new 21km route. I love UTCT and have two 65km finisher medals in my collection. This year I plan to tackle the new 21km route as it goes through my beloved home trails on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak. UTCT is just one of those special events that you just have to be a part of. The 21km route provides a less daunting transition into the more hard-core mountain running races for trail enthusiasts who were put off by the longer distances. Don’t be fooled though, it isn’t going to be a simple walk in the park.


It’s a race of two halves, a seemingly gentle start, but the true test will be how well you can power up Newlands Ravine and get your jelly-legs back for the final descent. For those new to trail running, you can expect your times to be twice as long as your equivalent road race.


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Use the shades to hide the pain 🙂 – photo by Xavier Briel


The Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km, 65km and 35km take place on Saturday 1 December and the 21km is on Sunday 2 December 2018.


To all those participating, good luck out there and just enjoy the ride. When in doubt, wear sunglasses – no one will be able to see you cry 🙂


– Peace


For more information on the races and routes, and how to support runners, visit www.ultratrailcapetown.com

Check out the Ultra-trail Cape Town Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to stay up to date on race news


Check out the vlog I did about my experience during last year’s 65km race:


Check out our curated list here of the best trail running races in South Africa.


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