When NavWorld Ambassador Bennie Roux and his running buddy Stewart Chaperon decided to take on the Magalies Traverse FKT (Fastest Known Time), they knew it would be tough. What they didn’t know was how brutal it would actually prove to be … or that they’d end up smashing the previous record by nearly two hours.
Ultra-distance trail runner Bennie Roux is no stranger to hardship. In fact, you could say conquering adversity is what he does best. Just check out his impressive wins at last year’s Addo 100 miler and this year’s inaugural 402 km Munga Trail Run and you’ll see what I mean. Come to think of it, his long-standing running buddy Stewart Chaperon is no slouch either. He won the 2016 South African Skyrunner Series, as well as the Wildcoast Wildrun back in 2014. So it makes sense this can-do duo would want to take on something like the Magalies Traverse FKT.
Unless you’re a hardcore trail runner, this little-known challenge remains a bit of a mystery. It was set up this way on purpose to make things harder. Originally conceived by two runners, Terence Vrugtman and Jason Gradwell, back in May 2016. It starts at the Hartbeespoort Dam wall and finishes about 76 km later at the Olifantsnek Dam wall – with the only guiding landmarks of the route being the 14 trig beacons that run along the top of the main Magaliesberg ridge.
“Although the Magaliesberg Major Traverse has been completed by a scarce few hikers, after chatting to various people in the MCSA, Scouts SA, Trail Community, JHB Hiking Club and Search and Rescue no one could recall an attempt to or successfully complete a traverse of the Magaliesberg in one go,” explains Vrugtman.
Realising they were onto something special, when these guys tackled the first traverse they had a few goals in mind, which they hoped would become the standard for any future Magalies FKT attempts:
1. Start at Hartbeespoort Dam wall and finish at Olifantsnek Dam wall
2. Visit all 14 Check Points
3. Plan your own route
4. This is a self-navigation and self-support FKT
As it’s a self-supported run, nobody may hand you food or water, or even run sections of the route with you. But that’s not the toughest part, not by a long shot. All water locations en route are kept top secret. This is what makes the Magalies FKT so special – you’re forced to take a recce and scout out parts of the route yourself before even attempting to take it on. Then there’s the fact that a few of the trig beacons are a bit off the shortest route and ALWAYS located at the highest point, which is a real motivation killer.
Vrugtman and Gradwell set a time of 24 hours 28 minutes. This was beaten in September 2016 when Alex Pope, Brian Gardner and Stijn Laenen completed it in 15 hours 29 minutes.
Taking on the Magalies FKT
It all started when Chaperon, Roux and Herman Mulder were on a training run and Chaperon brought up the topic. “I’ve spent many hours training and exploring the Magaliesburg around Hartbeespoort Dam,” says Chaperon. “When I heard that an official FKT had been set up I knew I had to give it a go.” To his delight, both guys agreed and the planning got underway.
Sadly, Mulder was unable to join the attempt, but there was no way Roux was backing out. “Whenever I drive somewhere, I always look at the mountains and wonder if it’s possible to run up and over them. So with the Magalies being right on our doorstep, I figured this was the perfect FKT for me to attempt first,” he explains.
First job was to suss out the route, which for them was relatively easy as they’re both familiar with the area. Roux elaborates, “I’ve run the last 30 km four times and Stewart once on the Brauhaus trail race. The route also incorporates the Magalies race, but in reverse. And the first 5 km is on tar, which is easy to find.”
Most of their recce went into the unfamiliar middle section with absolutely no trails, or the “terrible middle part” as Roux describes it. “The uneven ground was littered with loose rocks hidden under grass. You’d run three steps, stumble three more, then walk five. There was no way to build up any kind of rhythm at all.”
This took them about five hours. But by the time they were done, they’d found a secret water source (a small mountainside stream) and had a clear idea where they needed to go. “To be honest, after the recce I wanted to bail from the attempt but I just couldn’t break the news to Stewart, so I made it part of my mental challenge and mental training,” confesses Roux. “It’s difficult runs like these that make you mentally tough!
All that was left was to cobble the various sections together using Garmin’s BaseCamp and create their own purpose-built route. Fortunately, Roux found this easy, saying: “Wow, what a nice piece of free software, you can truly do whatever you wish on a map here!” The Magalies Crazy Store route had to be reversed… that took him about two clicks. He then joined all the various tracks into one, made a few adjustments after checking it all out on Google Earth, and exported the new route to his Garmin fenix 5x. “I ended up altering the route nine times,” explains Roux. “This was to cut out any unnecessary drops or climbs, make the route flatter and somehow try to make our run as short as possible.”
Getting down to business
When tackling an unsupported challenge such as the Magalies FKT, there’s plenty that can go wrong. You could become dehydrated, get stuck on a ledge or become lost, get shot by an angry farmer (because you’re trespassing), or the weather can turn bad – and there’s no-one around to help you. So when Roux and Chaperon were dropped off by friends and family for their 6 am start at Hartbeespoort they were well prepared.
Here’s a list of the gear they carried:
- Garmin fenix 5x
- Ultraspire hydration packs
- Key360 energy drinks/powders
- Single Track fuel/powders
- Charged cellphones
- Waterproof jackets
- Base layers
- Space blankets
- Emergency kit (strapping, pills etc.)
- Power bank
Their strategy was breathtakingly simple; don’t waste time standing still! But as crazy as it sounds, it worked. They eventually finished in an impressive time of 13 hours 31 minutes – just 2 minutes shy of beating the previous record by a whopping 2 hours. However, that doesn’t mean they found the going easy. Roux elaborates: “I like to run and get into a rhythm, however I found this route completely unrunnable!”
Although the Magalies FKT proved to be a hard slog, the spectacular scenery and varied wildlife (jackals, rabbits, buck, vultures and baboons) added more than enough spice to pull them through. It was only at the end when anything dramatic happened. Chaperon’s wife and dad had hiked from Brauhaus to the Olifantsnek Dam wall to meet them at the finish. It got dark, the route became challenging and they soon found themselves in trouble. Says Roux: “They ended up completely lost and one irate farmer was furious that they were trespassing on his land. It got so bad that some of the more friendly farmers in the area had to go out of their way to “rescue” them. It was scary at the time, but looking back we can now see the funny side – it definitely made what we achieved a more memorable moment! – (c) 2017 NavWorld