Words & Photos: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

As summer wanes and the Easter bunny searches for a cosy hideout for the imminent winter, Merrell and its ensemble of followers came together for a final hoorah to celebrate summer. What I am referring to, of course, is the Merrell Autumn Night Series in Cape Town, hosted by Simon’s Restaurant and the enchanting Groot Constantia Wine Estate.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

In only its second year, the Merrell Autumn Night Series is fast becoming an institution. Taking place over three consecutive weeks on a Wednesday night, distances covered are 5,5 km or 8 km.

The short distances entice even the most skeptical trail runner, while still drawing some of the big guns in the trail-running fraternity. This is probably due to the excessive amount of prizes and fact that the winners from each week gain accumulative points for a log and the ultimate prize and bragging rights of series winner.

With the vast number of outdoor events available, the fact that each week all 250 places are snapped up and each run is sold out warrants no further discussion on the success of the Merrell Night Series. Between the precision organisation of race organisers Mountain Runner – Graham Bird and Tatum Prins – the presenting sponsor of Black Diamond headlamps, equipment sponsor of Glider eyewear, and an overdose of a unique experience and fun, this recipe works!

Each week runners are sent out into the wilderness to fend for themselves on routes that traverse the Groot Constantia Estate. This means grapes are available for survival, while traversing the steep inclines and declines through the vineyards. The competitors also get a chance to run through a gravel section between the old manor houses, adding to the unique experience. The finish line is always a welcoming end to the experience and is where refreshing and tasty Aquelle water awaits each finisher prior to heading into Simon’s Restaurant. Hydration is obviously an important aspect of trail running and never more so in this instance, as the ample Groot Constantia wine that is available for tasting after the run is never-ending.

Photo credit: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media

The series is based on fun and getting outdoors, the Merrell tagline, but it’s the festive prize-giving with wine flowing, Simon’s burger specials flying out the kitchen, and prizes being handed out that many look forward to.

Over the past three weeks, the fastest times recorded were 23:02 by Grant Marcus in the 5,5 km division. For the ladies, and in this case a junior lady with a bright future, it was 15-year-old Hayley Preen who had the fastest time of 25:06, which won the entire 5,5 km distance on the night.

In the 8 km distance, young Hayely Preen once again snapped that up for the ladies, in a brilliant time of 37:28. The fastest man over the three weeks was racing snake Derrick Beard, in an incredible 32:02. Remember, this is in the dark through some pretty gnarly terrain.

Moving on to the log leaders for the entire series in the 8 km division, David Barber snatched it for the men, while Anna Dubaniewicz cruised home victorious for the ladies. In the shorter, hotly contested 5,5 kilometre distance, Jadye Brammer was the men’s winner and Paige Bolton the ladies winner.

As winter grips us and the temperature drops, the light at the end of the tunnel is the knowledge the series will return in September. Until then, stay warm, fit, and get outdoors.

More information
For more information and all the race results, visit www.moutainrunner.co.za