Words: Mark Sampson, Thribe Media | Photos: Various
Location, location, location, like most ventures in life, makes for success, which is the same for a great event. The inaugural Merrell Whale of Trail, traversing sweeping mountains down to a coastline with long beaches and bays, nailed it on the head.
Photo credit: Mark Sampson
Held on Saturday, 10 May 2014, the route covered the same trail as that of the famous Whale trail in De Hoop Nature Reserve, in the Overberg region. For normal people, this hike covers 51 kilometres over a period of five days, with stunning accommodation throughout the journey. In this case, die-hard trail runners would unfortunately only be allowed a quick glance at the accommodation as they endeavoured to cover the distance in one day.
Starting at the base of the Potberg Mountains, the pristine fynbos mountainous terrain with never-ending views for the first 26-odd kilometres set the tone for this spectacular run. In complete contrast to the mountains came the beach section, which many of the runners expected to be easier. Alas, a 50-kilometre sand-in-the mouth south westerly put pay to any ideas of that being the case. Enter endless stretches of powdery sand during high tide and the mountains became a loving memory of the past. Post-race reflection by the ultimate winner, Melikhaya Msizi, noted that due to the soft sand, he walked most of the beach sections, shoes in hand, as they were just too tough to run.
Cape Nature, the custodian of 34,000 hectare De Hoop Nature Reserve and also the partnering sponsor for the event, was obviously concerned about the impact on the trails as well as the environment in general. Race organisers Graham Bird and Tatum Prins, from Mountain Runner Events, therefore made this an absolute priority, with only 165 runners allowed to participate and meticulous logistical preparation to reduce any impact on the environment and location of the PVM refuel stations.
Photo credit: Peter Kirk
On race day, credit must go to the runners as only eight of the starters did not make it to the finish, as a result of the very difficult conditions and confirmed by the slower than expected finishing times. The men were led almost from start to finish by Knysna-based Melikhaya Msizi, who won in a time of 6:06:39. The ladies were blown away by jet-lagged Kiwi Joanna Williams in an impressive 6:27:15, also coming in seventh overall. Various cut-off points were implemented to ensure the safety of the runners, which were mostly not needed as many reached the hallowed finish line, up the boardwalk off the beach, to be greeted by cheering crowds and a refreshing Aquella water.
Prize-giving is always a fun affair and while the runners enjoyed copious quantities of oxtail and couscous with some of the local wines on offer, MC Tatum Prins called up the winners to be congratulated for their efforts.
And so yet another trail running event has joined the long list on offer to Joe public. However, if feedback is anything to go by, then this is no ordinary trail run. With the blessing of Cape Nature, next year's race is expected to have a long waiting list of hopeful entries for another Merrell-infused event, presented by Nikwax. Until then get outdoors and stay fit.
For more information, race results and when entries open for next year's event, visit www.mountainrunner.co.za