Eight years ago I had the idea to organise a one-day, ultra-distance trail run after taking part in a number of events locally and in the US. I have now been participating regularly in trail races (staged, ultra) for almost 15 years locally and abroad and it was due time for me to be on the other side. It took those eight years (plus a bit) for me to actually get around to it!
Putting together a marked-route event is decidedly different to the navigation-based events that I usually organise as the one thing that I most worry about is for runners to take a wrong turn.
Forest Run is the product of many visits to the beautiful Komatiland Forests’ Belfast plantation over the past decade. We use this area for orienteering and rogaining (long-distance, time-limited, point-score navigation) events as the forests are top-quality underfoot. And with every visit I say, “I really should organise a run here!”. Well, we now have AdventureLisa’s Forest Run.
I thought I was in for a few days of waltzing through the forests marking the route last week. Instead I found some of my favourite sections covered in grass that came up to my eyeballs, which is fine for adventure racers but not for a trail race. I had a few Plan Bs in place after my scouting and route running outings and I made Plan Cs, Ds and Es on the spot to avoid the worst and keep the unavoidable sections to a minimum. Even though some sections were decidedly grassy, the runners had little risk of clipping a rock as underfoot the ground is even and runnable throughout.
The second half of the long course passes through older forest sections that are higher up. They have more established tracks that are tranquil and brilliant to run on. This made for a long section of good, open running until the route returned to the lower wetland areas.
In a meeting with Komatiland Forests they have offered assistance with grass cutting next year, which they have to do anyway in the lead up to the fire season that starts in April. I’m hoping to be as much on my original-planned route as possible.
A big mistake I made was to have such a tasty and well-stocked halfway point that was only 1.6km from the finish!
This meant that a bunch of runners, who could have continued, opted to run through to the finish instead of tackling another 30km. But, the location was convenient for those runners who were having a tough day and battling with the heat and altitude. You can be assured that the halfway point will be at a non-disclosed distance from the finish next year…
It seems that many of the spectators were keen to run/walk a short route and then meet their runners at the finish. I’ll definitely look at a 10-12km route for them.
A half-distance route will stay as a stand-alone entry category but the ultra-distance course will be Forest Run’s main event.
Only three Relay Pairs ran the race as a relay pair. The other few pairs decided to run the 32km route – separately or together. I had it in mind that this relay entry option would especially be a convenient option for those running partners with children so that they could take turns running and babysitting. With the half-distance route becoming a fixture, the Relay Pair option will likely fall away next year.
I used kilometres of tape to mark the route, which my dear helpers had to collect as they swept the course from the back. General consensus is that the route was very well marked and that turns were mainly missed by zoned-out runners or those that were chatting too much. In general, if a tag wasn’t seen every few minutes or, in many cases, every 100-metres or so, alarm bells should have started ringing. The participants who kept going to 30-minutes without seeing a tag… I’m just glad they had their compulsory cell phone on hand to call in. We did our best to re-direct or pick up off-course runners and to get them back on track.
The Notable Puppy Rescue
When the leading pair of Quintin Honey and Karel Burger came through the 5.5km spectator point, Karel’s three-month old Jack Russell puppy ran after him. Running at a 4:00 pace, Karel didn’t see the puppy bounding after him. His wife, Allie, gave chase when the puppy kept going. She saw the puppy heading into the forest but couldn’t catch it.
The pair of Kirsten Leemans and Adrian Lazar then came through, followed by a group of runners. One of the runners in this group, Gary Laue, spotted the puppy in the grass off to the side of the track. The poor little thing had passed out! Gary picked up the puppy and started to run back; he ended up back at the Lodge. By the time he phoned me a distressed Allie had returned to her car and she drove up to waterpoint 1 where we immediately sent her back down the paved road to find Gary and the puppy. She drove Gary back up to the route as far as her sedan could get him. The puppy has recovered from its ordeal and Gary finished the 62km in a very credible 7h24, in 7th place. He covered an extra five kilometres.
What? No trophies, medals, tees or prizes?
I love running for running and Forest Run is very much based around what I like; forests and running. And when I chose to enter races things like prizes, trophies, medals and tees are irrelevant. Location, terrain and distance are what counts for me.
All finishers received a hand-sewn fabric bag (perfect for packing small items like socks, jocks, beanies, bras and gloves when you travel) at registration and a young indigenous tree at the finish. The winners in each of the distances (62km, 32km, relay pair – male and female) receive free entry to next year’s event for any distance – and they’re welcome to give their entry to a friend if they can’t make it.
My intention is that Forest Run will never be an event that awards prize money and where items given out at the finish are thoughtful, useful and in keeping with the spirit of the area and the race. There are many magnificent events around the country that offer lovely awards for top placers. The reward of participating in Forest Run, whether winner or last finisher, is a day spent running in these lovely forests.
In recognising some very fine running, congratulations go to these runners for their superb performances:
- 62km Men: 5h08, Kirsten Leemans
- 62km Women: 6h58, Vicky Wagner
- 32km Men: 3h23, Dirk Botha
- 32km Women: 4h11, Gill Lumley
- 62km Relay Pair: 7h47, Cheryl du Sautoy and Ian Tingle
For this first running, Forest Run welcomed 65 starters and many enjoyed the experience of running for long stretches surrounded only by trees. A limited field of 150 runners is likely for 2014. Long term entry numbers will remain low because I so enjoy running in small-field events.
My on-the-day helpers were a wonderfully enthusiastic group of runners who eagerly offered to spend their day assisting at waterpoints and sweeping the route. They beautifully decorated the waterpoints and dressed up in fun outfits. The halfway waterpoint helpers also rubbed down tired legs and got runners moving again to complete the rest of the course. My thanks to Allison Glass, Amelia Beattie (with young Jonlyn and Esna), Fred Richardson, Grant Blair, Kyle Meenehan, Lauren Goulding, Liz de Speville, Marcelle Coetzee, Melanie Blair, Pam Goulding, Sarah Pope , Staci Katsivalis, Sue Belcher and Zelda Coetzee (her lovely photographs are used here).
It’s a wrap
Barely 12hrs after the last runner crossed the finish line and I’m already planning a water drop on the long section, some low-placed tags for tired runners, a new halfway waterpoint location, a short route for spectators and a handful of treats for the runners. Fortunately I’ve got a year to put the pieces together.
My thanks to Komatiland Forests for giving permission for us to run through their plantation; to Lakenvlei Forest Lodge for hosting the start and finish; to Modern Athlete magazine for partnering with Forest Run to promote this event in their monthly publication (and also other trail and run website for publicising this race); to my helpers for their assistance from early morning to late night and especially to the runners who enthusiastically entered this unknown race. I do hope to see these same runners again next year and I look forward to welcoming new participants to this friendly forest.