This 22km trail challenge,
started in 2004 by Richard Sutton and Ken Finlay, follows what they say is the old path that fishermen used to walk between Hout Bay - the once small fishing village nestled between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean - and the Kalk Bay harbour in years gone by. This they did whenever the weather in Hout Bay was too poor for fishing.
Described by many as “one of the most beautiful races in the country”, the Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge recently took place on some of the most spectacular trails the mountainous Cape Peninsular has to offer.
Now an annual event, it alternates its race direction between Hout Bay and Fishoek, taking runners across the Silvermine National Reserve and over the Kalk Bay and Constantiaberg Mountains, thus providing a stern test no matter which direction is tackled. Billed as a Trail Challenge, it is slightly different to many other trail events on offer in the Cape. The reason being that not only do all competitors need to be self-sufficient, but the entire
route is unmarked and competitors need to navigate themselves from start to finish using a route booklet provided at the pre-race briefing. Many competitors will confess a prerace scouting is essential to ensure the correct track can be found in inclement weather, which was somewhat the case in 2011. Along the route runners are also required to “clip in” using their “Race Passport” at the numerous Passport
Controls (PC) scattered along the route, collecting a hefty 10 minute penalty if an incomplete passport is handed in at the finish. This along with the extensive list of mandatory kit that runner’s are required to carry with them all adds to the “challenge” undertaken by competitors. However, the comprehensive pre-race briefing and route booklet help to ensure competitors can stay on the right track and arrive safely off the mountain. April-May 2012
...the entire route is unmarked and competitors need to navigate themselves from start to finish using a route booklet provided at the prerace briefing.
The 2011 Route “The Down Run”
This year the race started in Hout Bay and is referred to by many as the “down run”. Which is somewhat debatable considering the skyward bound profile within the first 6km, and the fact that the race starts and ends at sea level, however, it earned its name because the majority of the 22km’s is in fact downhill. The start this year was slightly changed and took place further down the Hout Bay beach to avoid the environmental hazard that is the Disa River - the beleaguered river that flows into the bay. This meant the challenge, very slightly shortened, started immediately with a soft and cambered 1km beach run into a strong headwind. 20
From there participants joined Chapman’s Peak Drive for a brief jaunt before turning off to head up the Blackburn Ravine trail, and this is where the race gets interesting. Over 600 metres of vertical ascent must be tackled in the first 6km to summit Blackburn Ravine and to arrive at the first PC of the day. This is a backbreaking and relentless climb, but for those with the time or inclination for an appreciation stop, the view back over the bay, with the ever-vigilant Sentinel, is always truly special. Once at the top, the mist not only blotted out the distracting beauty of the landscape, but also added an extra
dimension to the challenge in terms of navigation. Runners had to negotiate a rocky path and jeep track down to Silvermine Dam, where an electronic check point awaited. The route then wound its way down the fast and technical Silvermine river path and board walks to the next PC before heading across Ou Kaapse Weg and on to the second half of the course. Runners had to be alert at all times for the PCs, which were simply little card punches dangling from a tree and marked by bunting. If you’re not paying attention they are easy to miss.
After a short stretch on undulating jeep track, another steep ascent was tackled before participants arrived at the top of Kalkbaaiberg - the brim of the renowned “Amphitheatre” and the final summit of the day. Still engulfed in mist, this was where many a runner went astray - even those who have done the race before managed to deviate from the route and voices could be heard echoing from all directions.
From there the trail plunged steeply down through “Echo valley” on one of the sandiest, rockiest, and most slippery trails around, testing oneís co-ordination and ankle agility to the max. After descending approx. 400 vertical metres, the trail ended abruptly at Boyes Drive.
All that remained was a 2km dash along the tar road to Fish Hoek Beach and a final 1km of energy-sapping beach running before crossing the finish line at the Fish Hoek Surf Club. April-May 2012
Cas Van Aardenne (CVA): How did you become the organiser of the event, how did you hear of the route etc? Claire Ashworth (CA): Richard Sutton - my brother started it a couple of years after he started the Hout Bay Trail Challenge, he then left to go to the UK and asked if I would take over the running of this event and the HBTC - at that stage they were a lot smaller than they are currently and I didnít know what exactly I was getting myself into. 8 years later this event has grown hugely, even though the number of runners in the event hasnít changed, just due to the popularity of the event and the interest in it.
CVA: What do you think makes the event so popular and creates a spirit of the event? CA: The route - it is very scenic and I feel it is also the adventure/challenge of the event. It is a self-sufficient event which makes it different from other trail races. The runners the majority are all out there to have a good day out on the mountain and really do add to the spirit of the event. We have great sponsors like New Balance who supply us with great technical shirts and hats for the runners, which people love.
CVA: Why do you not mark the route? CA: The idea behind the race is for it to be a challenge, hence we do not mark the route and self navigation is required, with the help of a map that is supplied to each participant with a very detailed route description. We try
and make it a bit more exciting by not letting people have the route or know where all the PC points are. In years to come we will be looking at making changes to the route in order to try and keep it exciting and more of a challenge.
CVA: Describe some of the challenges the runners will face. CA: Reading! Navigating their way across the mountain when they have not read their route map nor attended the race briefing. Many people get lost, but that too is part of the challenge, and many people see it as that. In the past I used to get a lot of complaints about why the route is not marked but as the years have gone by people have come to see the race as a challenge and not expect it to be marked. Then there ís the weather - if it is overcast or pouring with rain it can be very disorientating, yet here are some that love it when it is overcast. Another challenge some find is having to carry all the equipment I make mandatory. The equipment is there for the runners own safety - not mine and it adds to the adventure.
But carrying one’s own first aid kit really proved worthwhile in this year’s event as we had a guy fall on the Silvermine River walk and split his knee open. His bandage and others’ were put to good use until the medic arrived on the scene and we got him off the mountain.
And the lastly, actually getting to the race. This is always an issue for me and the runners as we are limited to 250 runners by SANPARKS/TMNP. I try and make the entry system as fair as possible but no matter what system one uses I have come to realize there are always going to be unhappy people. The reasons behind the entry system I use is this: I invite the past winners back to keep the competition alive. And with that I have some wildcard entries which I use to invite top athletes (Like Allen Benn) to enter that would otherwise end up at the bottom of the waiting list and take 2 years to get a spot. The waiting list is to allow novices to enter. Past participants are always great to have back as they are the ones that spread the word to others and have made the event what it is today- thanks to them, but I can’t only offer places to all the past participants otherwise we would get very few new faces coming through, so I give the past participants preferential entry, by allowing them to enter first.
CVA: What efforts has the race organisation done over the years to preserve the trail and parts of the mountain used for the race? Does the race get involved with any charities? CA: Sports4u has always collected donations from runners for TMNP path Maintenance and I then put the money into specific TMNP projects. Over the years we have assisted in improving signage in the Silvermine area, path maintenance of Blackburn Ravine when we first started, Llandudno Ravine and Suther Peak hand holds.This year’s money will be used for Suther Peak path maintenance, which is a big project. The path from Suther Peak
down to the dunes above Sandy Bay was never really a path but with the increase in trail running this has now become a path and we are in the process of formalising and building a proper path. Hout Bay Trail Challenge is supporting 2 educational based charities - Journey Trails and BrightStart and I hope to do the same with OFTC next year.
CVA: Does the event get support from National Parks and do you work with them at all? CA: TMNP supports my events fully. Every year I submit an environmental management plan to TMNP for scrutiny, without that they will not issue me a permit, which I pay for. I am in constant communication with the parks and make sure we get their permission for everything, even if it is to have a coffee vendor at the half way point. Then there is the city of CT that one has to work with as well. All events are required to fill in an events form. This form covers things like traffic issues, health and safety, and environmental issues (branding). In the past we never had traffic officers at the Ou Kaapse Weg crossing, but the City of CT insisted that they were present, this is for the protection of both runners and vehicles using the road.
CVA: Why is there a cap on entries? Has any environmental impact assessment been done? CA:The cap on numbers is both for safety and for protection of the mountain. I have not done any environmental study - due to lack of funding but would like to do one as soon as I get the funds, but I have seen what trail
runners have done to Suther Peak path and can say that we do unfortunately have an impact to a certain degree. Trail running was started to get off the road and away from the crowds that do road running, so that is another reason why we keep the numbers down. We mustn’t forget that generally you don’t get 250 hikers hiking across the mountain. Hikers tend to hike in small groups, hence they are not seen as a problem. Cyclists, horse riders, and dog walkers are restricted to where they can go due to the impact they have not only on the mountain but also on other users of the mountain. Trail runners need to be aware of this and realise that if we continue running in very large social groups we will also have restrictions put on us. As much as we all feel the mountain is free, it is not. Someone built the paths we run on, someone maintains the paths and that someone is SANParks. We need to respect this, which most trail runners don’t.
CVA: Where do you see the event and trail running in 10 years time CA: If you asked me 10 years
ago if I would be running this kind of event I would have said no. I hope to see OFTC still on the trail calendar and being enjoyed as much then as it is now. I would like to bring back some of the adventure with the event by changing the route every year slightly to keep things exciting.
So How Did The 2011 Race Unfold? With some of the best names in trail running on the beach start line, and with clouds and mist looming on the mountains ahead, this year’s event proved once again to have all the ingredients of what trail running encompasses, and reinforced why The Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge is on many a trail running enthusiast’s bucket list. In the men’s race the three leaders of Ryan Sandes, Nicholas Rapanga (both Salomon Racing Athletes) and Allan Benn took an unbelievable 40mins to reach the top of Blackburn Ravine. After this point the lead changed hands numerous times as the trail wound its way to the second half of the course, but it was Sandes who made the most use of his technical downhill skills on the final descent and emerged first out of the mist onto Boyes Drive. Sandes then held on to record his first Fisherman’s Trail Challenge title in a new record time of 1hr 39min, albeit on a slightly shorter course. Benn and Rapanga (2nd and 3rd respectively) both seemed to have come unstuck in the misty and slippery course conditions.
While in the women’s race Katya Saggot lead from the gun but with mist clouding most of the second part of the course she missed a crucial path leading up to the final summit just below Kalkbaaiberg. This allowed the ever present Michelle Lombardi (Salomon Racing) to romp home to an impressive 6th Fisherman’s title in 1hr58mins. Saggot fortunately realised her mistake and recovered to finish in second ahead of Robyn Ferrar.
Overall, of the 221 competitors that started the event, 216 successfully crossed the finish line. By the look on the faces of the final few finishers, as well as the variety of stories being told about the wet and misty conditions, this year’s race delivered a huge sense of accomplishment to all those that completed this challenge. And we now all eagerly await next year’s “Up run”, that is if we can obtain an entry when they open around February next year!!! 24
So what did fellow competitors have to say about the event and this year’s race?
Being only 22km, I have always considered the Fishermanís Trail Challenge to be too short for me, but it must be one of the most beautiful trail races in the country. Thanks to everyone for your support and well done to all the other runners out there today - you guys rocked! Ryan Sandes, 2011 winner
Make sure you know the route or stick with someone who does - it’s easy to go the wrong way. This year I took the wrong path in the mist and although I quickly realised my mistake, others weren’t so lucky.
Robyn Ferrar, 3rd placed lady home (offering some valuable advice for first timers)
The Fisherman’s trail run is special 4 me because the route suits my training, it has that steep section up Blackburn Ravine - a good tester for my strength.
Nicholas Rupanga, 3-time podium finisher
I really enjoyed the run, the wind and mist encountered made it all that much more of a challenge.† You notes on the route were very descriptive so I had no problems with navigation, but from the a few queries I had from fellow competitors I am not sure if they had even read them! Peter Rogers
I’ve always loved Fisherman’s. Its a special race for me as I’ve won it 6 times now and really love the route. It never feels the same as itís run in 2 directions and I also never run on the route in the year so I never get bored of it.
Michelle Lombardi, 2011 winner
CREDITS Images > Bob Smith, Luke Warren and Garth Evans April-May 2012
I took up the
challenge and just loved it. What a marvellous feeling it was, it was like being given a pair of wings and being able to fly, the best feeling in the world.
Having been born in Singapore
to British parents, her father
a British Army Colonel, Mimi’s earlier childhood was spent growing up in foreign lands including Germany and Norway. Returning to Britain when she was about nine years old, Edinburgh was the next port of call and through her school days, Mimi enjoyed various team sports including hockey, netball and rounders. She even boasts a House captaincy in her final year, winning the house cup.
It was only in 1999 that Mimi however that developed her passion for running and would you believe it, because someone had told her that the best way to get thinner legs was to run. Having taught herself to run on a treadmill, Mimi then began running and competing in 10k and half marathon events. Some of earlier running experiences include joining a group of running friends from the gym to tackle the 10mile long Cukoo Trail in East Sussex. “I had a momentary panic as this was firstly 7 miles more than I had done before and secondly it had never occurred to me that people actually ran outside!” Mimi comments. “I took up the challenge and just loved it.
What a marvellous feeling it was, it was like being given a pair of wings and being able to fly, the best feeling in the world.” Two years later, and with no real experience, her first ultra marathon beckoned, the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco (she explains what happened in that race in her Q+A that follows). “The rest they say is history” she jokes, and today Mimi is regarded as one of the top women’s ultra runners in Britain and indeed throughout the world with some impressive races under her belt including her overall wins at both the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon and Namib Desert Challenge.
the longest day I was forced to stop during the night and sleep (which wasnít the plan) as everything I ate or drank came out both ends! However, I completed the race (racing under the team name of Tuff Muthers) and once back at the hotel at a further 5 bags of IV and strong antibiotics! When I got home I remember sitting with my feet up thinking “If I can do that feeling that ill, what can I achieve feeling 100 percent?” the rest as they say is history!) GT: We assume that one of the major factors that assists and drives an ultra-distance runner is their mental attitude. How would you describe the importance of your own mental preparation, and what would be some of the mental challenges you face in this process?
Go Trail (GT): In a conversation we had with you recently you said that the longest distance youíd ever run was a half marathon before entering your first ultra, the Marathon Des Sables. Thinking back to that exact occasion, what do you think it was that drew you to ultra-trail running, and how did you get through that first one? Mimi Anderson (MA): I remember the occasion as if it was yesterday! I was doing weights at the gym when my running partner came up to me, handed me a magazine and said “I’ve found our next race” I smiled, took the magazine looked at what she had circled laughed and threw it onto the ground thinking WHAT planet did she live on! However, once home I researched the race and couldnít think of a reason why I shouldnít give it a go, simple as that!! During the race I was extremely ill, had to have 5 bags of IV on day 3 the day before the longest day, on 28 18
MA: Mental preparation is extremely important, just as important as the training. As part of my mental preparation for any event I do a lot of research into the race, ask questions, look at photos, videos etc this gives me a picture in my mind of what to expect. I go through different situations that could happen during a race and how Iím going to cope with them. In a long race I never think of the total distance, if I had done this for my World Record (1,352 km) I wouldnít have even put my trainers on! I take one day at a time and even break the day up into sections so it becomes one section at a time, makes it easier to cope with. Mentally the toughest challenge so far was my World Record, I had to run on average 110 km per day. On the penultimate day I woke up at 4.30am to start running as usual at 5am - my body was extremely swollen, everything ached, I was SO tired, my feet were HUGE and I didnít want to move. My first 4 hour stint of the morning was unbelievably painful and slow, I couldnít get into a run and mentally I felt as if I was flat lining but I knew I had to keep going, I had to get this record. My mental preparation really helped me here as I had gone through exactly this situation in my mind before hand and by the time I started my 2nd 4 hour stint I was back to running and positive again.
GT: When arriving at the start of an ultra-trail race, letís take the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon as an example, what are some of the first things that go through your mind and what is your ritual before day one? MA: I always worry, well worry is an understatement I go into more of a panic! Have I done enough training, am I fast enough, am I good enough, will I like my food choice, have I forgotten something, all the usual things that go through runners minds. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve my goal of the race but I never tell anyone else what my goals are, it feels unlucky to do so! Outwardly I appear quite laid back and relaxed but inside Iím a bundle of nervous! The night before a race I never sleep well as I run the race in my mind over and over again waking up exhausted because of the miles my legs have run during the night!! GT: In the last issue of Go Trail, we discussed the importance of recovery. How do you structure your recovery and what are some of the more important aspects that you tend to adopt during a recovery period? MA: After a race I always have a sports massage booked, this is usually a few days after the event as I have to fly home. Depending on the length of the race I will take a certain time off running, for example a 160km race I wonít run for about a week ñ more if necessary, I have learnt to listen to my body! During my no running period I will have approx 3 days when I do not exercise at all, then return to the gym where I cross train. During this time I will also make sure I’m properly rehydrated and try and eat more as I have usually lost weight which isnít good when I go back to training. When Iím ready to run again I will have a week of easy running before going back into my programme in preparation for the next race.
CREDITS Images > Bob Smith
2005 Won the 75km Transkei Trek as the top female competitor with a time of 5h40.
2007 Runner-up in the womenâ€™s division of the Berg Ballbreaker, despite a twisted ankle.
2010 Won the Go Trail race through the Umdoni Forest in Pennington, KwaZulu-Natal, besting many female international racers.