Wow! 2019! And already February! But it’s never to late to wish everybody a Happy New Year and raise a glass to health, happiness and fun on the trails.
As Runtheberg heads into its sixth year (can you believe it?!) and goes from strength to strength, it’s all thanks to our ever-growing Runtheberg Family – you guys! As a thank you, and in response to something you guys have been asking us for a while, 2019 sees the launch of the eagerly awaited Runtheberg Newsletter. With trail running continuing to grow at a pace, we thought this will be a great platform to keep you abreast of developments and trends in our beloved sport as well as to share some cool insight behind the scenes at Runtheberg.
Trailrunning as a Lifestyle and a Philosophy
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” John Muir
This simple statement encapsulates a big chunk that is the joy and the fulfilment that is trail running. Although running on trails as a modern sporting pastime and in any kind of organised event is a relatively new phenomenon, man has been running in nature since about the time we learned to walk upright. It’s in our genes.
Today’s trail runners are usually not hunting down prey or fleeing from predators, but they retain the primal joy that comes from testing the body, stretching the mind, and being at one with the ancient and immense natural environment. This is the fabled “runners’ high” but so much more. In the endless friendly rivalry between dedicated road runners and committed trail junkies, one of the points of difference that is consistently highlighted is how on the trail there is no such thing as “zoning out”. Or at least not without risking serious injury. We all know that strong talented road runner who sticks their toe into the trail world and does quite well but doesn’t rush back. Often this is because they don’t like the fact that they have to concentrate constantly. Obviously, this is exhausting, and it surprises many runners who have an instinctive energy expenditure budget per kilometre.
Simply put a kilometre’s worth of effort on a trail is, depending on the various aspects of the trail, usually the equivalent of 1.3 to 2 kilometres’ worth of effort on the road. On top of this, the objective demand of constant awareness means that there is very seldom the luxury of being able to retreat into one’s own head, which some road runners enjoy and actually value as their “down time” from the stresses of daily life, whereas the trail runner expands their consciousness OUT of their own head merging with the natural environment that surrounds them, achieving the same but enhanced “down time” effect.
Although it is growing fast on a worldwide basis, trail running remains a niche sport, with event participation limited by necessity as a consequence of the remote locations of most races and the actual number of runners that different trails can accommodate (*).
In addition, not many people are fortunate enough to live close enough to trails to be able to regularly get out and train, whereas pretty much everybody lives on some sort of road or another. As a result, we find that although “extreme sports” in general have become more accepted in the mainstream and event participation becomes more widespread, trail running retains its almost proudly anti-establishment counter culture. This why we love it! And this is why, even as we welcome increasing numbers of road runners to the joys of the trail, it is critical we never lose sight of the wonderful privilege that it is to RUN WILD.
(* By way of our own example, even before opening entries to Runtheberg #1 back in 2014 we capped our entries at 450 runners, ensuring that every participant from the winners to the back markers were guaranteed an awesome all-round experience both on and off the trails. With experience and taking into account a lot of runner feedback, we subsequently increased the limit to 600 runners (in total across both Extreme and Challenge races), and notwithstanding having to regularly turn away entrants, we can say with confidence that Runtheberg remains an awesomely fun authentic mountain running experience.)
For our inaugural Newsletter we thought we would answer the question that so many of you keep asking us year after year. How did Runtheberg come about? Also, it’s a cool story!
Way back in May 2013 I came down from Joburg with fellow trail runner and girlfriend at the time Angela for a weekend of mountain running, hiking, eating and drinking. Staying at the wonderful Montusi Mountain Resort and relaxing in the bar after an inspiring day on the trails, I got into a conversation with Lindsay, one of proprietors and managers at Montusi, and the discussion turned to trail running. At the time, a Google search of “Drakensberg Trail Running” would have come up with the Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge and very little else, and I remember asking Lindsay why they had not organised a trail run event. Lindsay’s reply went something along the lines of that they had kind of thought about it, hadn’t done anything about it, but might be interested to pursue it.
Now at the time, I was on sabbatical, having recently escaped from the quintessential corporate life and had temporarily (I thought at the time) swapped out my suit & tie for trail shoes and a camelbak. Having participated in a few great trail events over the past couple of years, this looked like interesting thing to pursue. Back in JHB I dropped an email to Lindsay who forwarded it to her sister and brother-in-law, Chris & Loretta, who owned and ran the adjacent All Out Adventures Adventure Centre, organised the annual Royal Drakensberg Challenge MTB race as a fundraiser for the local primary school, and maintained the incredible network of trails in the area. Chris was also an avid mountain biker, adrenalin junkie and veteran of some of SA’s top MTB events. They were interested.
Cut to a meeting one month later in the Montusi lounge area and one of the very first principles that have underpinned the event ever since emerged – life is all about gut feel, loyalty and trust, and is way too short to spend time with people or doing things you don’t like. Oh, and laughter! Angela came up with the name and Runtheberg was born.
Armed with the freedom of a literal blank slate, we decided on things like event format, race distances, and, critically, where we wanted to pitch ourselves. We were unanimous from the outset that Runtheberg would be a high-quality professional event where the overall runner experience would never be compromised. On and off the trails. We are pleased to say that this remains one of the core principles of Runtheberg to this day.
The next 15 months was a whirlwind of route planning, trail recces, landowner discussions, vendor-partner meetings, race-shirt designs and road trips. If anybody thinks that trail races just happen, they don’t! It was a huge amount of hard work, but don’t let anyone tell you that hard work can’t be fun! It was!
Lots of road trips between Joburg and the mountains, hours on the trails with my patient partners and my trusty traildogs, hours poring over route maps and elevation profiles working out the optimal positioning of the water tables, getting lost on the mountain and running out of daylight with no headlamp, pre-race route marking, which is at once the toughest and most rewarding parts of any Race Organiser’s life, hours of admin perfecting safety protocols, medical emergency plans, regulatory municipal approvals, registration sheets and goodie bag stuffing……and every time I returned to the mountains I was struck afresh by the near-magical flow of the most technical true mountain running trails I have ever had the pleasure to run on. And that the Runtheberg Extreme really IS Extreme!
One of the other highlights of the Runtheberg phenomenon has been the pleasure of getting to know and working with the Carte, Du Plessis, and Duff families at Montusi Mountain Lodge, and the Carte and Bedingham families at The Cavern Resort and Sungubala Eco Lodge, without whose participation and support our awesome event would not have been possible.
Of course, as anyone involved in any successful venture will tell you, it takes a village. A huge part of the Runtheberg story are the relationships that started at the very beginning of the journey and that continue today. Nutrition partners Racefood, whose fantastic Farbars and Fastbars have become the #proudlysouthafrican staple of trail runners and other athletes across the country (and sometimes the world). Kit partners Anatomic, #proudlysouthafrican manufacturers of high-quality sportswear who have helped our uniquely designed Runtheberg technical race shirts become legends in SA sport.
This was just a small insight into the blood, sweat, fun and laughter that is our story. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
Runtheberg Personality #1
In this feature, which we hope to be a regular, we will highlight some of the colourful characters that have contributed to making Runtheberg the exciting, fun, tough and rewarding adventure that it is.
Our very own local King of the Mountain, Mandla has been part of the race since the beginning. Extreme Champion in 2015, he has competed every year, with a couple of other Runtheberg podium finishes under his belt and even as he heads towards the Veteran category has never finished outside of the Top 6.
But it’s off the trail that Mandla really made his mark on the race. Being one of the senior Northern Drakensberg runners, he has represented the local running community from the start, helping both Organisers and runners to set up the Runtheberg Community Runner initiative. The success of this is evident in the consistent presence on the Runtheberg podium of up and coming young local trail stars, some of whom have gained enough exposure to go on and get mentorship and sponsorship support enabling them to compete nationally.
In addition, Mandla has been pivotal in helping us ensure that our fantastic annual Community Shoe Drive is as effective as it can be, getting the shoes onto the feet of deserving runners in the region. Finally, in addition to training and working as a forest fire-fighter, he has been instrumental in setting up and driving the local Drakensberg Amakhaya Sporting initiative, which helps identify, coach and support young sporting talent in this remote mountain community.
Thank you Mandla Mncube for being part of our story. Ngiyabonga uliqhawe!
In this segment, hopefully another future regular, we will feature one of the very special accommodation options that abound in the Runtheberg Valley and surrounds, and that all contribute in their own unique way to the unforgettable experience that is a Runtheberg weekend.
The Cavern Drakensberg Resort & Spa
We thought it only fitting to kick off the accommodation feature with The Cavern. After all our Day One Start is on the hotel’s front lawn!
One of the oldest resorts in the Drakensberg mountains, The Cavern began its life as the simple, rustic homestead in 1941. In the 1970’s Carte brothers Peter and Anthony took over from their parents Bill and Ruth, and together with their pioneering wives Rhona and Jean grew The Cavern from a small guest farm into a thriving resort. The resort was always about active family fun and friendship, and was a great place for the 7 Carte cousins to grow up. (*Footnote: Runtheberg partner Loretta, mentioned above, is one of the 7 cousins!)
Decades later the formula of adventure, mountains, family and fun remains a winning one, and the upgraded, updated Cavern phenomenon continues to be one of the icons of Drakensberg resorts. It is now excellently run by the 3rd generation, Hilton & Megan Bedingham and Lesley Carte.
The Cavern offers a wide variety of rooms and suites, as well as a host of family accommodation options, providing something for pretty much everyone. Their dining room and pub are legendary throughout the country, and the range of activities on offer will ensure that from toddlers all the way to extreme adventure junkies, no one will go home bored.
The Cavern has been and remains a big part of the Runtheberg story. It is an ideal accommodation choice for your Runtheberg weekend, but be warned, it fills up fast so book early.
The Cavern Drakensberg Resort & Spa continues to earn its nickname: The resort of many happy returns.
That’s it for now! Happy trail running and mountain adventuring. Don’t forget to get your entries for Runtheberg 2019 in early and remember that we’ve gone back to our original race weekend, which this year is 28 & 29 September 2019.
See you in the Berg!
The Runtheberg Team