Is it a race? Is it a run? Is it even possible? “Proper” said Dave. “Big” managed Steve. “Holy f%#!” came from a few others. These are not trails to tackle lightly.
Both the Merrell Whale of Trail and Merrell Hobbit routes are too taxing, too technical and too sublimely beautiful to blindly race at full speed. Both the trail and the environment demand one’s full presence and respect. And both attract the kind of participants that Mountain Runner Events organisers enjoy hosting. Well known multi-sport athletes Graham Bird and Tatum Prins discuss their reasons for putting on small races with big heart.
“They say the biggest challenge of life is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you be like everybody else. Challenge accepted! We were told to brand it, hype it, go big, offer massive prize money and double the entry fee. We do the opposite and the people who genuinely, simply, love being out there, find us. Every single person has their reason for attempting this and every achievement is a celebration.
The Hobbit Journey is very close to our hearts, a favourite for many reasons. The 90km of single track path is normally tackled over six days as the Amathole Hiking Trail. We select only 30 people (those who want to join must apply) to run the full route over two days, with an overnight stop in a mountain hut. The camaraderie is awesome amongst the group here, sharing a hot meal and all their stories around the fire before crashing off to bed, ready for the next day’s dawn start.”
Passing through dense indigenous forests, plantations, rocky outcrops and open mountain grasslands, across many streams and past cascading waterfalls, the small band of athletes have plenty of time and space for the contemplation and solitude that only a mountain range can evoke.
So it’s the true adventurers who travel for this experience. Searching for the personal touch that is so often lost at many large races, and finding how deep within themselves they have to plunge to climb 4800m of ascent.
Of the other races that Hobbit long weekend, the 38km has developed a bit of a cult following, and completion of this is worn as a badge of trail running honour. It is acknowledged as being the ‘most value per kilometre’ trail run in the country, making up in challenging terrain what it lacks in pure distance.
The 16km and 5km routes are neither flat nor easy, but very doable and see a mixture of racing snakes and casual runners, young and old, all loving the magical vibe of the forest along well marked routes back to the race village at the charming Arminel Hotel.
The Merrell Whale of Trail accepts more entrants, but still less than the prescribed limit set by CapeNature, because they do not want to put too much pressure on the iconic coastal trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Just 175 athletes get to traverse the 53km smorgasbord of mountain and seaside delights, combining undulating rocky ridges, steep climbs, relentless sandy beaches and flowing fynbos paths.
“This is the WOW one. From scenery to wildlife to all round brutal rawness, Whale is a killer. It’s super tough to do this 5 day route between one sunrise and sunset and I get so emotional watching people cross that finish because each one has pushed away so many demons to get there.”
Some wait until they feel physically confident and then gamble on the chance of a late entry or substitution – it’s always worth enquiring – but others commit to the race long in advance and then make sure they get themselves fit enough. That is a journey in itself and excellent motivation to accomplish something you never thought possible – whether that be winning or finishing.
Just decide to try!
Entries for both events open on 15 October 2016 with all details on the websites.
Merrell Hobbit Journey 90km – 28 & 29 April 2017 (Long weekend)
Merrell Whale of Trail 53km – 29 July 2017