The Knysna Oyster Festival and Big5 Challenge.

Featherbed Trail run views were picturesque  Photo Credit: Jacques Marais

Featherbed Trail run views were picturesque
Photo Credit: Jacques Marais

Back in 2010, after my very first Ironman South Africa I thought I was tough enough to go tame the Big5 Challenge, which at that stage was in its inaugural year.

Bad luck struck our very young family at that stage and we had to cut our visit to the most beautiful South Coast town short after spending a night in the hospital with our 2 year old daughter and al three of us going home feeling very sorry for ourselves after picking up food poisoning.

Four years later it was time to build new memories, not that we haven’t been back to Knysna at all.  As family we visit Knysna as often as possible and were in town as early as February for the Garden Route 300 in preparation for the taxing ABSA Cape Epic.

Oyster Fest MTB Challenge 2013
The Big5 Challenge

Most athletes and sports crusaders out there travels to Knysna either the first weekend or the second weekend when the two main sporting events takes place, then you get a special type of individual that uses up all his annual leave to go tame the Big5 Challenge.

The Knysna Oyster Festival and Big5 Challenge kicks off with the Momentum Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour – 80km MTB race and ends with the Momentum Cape Times Knysna Forest Half Marathon- 21km or Full Marathon- 42km. In the days between these two tough events we had to choose from the following events for the Sunday:

  • Momentum Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour – 100km Road race
  • Knysna Lagoon Challenge 22 km paddle race
  • Knysna Dragons Lagoon mile Swim

Salomon Featherbed Trail Run presented by GU – Coelacanth – 14km on the Tuesday and the Totalsports XTERRA presented by REHIDRAT – Full distance (Trail Run: 3km; MTB: 23km; Trail Run: 7km) on the Thursday.

The Journey

Our bags were packed and the journey has started. Traveling from Cape Town to Knysna takes you around 5 hours and suppose by now I was able to do it with my eyes closed.

We arrived late the Friday evening and one could already feel the joyful atmosphere as you entered Knysna. The Premier Hotel received us with big smiles, which also was the norm throughout our entire visit. Must be the most amazing staff I have ever met, nothing was ever to much and their service was astonishing… not to mention the restaurants and homely accommodation that was out of this world.

Oyster Fest MTB Challenge 2013

Deep into the Knysna Forest.


5 July 2014
– Day1: MTB

With a all night rain fall and being very windy we were set for a thrilling prospect in the morning, but it was the total opposite as the sky opened up for us. I left home still pitch dark, freezing cold and windy making my way to the start. The short cycle to the race venue gave me a good warm-up but it was to no reward, as we had to wait in the starting shoot as per normal, losing all the body heat and quickly starting to freeze again.

Next to me was a man with a bottle of OBS, I was so tempted!

The start was manageable as we tried to find our rhythm and slowly getting the feeling back into the body. I kept it easy going up Simola Hill and the Gouna Pass but after looking at my Strava Analysis I realised that I completely over cooked it and was clearly also the reason why my legs came off at around the 26km mark. I have not struggled so much on a mountain bike, just peddling itself was the toughest thing on earth for me. I recall at one stage not being able to cycle faster than 10km/h. The water points were at all the right locations on the day, which made me survive this personal battle. Around 56km I got to a halt, there was this petite climb and I had no determination to approach it, at the same time another cyclist asked me if I was also “walling”!

I replied: Walling? That I did 20km back my friend. This was the end of the end, the point of no return!

This was the perfect time in the race for me to take a crack at the 32Gi Gel I had with me. 32Gi had just launched their new energy gel and I decided this would be the perfect time to test this little bomb. It took around 5km to kick-start my finish sprint, I even managed to climb the “toughest” climb of the day… nominated by a very friendly marshal. If the race consisted of only the 1st 25km and the final 25km I suppose I would have had a much better day but unfortunately that was not the case. I crossed the line in around 4h30min ending a tough day and solid ride in the saddle.

The Momentum Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour (MTB) route caters for all abilities with very little technical sections, no real massive climbs or scary descents.

77,5km with a total climb of 1750m, a perfect combination.

If only I was much stronger at this stage of the battle it would have been a fantastic cycle route to give horns. The Garden Route and especially Knysna offers us some of the best riding in South Africa with so many diverse terrains in one race. I’m unquestionably in love with the damp routes and tree covered tracks, it makes for such smooth riding and also hides you from all aspects of nature like sun, rain and wind.

I would encourage all cyclists that did the 56km race to upgrade next year and make it a must do on your list of events.

Swim

Perfect winters morning captured by Fine Places, Thereza

6 July 2014 – Day2: Open Water Swim

It was a perfect morning for a 1.85km (1 Nautical Mile) swim in water with a temperature of around the 11.5degrees. The sun was out by 9am but it was still well below 9degrees and luckily the wind only started picking up after the start of the swim. 
Today was always going to be a big test for me as I have done almost no swimming in preparation and haven’t been in open water or my wetsuit since October 2013. 
The 1st 700m and final 700m was freezing cold, but the section around the Island in the harbor was truly enjoyable and smooth swimming.

The organisers would really spoil us should they rather consider doing laps around the Island, mostly near perfect water, no current and warm-ish water. 
I had a great swim, no pressure and just enjoyed every stroke finishing in 39min over 1.9km (according to my Garmin), which was my goal (2min/100m for the more technical people).

Still felt very fresh with 3 more events to go.

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Jeannie, David and Chantel ready to approach the rainstorm.


7 July 2014

We received an invitation to do the FNB Family Hike at Harkerville about 15mins east from Knysna.

We managed to arranged for Jeannie to run the 11km route with Chantel Rall and David Bellairs while I was planning on doing the Fairies and Gnomes hunt which was around a 3km hike with the kids (which I later got to run). Unfortunately the weather did not allow us to go out while the runners was crazy enough to face the appalling cloudburst.

Paul Ingpen from Electric Ink Media and the team from FNB managed to create a fantastic vibe under the freeform tent. Platters were served constantly, we had from starters to deserts while served cappuccinos all day long and even had some local beers on tap. Without a doubt a wonderful family day for everyone and not even the early showers could stop us from having tons of fun catching up with Theunis Hanekom, which I haven’t seen in ages… oh off course, meeting their twin boys was special!

A quick downtime was necessary before the next booking on the itinerary, the Knysna Wine Festival and Night Market with live entertainment by Tigger Reunert. There’s just something about live entertainment that enhances the mood, which most certainly made the wine tasting extra superior. With Christiaan fast asleep in our running pram and Minke managing to hold out till around 8pm, we called it a day and bought two of our preferred wines we tasted, Vrede and Lust – The Red Lady to finish the tasting at home. Only managed to finish the one… probably the reason for the story to come:

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Running on the Featherbed Nature Reserve with its amazing views. Photo Credit: Jacques Marais

8 July 2014 – Day3: Trail Run

Once again an ideal morning for any type of exercise or racing as the sun was out around 8am and Knysna was in full splendor. It was time for the Featherbed Trail Run represented by GU, as Big5 participant we did the 14km while there was a shorter option of 11km cutting out most of the climbs. Thanks to Matty from Magnetic South we managed to get Jeannie a entry for the shorter route at 12h30 which suited our program perfectly as we could alternate the babysitting duties and both having a opportunity to mend our endorphin needs. As it was my first attempt I had no idea what to expect and as we started the climbs took us almost straight to the Vodacom tower at around the 6km mark completing 500m of climbing before we got to the railway line with 4km heading homeward were a very festive finish awaited each and every runner from Stuart Marais (the first runner in the morning event) to the very last runner of the night race.
The route truly was magnificent with breathtaking views.

I knew that 14km would be to much for me to go full throttle, but that didn’t stop me. I was having an incredible run, loving the spectacular views and managing to run almost the entire route, besides the staircase which I suppose only the top athletes were able to run.

This is the part of my blog where I tell you how important nutrition is when doing any type of racing or training.

Being a 32Gi sponsored athlete and not having any excuse why I should ever be short of nutrition, my morning was exactly how NOT TO DO IT!

Hitting a brick wall at pace

I started the morning already a bit dehydrated after the previous evenings wine indulgence, with no breakfast and also leaving my 32Gi Endure at home because I was running behind schedule and being negligent. I was stranded at the start around 8am already on the back foot with no fluids or any type of nutrition and also no water points on route, which I knew.

As we started I felt strong and the plan was to end strong as soon as I hit the 10km mark, but my body told me exactly the opposite as I ran straight into a massive brick wall, so hard that I was begging my fellow runners for fluids or anything to eat not even being able to speak properly. You know you’re at your lowest when Pieter Du Plessis hands you his used gel packet and you start sucking on it like a vampire that have been starved for days. Petrified of collapsing due to dehydration I took it as slow as 7min/km over the final 3km doing a run-walk, I even got flashbacks from my 2012 Ironman and it was definitely not positive.

I came in stumbling in a time of 1h19mins at a very festive Featherbed Cafe, running straight to the breakfast table where I could refuel my body with the necessary nutrients.

Festivities and Entertainment

With an entire day of entertainment at the finish, also being the venue for the Big5 Yellow Jersey Ceremony we were treated with the prize giving and lucky draw.

A proper sized crowd celebrated our current leaders of the Big5 Challenge, Carla Van Huyssteen and Stuart Marais which happened to also win the Trail run respectively.

I once again won a lucky draw prize, Electric Massage Machine, exactly what I need to be in shape for the final two stages, the Xterra and Half Marathon.

9 July 2014

Another recovery day with more adventures as the first event on our itinerary was Whale Watching.

Seems to me that the entire week was supposed to be about wild adventures as this one took us on a wild excursion through the Knysna Heads in very unsettled ocean conditions. We were extremely fortunate to have found two whales, which we managed to follow before we headed home due to bad weather.

One last trip before I had time to have my feet up and prepare for the Xterra Pezula, took the family to Monkey World just outside Plettenberg Bay.

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Always time to smile, but deep down I was hurting.

10 July 2014 – Day4: Xterra

Once again a perfect winters morning, with the Field of Dreams ready for the Xterra Lite, the first event of the day. Michael Lord cleaned up the field and also shattered the course record while Jessica Alcock took top step for the ladies also demolishing the ladies field.

As the Lite came to a finish we all lined up at the start of the Xterra Pezula. The first 3km was hard running and mainly on cement surface with a short climb through single track ending in a super fast descent into T1. The bike started in a brutal pace picking of mountain bikers one at a time. I just loved the 20km route which started with a very tough first 6km with climb after climb and no time to settle into a rhythm, from there on the route had fast descents through muddy patches with more rough surfaces and finishing off with a final last quad breaker into T2. With very little mileage in my legs I knew that the final run was going to be my archenemy and rightly so. I struggled badly up Heartbreak Hill which is a 750m climb that took you straight to the top platform before easing down towards some fantastic flowing single track. I was suffering severely, walking soon became my only option and I eventually got to the cement road that took us towards the Field of Dreams where a big crowd awaited their loved ones, friends and family.

It’s official that Xterra are my preferred triathlon event currently in South Africa. Stillwater Sport really knows how to put together an exceptional event.

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The start of the Knysna Forest Half Marathon.

12 July 2014

We spend the Friday mostly resting and taking it easy after a late night with our neighbors, Brad Brown and Donavan Geldenhuys with their lovely families.

The morning of the race started as early as 4:10am when we met for a short walk to the bus stop from where the entire Knysna taxi community came together transporting us into the Knysna Forest where both the marathon and half marathon started. Luckily we were one of the first to arrive which meant we also managed to secure blankets which later in the day got donated to the local communities and also enable us to secure front row seats next to one of many fires. After a unplanned nap I woke up to a very festive party-like vibe with 8000+ athletes covering the forest like ants looking for food.

As I opted for the half marathon we only started at 8am, one hour later than the marathon guys. Soon the countdown started and the race was on.

My first 11km felt like forever, my running was heavy and I was worried. This was going to be a very long day, but then something happened as my legs found new life at around the 60min mark.

With the plan of running a negative split for the day, it looked like for the first time ever this is going to be possible. I picked up my pace considerably and managed to start my home stretch at around the 15km mark.

Considering the way I felt over the first half of the race I was flying and a sub 100min was looking good for the first time today.

I just once again appreciated how extremely lucky we are to have the ability to do any type of physical activity, we have so much to be thankful for.

After 8 days with 5 demanding events I managed to complete the Big5 Challenge.

The Knysna Oyster Festival 2014 might have been one of the most amazing festivals, holidays and training weeks I have done to date and would encourage every athlete no matter your ability to give this challenge a go and with the Big5 Mini Challenge it really caters for everyone. Knysna has accepted and welcomed us with big smiles and made this journey very special and memories to treasure for life.

Would like to thank everyone involved making this journey possible and most importantly Thereza from Fine Places and Esther from Premier Hotel and without sponsors like 32Gi and Puma racing would never be the same.