We will not forget
It was a Trail Town experience none of the 600 athletes at the Bayport Phoenix Featherbed Trail Run will ever forget. The 4km of pristine beach between the villages of Buffalo Bay and Brenton on Sea are among the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world.
This area was spectacularly displayed on race morning as participants gazed out across the beautiful blue waters of the bay and tried to envisage the scene of terror from just 34 days earlier.
The Phoenix rises at Trail Town
Every race organiser’s worst nightmare is for something catastrophic to happen on race day.
Although this didn’t happen at the 10th edition of the iconic Featherbed Trail Run, a terrible tragedy did happen at a time that was nearly as bad – a month before, when it seemed all systems were go.
Starting on 7 June, huge fires in the greater Knysna area claimed six lives, destroyed over 1,000 homes, and caused ecosystem damage that will be seen for years to come.
Included in the tally was the dense vegetation in the Featherbed Nature Reserve on the Western Heads. It all burned to the water’s edge, including the ferry jetty, which was needed to disembark trail runners at the race start.
Fortunately, good can be born from bad, and kind people made quick plans.
The result? The Featherbed Trail Run would go ahead, with a new title sponsor: Bayport (a finance services company that provides personal loans), and a new start venue at Buffalo Bay. Long-time sponsor Featherbed (the ferry tour operator in the Knysna lagoon) would stay on board with their Cruise Café as the finish venue.
Trail runners across South Africa, from the Cape to Limpopo, also saw the need to support Knysna in this time of need.
Kerry Byerley of Kyalami gave the Trail Town event five stars on Facebook and said: “What a fabulous event! We did the 11km Phoenix Featherbed Seahorse Run. It was so well organised, run by friendly people who deserve praise for finding an alternative route!
“Running through the burned terrain was a very humbling experience. Certainly one to be remembered.”
And more good news? A full 25% of ticket sales were directed back at the regeneration of the Knysna area – meaning R60,000 was split 50/50 for human and environmental charities.
With all that admin sorted, all that remained was for everyone to have fun, including a new race experience: a mini-bus taxi ride to the start at Buffalo Bay. I jumped in one, and as we rode through what was once lush coastal fynbos, and saw the devastation, the taxi grew quiet.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny winter’s day (despite a slightly nippy breeze), and the vibe on the Trail Town beach was one of excitement. After another of race director Mark Collins’ always-inspiring talks, the first of three race options, the 21km Great White, took off at speed.
At the front of this human river was Melikhaya Msizi, who was having quite the week! He’d won the 12km Simola Phantom on Saturday night, and guess what? His good form continued, and he won the 21km in a quick 1h39min. Shaun Gregory crossed the line nine minutes later, followed by Marsel Roos.
In the women’s race, Michelle Van Zyl was well ahead of second and third women Tammy Starck and Nicky Mills, who finished seconds apart. Michelle placed seventh overall in 2h07min.
An otherworldly experience
The plantations around Simola still had a few smouldering tree remains more than a month after the fires, so it was a small miracle that the Phantom Night Trail Run presented by Ledlenser even took place. If you were one of the 360 entries, you were part of the healing!
Described by Trail Town organisers Magnetic South as an avant-garde blend of trail running and opera music, the Simola Phantom took place on a beautiful full moonlit night as one of the events of the 2017 Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival.
Cathy Attenborough from Port Elizabeth ran her first Phantom. “I absolutely loved the Simola Night Run. It was so well organised and well marked. I never once felt like I might be lost (it happens to me quite a lot). I did the 12km route and ran most of it on my own, as I’m a back of the pack runner.
“At the halfway mark I almost had to bail as I hadn’t realised my kids had played with my torch, so it died. Thank heavens for Sian O’Keeffe who came to my rescue and lent me his torch so I was able to finish the run.
“Running along with the light from the full moon and hearing the opera singers through the forest was a wonderful experience.
“Also having a facility that looked after the kids while we ran provided peace of mind. A beer and supper (included in the entry) at the end was a nice way to end off a perfect evening.
“There were some very tough hills but you couldn’t see them, so the effort seemed less severe.
“I am fairly new to night running. This was the longest night run I’ve done so far. I’ve done about three or four prior to this, with 6km probably the furthest.
“I am terrified of the dark and this was a challenge to myself to prove there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“(Except maybe the bat that flew into me, or the eyes that watched me from under the bush. It just made me run faster.)
“I highly recommend it!”
Phantom race results available here.
See you in 2018 for another miracle?