With the Cape winter in full swing, RW staffer Alana Munnik looks back to some hotter days spent running the Tankwa Trail. – By Alana Munnik
Usually one associates the Tankwa Karoo with the transformational, life-altering event that happens annually in the region: AfrikaBurn. To be honest, I’ve never associated myself with the idea of being a ‘Burner’. I love art and I love expression, but the idea of a long weekend of blistering, bone-dry heat in the middle of the Karoo just doesn’t appeal to me.
So when my editor stepped up to my desk in early February and offered me an invite to the Tankwa Trail, a three-day stage race later that month, visions of the horrors of Middle Earth came to mind: my body lying in the dirt like the carcass of an animal, dead from extreme exhaustion and desert heat. But I’ve always steered towards the more mountainous races, and the challenge of something new enticed me; so I signed up.
It turned out to be a weekend of pure trail bliss. So instead of giving you a blow-by-blow account of each day of the race, here are some take-outs from an event that offers more than just a few hot days in the sun.
On arriving at the venue, I was immediately taken aback: we were being hosted at Kaleo Manor, which generally caters more for weddings than for sweaty dirtbag runners. But my initial fear – that I’d be thrown out in the middle of a gravel graveyard, equipped with nothing but a little one-man tent – were soon put to rest. The manor is surrounded by beautiful old oak trees and a manicured lawn, the race village perched perfectly under the oaks to provide much-needed shade from the sun when an afternoon nap is in order
The farm is the perfect oasis after a harsh morning in the sun, providing hospitality and a recovery zone like no other. After crossing the finish line, runners can collapse on one of the beanbags scattered about under a marquee, with a ‘sweet table’ selection to replenish those sugar levels after a few hours out on the trail.
Everyday there’s a plesierige banquet-style lunch and dinner, with the favourite – pumpkin pie – lovingly prepared by one of the farm tannies. Rest assured you will convince yourself that you need to carbo-load for the next day of running, and have about three portions.
Tankwa Trail is great for beginners and experienced trail runners alike, with a perfect ratio of singletrack to district jeep track. For road runners and others new to trail running, the technicality of the course provides a relatively smooth introduction – but that doesn’t mean a few rocks and a good dose of sand aren’t thrown into the mix.
I generally prefer slower-moving, technical trails; so for someone like me, the route provides some flat-out running from the start, with fast times to the finish line. Luckily I managed to hone my inner Zola Budd, and revved my engine hard enough on all three days to land myself at the top of the podium for the ladies’ solo category!
The sheer magnitude of the rock formations and valleys of the ancient landscape that is the Tankwa Karoo is hard to put into words. To say it’s ‘otherworldly’ does not do it justice. One moment you’re running through a hot, dry landscape of rock gardens (which lived below the sea, millions of years ago), and the next you disappear into a pine plantation, and come out the other side to face a beautiful orchard of fruit trees.
But the rock formations are by far the stand-out feature, and for me personally, reason enough to attend the event. As ‘hippie’ as it may sound, many other runners will agree that running through the Tankwa landscape makes you feel connected in some way to a kind of prehistoric earth, a land before our time.
The Tankwa reaches proper extremes, on either side of the temperature gauge. Be prepared for both; and don’t underestimate how cold the evenings can be, even at the height of summer.
Straight out of The Gods Must Be Crazy, the temperatures are unforgiving, soaring well above 30 degrees by mid-morning. Clearly, this suits ancient San tribespeople more than city slickers like me. Moving like a fast hunter-gather can be testing, so arrive at the start line equipped with more hydration than a camel. And you need more than just water: to make sure your body’s minerals are in check, a daily electrolyte replacement is crucial if you want to prevent dehydration and cramping.
The event organisers provide plenty en route too, with regular water points offering everything from the traditional Coke, bananas and jelly babies, to local plaaskombuis snacks.
Dryland events are synonymous with delivering a generous amount of gees. You will leave Tankwa Trail feeling like you’ve been adopted into a farming family, where your plate is never empty and a brandy and Coke may even be on the cards for celebrating the last evening.
Each morning, runners wake up to a ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ played over a loudspeaker, and the voice of Carl – aka Raasbekkie – who ‘n lekker raas kan maak. And you’ll still be singing ‘I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier’ on your drive home, and possibly even when you walk back into the office on Monday morning.
Over the three days I witnessed first-hand some sparkling high points: couples encouraging and pulling each other to the finish line, personal goals being achieved, and friendships being formed or reinforced through a whole lot of dirt, sweat and beers.
THE NEXT ONE
Whether you’re an old hand or a newbie, there will be some new features at the 2018 race:
- A course change on Stage 1, which will include a new technical singletrack twist;
- On Stage 2, the formidable MERINO MONSTER, usually only experienced by Tankwa Trek riders: 690 metres of climbing in 7.7 kilometres, followed by a technical singletrack mountain run back to the Kaleo race village.
Click here for more race information and to enter.