By Lisa Nevitt
Photographs by alliancephoto.com
During our drive to the race, dawn broke as Cape Town’s city centre gave way to white Cape Dutch architecture in Somerset West. The strong South-Easter began to subside and the imposing Helderberg was resplendent, illuminated by the early morning light.
We walked to the start line across dewy, rolling lawns. Lourensford was once part of Willem van der Stel’s Vergelegen, established in 1700. Over 300 hectares of vines have been planted within its grounds.
Lining a start line etched into the ground with white chalk were vines yielding plump grapes. And further afield, an abundance of fruit grew – apples, pears and plums. Both the landscape and the stillness appeared without end. This was not the kind of race to be hurried, rather a social trundle in nature’s best.
By using the term ‘social trundle’, I wouldn’t say the race was easy – the most beautiful races seldom are. A 3km climb wound its way upwards into mountain slopes where pine plantations flourished. Contouring jeep tracks and farm roads undulated below the Helderberg Mountains.
It was at the top of the first hill that our hard slog was rewarded. “Look at that view,” Alex enthused. “Those lush green valleys, the way the sun is rising in between the mountains. This trumps any road race.”
On the other side of the pine trees there was a flat section around the calm waters of the Brinksburg Dam – long reeds grew in the shallower depths and there was even a wooden jetty in the far corner. As the sun grew hotter, we were tempted to take a running jump into the cooling waters to join a swimmer and his partner. A rope swing and a wooden hut with a lazy Daschund on its porch wouldn’t have looked amiss.
“They should make swimming from one end of the lake to the other compulsory,” Alex agreed.
Afterwards, the path meandered downwards and we began to pick up speed – a little over confident on the sturdy jeep track, I decided to overtake a runner and propelled into a baseball-style slide. I escaped with only minor scratches and was soon running again; however, a fellow runner wasn’t so lucky at the 17km mark, breaking her arm during a fall. The trail is simple and safe enough, but I would recommend wearing trail shoes (I wasn’t) and to look out for loose stones.
At the Bluegum Dam, lively entertainment was provided by a Scottish bagpipe band wearing colourful tartan kilts. The hill between 8km and 9km was another toughie – Alex and I shared encouraging words as we slowly trudged to the summit.
Marshals handed out celebratory cups of sparkling champagne. We decided to stop, walk and while away the time, sipping refreshing bubbles. From the top, we could see as far as the coastal village of Gordon’s Bay – famous for its white sand, Blue Flag beaches.
The second half was mainly downhill, on easy forest and farm roads, and we joined the 10km runners for the final kilometres. At the finish, we were awarded a medal and I won a lucky draw prize.
Finishers and their families relaxed on rolling lawns in the summer heat, or beneath the shade of their athletic club’s gazebo. A festive family market sold all manner of post-run delicacies, from pancakes to sushi, and there was even a bar selling cold, refreshing beers. A Cool-Down Zone treated tired athletes to a massage after their race and a dietician was on hand for free BMI testing.
Like I said, this is a race, but it shouldn’t be treated like one. The best way to experience it is to take your time – time to enjoy the stunning scenery, or to have a long conversation with a friend. The bagpipe players, champagne, entertaining water tables and festive market is what make this race fun. It’s the ideal end to your running year, before the festive season begins.