• Liezel Short

In the Tracks of Giants - a Review on the Knysna Forest Half Marathon

"To walk in the wake of elephants, to be small in a world of giants, to learn the spoor of silence and the deep rumbling eloquence of kin."

Excerpt from the poem 'In the Tracks of Giants" by Ian McCallum

To run the Knysna Forest Half Marathon has been a bucket list run for over 2 years. We nearly went last year, but reviews of the race being 80% trail & 20% tar somewhat threw us. However, when entries finally open for the 36th Edition in 2019, we were there! It is such a unique race, that you must experience it at least once. This was our first ‘out of town’ race, so after the running & nutrition bag was checked twice and then triple, we were finally on our way.

The Knysna Forest Marathon & Half Marathon is proudly presented by the Knysna Marathon Club. As this race is mid-winter, it is well known for the contribution of blankets of warm clothes from the runners to the less fortunate in the communities. Previously blankets were distributed to the runners as they arrive in the Forest, but this year not, due to no big sponsors. Despite some runners’ groaning on the Runners Community Page (which I founded disgusting), pretty much every runner pitched with a bought blanket. I mean, what is R120 now to buy a blanket for someone that is cold every day of his life? I find this initiative amazing & heart-warming. 8 000 runners donated blankets & warm clothes. Well done to everyone!

Registration took place on Thesen Island, and as we stayed on Thesen Island (excellent planning!) it was only a 1k walk away. Registration was quick & seamless, with lots of friendly locals welcoming us and fabulous goodie bags. The goodie bags were not expected, so it was a nice surprise.

Our accommodation host dropped us off at 05h00 at the start of Vigilante Drive. From there it was still about a 400m walk to the taxis. Now the Taxis is another amazing initiative to involve the Community. You tear your taxi ticket of your number, give it to the collectors and jump into a taxi. They are all neatly lined up and managed properly. Once snug inside with the heater on full blast (and the speakers as well!!) your trip into the Forest finally start. I cannot describe the vibe – energetic, exciting and nervousness all at once.

The taxi drops you off and you start your 1.5K trek to the heart of the starting lines. In the beginning, the walk felt very Blaire Witch – it is so dark, but you can feel the Forest and its Life around you. Slowly the lights start appearing, as well as the music – this is our own Forest Party! You emerge into a big wide-open space – filled with lights, fire, coffee, music & a vibey MC. And off course: Toilet Town. There can never be too many port-a-loos at the Start!!

The Marathon started at 07h00, with the Half only at 08h00 – which meant we had at least 2 hours to kill. It was cold, with a noticeable further drop in temperature between 06h00 & 07h00. We were dressed warm, but somehow the cold chowed my toes! We started throwing off all the layers of clothing about 20 min before the start. It was amazing to see the big trucks filling up with blankets, jackets, even onesies! Apparently, this year was the warmest start to the race in Forever!

08h00 finally arrived and off we went. The start is pretty much on a hill – not as bad as the start at the Safari Half, but still there. From reviews we read, it mentioned hills in the first 3k, then it starts to slack off. Mmmm. No. The whole race was pretty much up & down. And, unlike on a tar race, you can’t always make up time on the down hills, because you need to focus on where you put your foot down. I am naturally a nervous runner with my ankles, hence me not doing trail runs. I found that I really had to concentrate hard and as a result, I missed most of the beautiful scenery. But what I did see – gorgeous forest to my right and Knysna to my left, was memorable. The air was so clean & crisp. The route is not only up & down, but it also does a few zig zags. At one stage we were on a single jeep track dodging pools of water. It was so fun!

What broke my heart was the fact that the race was not #runclean & #carryyourown. The forest floor was littered with plastic sachets around the water points, and even further into the forest – far from the water points. I raised the point with the Knysna Marathon Club that they must really place down more & bigger bins. In fact, just carry your own water.

We emerged victoriously from the Forest by Kilometre 15 – and we knew what was waiting for us: Simola Hill. We drove what we thought Simola Hill was the previous day and thought: what? This is not so bad. Well, we were sadly sadly mistaken. Think of Koesister Hill, just steeper down & longer. I could not run it. Many runners walk it backwards – I would not because I would then see my ass! The walk was so bad, it felt like my right knee was going to lock.

Finally, we made it down and still had about 4k’s to go. That was painful and hard after That Hill. The last 2k’s are next to the Lagoon before you turn off to finish on the school field across the Waterfront.

All in all, we enjoyed it and will most definitely try to make it back next year.

There were many questions about where one must run in trail shoes or normal road running shoes. We did it on our normal shoes, and there were no problems. The trail bit of the race is classified as soft trail. I in fact feel that the trail run was a tad bit softer on the body than a tar run. Many trail runners also commented that trail shoes are too hard for tar and will make those last kilometers very difficult.

With the mud & sand washed off the shoes, we are marching on to the Cape Town Festival of Running Half on 21 July. Watch this space for my review on running that race for the 2nd time.

Till then, Happy Running!!

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