Clear skies and roaring braziers welcomed a total of 123 trail runners at Potberg Environmental Education Centre, the start of the 4th Merrell Whale of Trail. Between them and the finish, 53km of varied single track awaited including a combination of technical trail, smooth, fast flowing downhills, undulating coastal paths and soft sandy beaches. To accompany them on route: an enormous venue of Cape Vultures and an abundance of Southern Right Whales.
The stacked elite field certainly didn’t disappoint, the top 10 men tactfully choosing to stick together for the first 7km of climbing before anyone made a move. It was Rory Scheffer who eventually broke away at CP2 and started to slowly increase the gap between himself and the rest of the field. “I kept looking over my shoulder expecting the guys to catch me, which normally happens in the second half of a race,” said Scheffer, “but there was never anyone there.” He extended his lead to 17 minutes by the finish and crossed the line first at Koppie Alleen, obliterating the men’s record by 49 minutes and winning the 2017 Whale of Trail in the new record time of 4:49:46. Despite putting on a brave fight, two times winner Melikhaya Msizi dropped off the podium pace to finish fourth, behind 2nd placed Christiaan Greyling and 3rd AJ Calitz.
In the women’s race, Marie-Zanne de Kock flew out of the starting blocks, quickly establishing a 2min30sec lead over her opponents. Nicolette Griffioen, fresh off the Dodo Trail in Mauritius, kept her and the win in her sights, making a move and reeling her in by CP3 at the 25km mark. Despite having to dig deep for the final 5km, Griffioen hung on and crossed the line first in a new record time of 5:37:51, smashing the standing record by 30 minutes. She also finished 7th overall and within the men’s old record. “In the last 10km I was just hanging on constantly expecting someone to catch me,” said Griffioen. Landie Greyling finished four minutes behind her in 2nd, with Robyn Owen claiming the 3rd spot on the podium. “The trail was just amazing and the single track is really special,” said Griffioen. “I just really loved the fynbos, the flowers and the diversity of the trails.”
It wasn’t all about the elites today however, and every single trail runner that set out to tackle the run made the 2017 Whale of Trail what it was. They filled it with spirit, enthusiasm, highs, lows, hardships and smiles. “It was great to see the competition up front and the real love of trail the elites exude, and even more incredible to see how it resonated through the whole field. It was just incredible to see people pushing through their limits, from the top runners to the last person over the line; a truly inspiring day out,” said Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird, Whale of Trail Race Organiser.
As if to echo Bird’s sentiments, first-time finisher Aileen Anderson couldn’t share her stoke enough. “It was such a privilege to run through such a beautiful area, especially at sunrise. I just couldn’t help but think how privileged I was.” Even record breaker and men’s winner Rory Scheffer couldn’t praise the route enough. “It’s such an incredible trail with the added bonus of running alongside whales. I came around a corner and saw this huge tail sticking out the water and was just like “wow”’
Preliminary results and race photographs by the exceptional Nick Muzik,Peter Kirk and Lize-Broderick are on Facebook.