I get asked how KZN Trail Running started, what was the first thought…. or instigator….it’s not a straight forward story, it wasn’t just an idea that came to me……
So of course when I say we have Julius Malema to thank, people laugh thinking that it’s just a joke. But truly something he did played a role in, and probably set the tone by which the company grew – creating opportunities out of adversity.
I was working for DUCT in Pietermartizburg and was approached to assist with the first leg of South Africa’s most extreme triathlon. A run from Durban to PMB, followed by a cycle from the PMB City Hall to the start of the Berg River Canoe Marathon, followed by a paddle to Sandrif on the Berg River.
Julius comes in right at the beginning here, he had been very vocal about Comrades being run on the 16th of June, Youth Day. Comrades had wisely steered clear and changed their date to the last weekend in May, but this date didn’t work well for the extreme triathlon, who until that point had used the Comrades Marathon as the first leg. The triathlon organisers thought doing the Durban – PMB route off-road/trail run would actually suit their event even better, but how to set a running route similar to the Dusi Canoe Marathon (just upriver) was a little daunting. In came DUCT, The Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust who fight for the health of these two terribly polluted rivers (I was the manager at the time), and had a network of connections along the banks of the rivers where the route would run.
A meeting or two later, combined with a can-do attitude and we found ourselves manning a few bakkies and chaperoning 6 runners through the very first “Dusi Trail Run” on the 16th of June 2008. At the start a set of written directions were handed out, “keep river left until the big fig tree, and cross to the right and the bridge thereafter” were the kind of instructions. The odd chalk arrow even appeared, but no material markers. With a bakkie up front and one at the back we sheparded them all home at the end of the day. Two local runners from Martin Dreyer’s academy took the honors on the line. What a day that was!
The thought of doing anything more with this newfound joy was not immediate and 8 months went by until the triathlon committee asked us if we would do it again. We agreed enthusiastically and once again we found ourselves on the river banks, this time with 12 runners, half of whom were just taking on the trail run and not the full extreme triathlon.
But it was obvious, the sport of trail running was more than just a murmur and successful short course events were attracting good fields of runners in Cape Town. We set the dates for our first “Talbot Summer Series” and in October of 2009 we held three events: Bishopstowe Hall, Cumberland Nature Reserve and The Ranch (Ashburton).
Oddly we picked up our first sponsor the day before the first event. I’ve never been one to seek sponsors, but Talbot & Talbot found us before we had even hosted a short course event. A link through ROAG (who administered our entries at the time), brought us together on the Friday afternoon as I moved between the marking, taking last-minute phone calls, service confirmations, talking to land owners and every other job required to pull off ones’ first short course trail runs.
We had 43 pre-entries and 32 late entries to pull off our first event with 75 entries. We were ecstatic and I experienced my first real post-event high as a race organiser. I remember returning to my home on the sugarcane farm outside PMB wondering where this all might go. The series finished successfully with 125 runners at Cumberland before dropping down to around 50 at The Ranch to finish off. We had cut our teeth and learned our first few lessons! KZNTR had been born, although it would be some years before it took on that name…