So I have written about how KZNTR started in the first piece on this part of the blog, and now I am going to write about how it ended, for me. Then I’ll spend time in the future filling in between the start at the end, there are plenty of stories that took place between June of 2008 and June of 2023, my fifteen-year career as a race director to an estimated 350 events, I have never actually counted.
2018 had been a good year, KZNTR had continued to grow and I had achieved a few running goals myself. 2019 started equally as well with record sign-ups into some of our events and I continued to take on a few hundred milers. It seemed like I had everything at my feet, but I was working hard, we were working hard. KZNTR now had 8 people working for it full-time and numerous others on a part-time basis. To stay on top of things required a lot of hours, trying to focus on higher-level meetings, negotiations and the like. Trying to stay out of on-the-ground logistics, we built a formidable team who could put an event on week in and out, without massive input from me. Considering where we had started with Lauren and I doing literally everything other than medics, we had come a long way, the obvious way forward was more growth, and we had to, to keep the team paid and fed. The fully-fledged company experienced some growing pains and new costs. VAT had come into play and our entry fees increased. But the entries flowed through 2019 and 2020 also opened with a bang. Of course that was short-lived with COVID arriving by March, ushering in what was for me, the beginning of the end.
But if I back up a bit, the second half of 2019 things started to catch up a bit. Traveling the country from event to event, present at every single event until August 2019 from the beginning, this dream life was taking a toll. The schedule and pressure of keeping it all going and afloat was getting to me. By October I was only too happy to hand over a few responsibilities to ease the pressure, but my attitude and feeling at trail running events had begun to shift, and by November and December I didn’t want to be there. Our longest break has always been over Christmas, and the 3 weeks without an event provided the reflection I needed, as did my experiences of 2019 and the books I was reading. It was in May 2019 that I walked in the bush and camped out there on The Kruger Trail, it was my first experience of this wild and raw way of life. Immediately I knew I wanted more of it. Our second leg in August resulted in me being absent from my first-ever KZNTR event. The day after Christmas 2019 I wrote to the Wilderness Leadership School asking if there was any space on their 3-month FGASA course starting in January. There was 1 place left. Needless to say, I signed up.
Over the next 3 and a half years I slowly eased back from KZNTR, and being the face of it. COVID obviously threw a spanner in the works, but in other ways accelerated the transition. Just as I had transformed from an environmental consultant into a race director, I was now morphing into a trails guide. The process was much more formal with a lot of hard skills needed to be acquired, but slowly people started to see me differently and KZNTR as more separate. Many people had commented in the early years that it would be a very difficult company to sell, it was too personal, I generally agreed, but now I wanted to be something different, but I couldn’t give up everything I had built. I required the income and had a deep wish for it to continue.
At the beginning of 2022 Sanele Dladla became a 50% shareholder in the company KZN Trail Running PTY LTD. What was one big company became several small ones with common races being grouped, and races like Karkloof 100 became their own company outright. In August 2022 we announced as a family that we would be moving to the Lowveld, Hoedspruit or Kampersrus to be precise. It was only then that we had the first people approach us and ask us about what we intended to do with KZNTR and our other events. The interest came as a great relief as it meant we could finance the transition and at least have something to show for 15 years of hard work in trail running. If we hadn’t found people interested in taking on our races, we would have left the industry with less money in the bank than we started. Of course, this was largely to do with COVID, but the July 2021 Riots followed by floods and difficult economic times all came together to make it very difficult to make any profit. When we looked at the books we had lost over R500k over 2 years during COVID.
But we made it work, through our hard work and the help of others. By April 2023 Karkloof had been bought by Terence Vrugtman and 2 months later 50% of KZNTR had been bought by Brian Berlein.
While we are not out of the game altogether Kruger2Canyon and Lesotho Ultra will still be hoisted by Lauren and Myself. It does spell an end to an era of being a trail running event “extraordinaire” as so many described me over the years.
In May 2023 I qualified as a lead trails guide and guided my first trail in Pafuri as lead shortly thereafter. Everything coming together, I didn’t know how, but I followed a calling that came to me when I walked through the bush in May 2019. Perhaps what I had tasted out there was so in line with what I wanted to do, that my trail running life could no longer satisfy me. When I look back and see how the timing of everything came together, it’s no wonder so many people feel like there is an external force controlling all of it. But that’s how it ended for me at KZNTR.
One hopes to leave a legacy, and I don’t think we will get closer than the work we put into KZNTR. It’s hard to imagine in another 15 years what it may look like and what those who are still running through the hills of KZN will say about the early days of trail running. I watch on with interest and curiosity. Long Live KZNTR.