Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 158 May 2023 | Page 39


There was something incredibly appealing about the Run The Karoo website ’ s introduction to this event . Now in its eighth year , the organisers promised a weekend of trail running in the heart of the Karoo , complete with authentic Karoo hospitality that would include braais , fresh farm bread , condensed milk coffee , koeksisters and craft beer , along with live music and picturesque sunsets . The distances included an 8km night run , and a choice between a 14 or 22km run the next day – manageable distances , even off a low base of training , and walkers or hikers were made welcome , too .

Did You Know ? In 1837 , the Cape Colony government proclaimed the district of Colesberg , and established the town of Middelburg in 1852 , so named since it is midway between Graaff-Reinet and Colesberg . It is also approximately halfway between Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein , as well as halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town .
Images : Martin Kotze / De Swart Productions
I was swimming neck-deep in deadlines , and hadn ’ t entered a race or running event in over a year when this opportunity arose . The timing was perfect , and after a quick check that I still owned sufficient trail running gear to make this all possible , I threw caution to the wind and entered . And then I set about curating a road trip playlist . Good tunes are important !
Car to the Karoo
On Saturday 11 March , I set off on the eight-hour drive to Middleburg in the Eastern Cape ( not to be confused with the other Middelburg , in Mpumalanga ). The dark , rainy streets of Cape Town eventually gave way to open skies and scrubby bush , and vast fields of sheep . I stopped in Aberdeen for petrol and got chatting to the attendant , who asked where I was headed . After describing the event in my unpolished Afrikaans , I was humbled by his prayer blessing “ for my race .” With a heart full of love for South Africa , I set off on the final leg of the journey to the race venue .
Remembering one ’ s mug is essential …
My expectations of a low-key , family-oriented event were met , and then some . I arrived at Dwarsvlei Farm , navigated about 2km of dirt road , and parked my car . Signage identified the various accommodation options , which ranged from deluxe ‘ glamping ’ options , through premium tents with actual beds , to the very basic tents with mattresses . There were also horse stable options available . Now , I ’ m not opposed to roughing it a little , so I was happy with my choice of the ‘ cheap seats ’ in the very basic tents . The only downside of that is the tents can become very hot during the heat of the day , but they ’ re thankfully cool by the evening .
… if you want traditional Karoo coffee with condensed milk !
Registration was smooth , and the goodie bags included race tees , cute socks , a cap , a bottle of Deetlefs wine and a tin mug . I did all the necessary wristband tagging and found a bit of shade for an afternoon snooze . Kids swam in the reservoir , groups of friends milled about in coordinated weekend apparel with team names , and I let the gentle , late summer air settle around me .
Bit of Night Action
By 6pm we were gathered at the start line to take on 8km of night running . The route description included one small climb with switchbacks , a traverse through a beautiful old forest , and a bit of downhill to the finish . When one of the kids rang a big bell to start the run , I held back a surge of emotion . With little to no racing since before COVID , I hadn ’ t realised how much I had missed it all .
I had zero expectations or time aspirations , but I set off at quite a quick trot , eager to witness the farm sunset and stretch my legs after the long drive . From around halfway through this run , we were in full darkness and reliant on headlamps . Trail runners snaked the single track in the form of blinking lights scattered across beautiful , runnable farmland as the sky became awash with stars . It was glorious .
The finish line came too soon , but I swiped my wristband on the timing gadget and chatted to a few happy runners before heading off to my tent to gather my bits and pieces for a hot shower . Amenities for the weekend could be described as fully-loaded – from ample hot water to sufficient loos , runners don ’ t have to navigate long queues or any shortcuts on comfort .
The braai action was well underway by the time I joined at the main barn for dinner . Plenty of food , a wine tasting and live music set the scene for a fun , family-oriented evening . Weary from my road trip , I grabbed the chance to settle into my tent early and catch up on some much-needed sleep , but not before I took the time to sit alone and appreciate the incredible stars visible in a typically magnificent Karoo night sky .