Article by Chris Wilcock
Having previously written about the “old” Forest Run held at Lakenvlei, I had decided not to do a review of the 2016 edition. It is difficult to find something fresh to say about a run that has already been reviewed. However, having just done the “new” Forest Run held on 21 May 2016 in its new Venterskroon home, I realised that it is sufficiently different to justify another review.
In addition, when doing my previous review in 2015, I had ignored the elephant in the room. Said elephant is now flapping its ears, waving its trunk around and demanding attention. More about the pesky pachyderm later.
Towards the end of 2015, we Forest Runners received word from organiser, Lisa de Speville, that she was relocating to Parys and that she was having loads of fun scouting for routes for a “new” Forest Run near to her new home.
The area chosen by Lisa is in the Vredefort Dome, the site of a pre-historic meteorite strike centred around the tiny village of Venterskroon in the North-West Province. The rugged terrain covered in indigenous bush and forest appealed to her and she was encouraged by the willingness of the landowners to allow her onto their trails. The high cost of organising an event in faraway Belfast was also an important consideration.
This review will take the form of a question and answer session after which I would like to deal decisively with the elephant in the room.
PART 1: Q&A SESSION
WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE “NEW” FOREST RUN?
The first and most noticeable change is that the old run was held in a commercial plantation whereas the new one goes through indigenous forest and bush. This much can be deduced from the logo shown below…
Lisa modelled the logo on a photo of some of the trees along the way. Ominously, she quietly dropped the words “friendly and lovely” from the slogan. We would later find out why…
Secondly, the terrain is very different. The old Forest Run was run largely on fairly smooth tracks and paths through the forest with very little climbing. The new one includes mostly rough single-track with plenty of climbing.
There are now three routes: a 16km one which, in terms of effort, probably equates to the old 30km route, a 46km route which requires much the same time and stamina as the old 60km route and a new 30km route which slots in somewhere between the old half and ultra routes. So, there is something for everyone but a lot more organisation and planning is required.
One of the first things that I noticed was the difference in sounds heard along the way. The pine forest with its tall trees and carpet of pine needles underfoot tends to absorb sound much like a snowfall does. It is very quiet in the plantation and one generally only hears the sighing of the breeze through the treetops. In the natural bush and forest, one hears a greater variety of sounds, which carry further due to the trees that are scrubbier and less dense than the plantation trees. Along the way, I heard bird calls, the scurrying of small animals in the undergrowth, cattle lowing and the melodious offerings of Guitar Guy! The encouragement and cheering of the marshals and water point helpers was the same as before and just as welcome!
The scent of the pine and eucalyptus forest in the warm and humid weather of the old Forest Run is also very different from the range of smells of the new venue. The crisp early morning air carried scents reminiscent of Karoo bossies on a wintery Eastern Cape morning. Later on in the day, we would also be treated to the delicate aroma of dung when passing close to herds of cattle…
Another difference was that Peter Ypenburg, that great character of Forest Run, changed his colour scheme to red this year.
IS THE NEW FOREST RUN TOUGHER THAN THE OLD ONE?
There is a lot more climbing. There are a lot more sections that are not runnable, especially for clumsy clods like me and the scenery demands more stops to take photos or just to enjoy the stunning views.
Lisa promised us that each tough section would be followed by a nice easy “reward” section. Still waiting for those…
My legs were still sore 4 days after the run – especially my quads that were trashed by the scorpion section.
IS THE TRAIL WELL DEFINED AND/OR CLEARLY MARKED?
IS IT SO WELL DEFINED AND MARKED THAT YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE A HALF-WIT TO GET LOST?
DID YOU GET LOST?
MY FAVOURITE PART OF THE TRAIL?
That may well be the lovely hot shower, courtesy of the Venterskroon Inn, after the race! There is nothing like a hot shower to make one feel human again.
On the trail itself, I especially enjoyed the parts where the forest opened up and I could appreciate the spectacular views. Admiring the views just after the trig beacon on a rocky downhill section resulted in a heavy fall and an involuntary blood donation… I found the strange rock formations created by the meteorite strike really interesting. A more leisurely hike through the area is definitely called for.
Although I didn’t see them out on the trail as we were doing different distances it was really cool having my daughter, Sandra, and my son, Michael, joining in to fly the Wilcock family flag!
The only part of trail running that I don’t enjoy is the really steep, rocky descents. The scorpion section right near the end wasn’t fun for me, especially on legs that had lost their spring and flexibility. Luckily, it certainly wasn’t long enough nor steep enough to, in any way, spoil my enjoyment of the new Forest Run.
I also didn’t really enjoy the part through the dry river bed (Red Donga section). It was probably only about a kilometre or so but I just couldn’t get going there and that is where I started wondering whether I’m getting too old for this sort of thing. Again, like everything, it soon passed and I was soon smiling again and feeling really strong over the last 5 or 6km from there. There is still hope for those of us who have been around since before the meteorite strike!
I think that the route is really well balanced with a bit of everything and with nothing long enough to become a real drag. The constantly varying terrain, vegetation and views were a delight and arriving at the water points where each and every runner was greeted with great enthusiasm was really special. Each runner leaves the water point rejuvenated, smiling and full of energy.
Finding marshals in the middle of nowhere was such fun too, as they greeted the runners with whoops and shouts of encouragement. For the navigationally challenged like me, it was also a relief to know that I was still on the route!
IS THE FOREST RUN STILL RUN IN A FOREST?
It depends on your definition of a forest. This, as mentioned, is not a plantation and most of the route is covered in bush and shrub rather than tall trees. However, there are many trees as well and overall I’d say that it is okay to call it the Forest Run.
WHAT WAS THE SCENERY LIKE?
See for yourself:
MOST IMPORTANTLY, DOES THE NEW FOREST RUN RETAIN THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTER AND ETHOS, WHICH MAKES ADVENTURELISA’S FOREST RUNS SO SPECIAL?
All the elements of Forest Run are in place:
- Organisation, which achieves new levels of excellence and attention to detail.
- Routes, which are thoroughly scouted and carefully selected to provide a deeply fulfilling day out in the best that Mother Nature can offer. An added bonus of the new venue is that it takes the runners through areas that are quite wild and largely unspoilt.
- As a participant, you have a name. You are not, and never will be, a number.
- Simply the best water points ever.
- The forest fairies were there. Some of the elves didn’t find the place this year though!
- Sponsors don’t call the shots.
- You still do the Forest Run for the love of the trail and not for cheap medals, dodgy t-shirts covered in sponsors’ logos and other handouts.
- Quirky signs and interesting things.
- Photographers who capture the spirit of the run.
- Helpers who wait patiently to encourage even the slowest runners.
- And the most important of all – Lisa, her family and friends who pull out all the stops to make this a memorable event.
If you want confirmation that this is a most enjoyable day out then browse the photos on the Forest Run page. You won’t see so many broad beaming smiles anywhere else!
After only one outing, I just know that the new Forest Run is going to be a firm favourite of mine and I’ll be back many times.
PART TWO – THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The elephant in the room is of course the cost of the Forest Run. Lisa has had to answer this question a number of times and she has also written a post on the costs of staging such a run. I’m not even going to try to detail all the costs of staging such an event nor do the arithmetic to demonstrate how to cover the costs with a limited field. Lisa has covered this in detail so let me pose and answer two questions:
QUESTION 1: IS THE FOREST RUN EXPENSIVE?
To be brutally honest, trail running is expensive.
By the time you have bought your kit, paid the entry fee, travelled to the event and probably stayed over you will have forked out a tidy sum. The entry fee is really only a small part of the total cost. While the cost of trail running pales into insignificance when compared to other sports such as mountain biking, it is still quite pricey.
Those of us fortunate enough in terms of health and financial well-being must never forget how blessed and privileged we are to be able to experience the sheer joy of being out on a trail. This simple pleasure is denied to so many.
QUESTION 2: IS THE FOREST RUN GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY?
This is a different question altogether. I entered the 46km race and got a R50 discount for being a repeat offender. For my R549 I got:
- Cheerful, enthusiastic and personal communication in the time leading up to the race
- Greeted by name upon arrival
- Free coffee and rusks before the start
- A quaint, cute and cosy venue with ample parking, clean toilets and friendly hosts
- A race number with my name, distance, medical details etc. all pre-printed, complete and correct
- A beautifully presented and detailed route map in a plastic pouch
- A pre-race briefing where participants could ask questions. Try doing that at the start of Comrades!
- Simply the best day out in a stunningly beautiful area on trails scouted, marked and cleared specially for us by the race organiser herself.
- An ultra-marathon distance on a single lap route. Don’t discount the value of this.
- A runner to helper ratio of less than 3:1. This is an order of magnitude better than even such a great event as Two Oceans. And bear in mind that trail runners pride themselves on being self-sufficient!
- Water points taken to a new level
- Home-made date balls
- Special little touches like the quirky directional and information signs, hot showers after the race, a hamburger and chips freshly prepared, a pool to cool off weary legs, medical assistance and so on.
- Being serenaded by Guitar Guy.
- A useful hand-made gift upon finishing
- Free beautiful photographs of the highest quality from before, during and after the event. At road races, one is offered drab photos where you are half obscured by other runners at prices of up to R50 per photo. Without even looking, I found at least 15 lovely photos of myself, some personally tagged by Lisa.
- An organising team that put heart and soul into their work. This is not just another race on the calendar but a much-loved event presented with pride and passion.
- Memories that last until long after the aches and pains have worn off and that took its own sweet time!
- I also got to spend a day in the company of kindred spirits all happy to be running free in this beautiful country.
Many events support worthy causes and offer the participants an option to contribute to the supported charity when entering. A local farm school benefitted from Forest Run this year. The contribution came not from an appeal for donations but from Lisa’s bottom line. How awesome is that!
Instead of going to Forest Run, I could have spent my R549 on:
- Two movie tickets, parking, popcorn, two burgers, coffee and a bit of change; or
- Two small packets of groceries containing 1 dozen eggs, 1 litre of milk, 1 litre of fresh cream, 4 LED energy saver light bulbs, 500g of cheddar cheese, some cat food, some cleaning materials, toothpaste and bin liners; or
- Three quarters of a ticket for a Josh Groban concert; or
- A bottle of premium brand whiskey and a packet of Grand-pa powders.
Which would you choose? As the old fairground hawkers used to say, “You pays your money and you takes your choice!”
The fact is that R600 doesn’t go very far these days but the memories of Forest Run are priceless.
Anyone who still thinks that R180 for a road marathon is good value is welcome to “enjoy” their hours of slogging along on potholed tar roads through a drab urban landscape, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of sweaty runners, knee deep in discarded plastic sachets to the accompaniment of irate motorists hooting for the runners to get out of their way. Don’t get me started the long queues to use a dodgy portaloo at the start… But !
So to answer the two questions:
- Yes, the Forest Run, like all trails, is not cheap. But still cheaper than most trail runs.
- However, it is superb value for money! Especially if you do the 46…
PART 3 – SUMMARY
In summary, the “new” Forest Run differs from the old one in venue, type of route, time of year and degree of difficulty but it retains the essential character and ethos of Forest Run. It remains an enjoyable, superbly organised, friendly, value for money, not-to-be-missed event on the trail running calendar.
AdventureLisa’s Forest Run has successfully made the transition from being a ‘friendly & lovely’ forest ultra to being a wonderful reminder of why I run!
The details for 2017 will be on www.forestrun.co.za.
Images couresty of Chris Wilcock and Forest Run
Many thanks for the use of the photos that I “borrowed” from the Forest Run website and Facebook pages. You can find many more pictures on the Forest Run website and Facebook page. They are well worth a browse.
Thanks to “Editor Cat” Beverley for fixing my grammatical shenanigans!
Thanks to Sandra and Michael for making it a family event, to Sanet, as always, for the support on the day and to Beverley for support from afar.
Thanks to the friendly folk at the Old Imperial Inn for letting us use their facilities at the start and finish.
Thanks again to Lisa and her whole team for a wonderful event.
That’s all from me, Chris Wilcock, who is already looking forward to Forest Run 2017!