It was a trail running experience none of the 600 participating athletes will ever forget. The 4km of pristine unspoilt beach between the villages of Buffalo Bay and Brenton on Sea are one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world and it was never more spectacularly displayed than it was on Tuesday morning as the assembled participants gazed out across the beautiful blue waters of the bay and tried to envisage the scene of terror from just 34 days earlier. Cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of flames, the residents of Brenton on Sea had abandoned their homes and fled along that same beach towards refuge at Buffalo Bay, in the dark, with their pets and only what they could carry in their arms. Two days later the incredible scene was reversed as the avaricious inferno laid siege to the hamlet of Buffalo Bay and it was the turn for those residents to run back along the beach to the safety of Brenton.
In the serene sparkling stillness of Tuesday morning such scenes were almost unimaginable and the mood among those gathered on the beach was different. Many of those same assembled runners had lost their homes and just about everything they owned to the fires and their lives are still far from normal. Many were still in shock. But the fear was gone and in its place was an undeniable feeling of renewal, new beginnings and even joy. Against that background one of the most emotionally charged countdowns to the start of a trail run took place and the beach was the scene of joyous energy as hundreds of runners struck out in the direction of Knysna absolutely revelling in the breath-taking beauty.
The Featherbed Trail Run is the official Trail Run of the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival and over the last nine years it has etched itself into the hearts of trail runners and festival attendees nation-wide. On the eve of its tenth birthday it suddenly looked as if this bucket list event was not to be. With 90% of the beloved trails affected by the fires and significant environmental, infrastructural and safety concerns, the organisers were forced to consider cancelling the whole event. It was the timely intervention of Bayport Financial Services, which enabled Magnetic South to reroute the entire course and yet still preserve its uniquely Knysna flavour and essential bond to the Featherbed Company. Named the Featherbed Trail Run Bayport Phoenix edition it was a one of a kind trail run and it turned out to be one of the most memorable ever.
Three routes of different distances were enjoyed, an 11km, a 15km and the brand new 21km distance. All the courses started in Buffalo Bay and finished in the Cruise Café. Participants were taxied from the Cruise Café venue hub to the start. Although the three routes took different meanders towards the finish line they each treated participants to spectacular sweeping vistas of the bay and the lagoon whilst traversing sobering sights of the ruins of burnt houses and scorched forest areas. Despite the destruction the scenes were still dominated by the areas of natural beauty and many participants hailed the event as the best ever. “It certainly was the most meaningful trail run we have ever done.”
At the prize giving COO of Bayport, John White, explained that Bayport’s involvement was to be a part of the stimulation of regrowth essential to the people of Knysna, fiscally but also mentally and spiritually. “Our business is one of enablement and that is why this event, at this time, resonated with us as it aligns with our core business ethos of changing lives.” Bayport’s involvement in the Featherbed Trail Run Phoenix Edition enabled the event to raise R65 000 which will go to fire related charities.
The 11km men’s race was won by Jarryd Cook in 44:44 closely followed by Aviwe Kinana and Nathan McCabe. Lauren Cannon claimed the woman’s race in 52:22 just a minute ahead of Cana Peek who beat Handri Dalton for 2nd. The more technically challenging 15km race was claimed in 1:11:49 by Big 5 Athlete Keegan Cook who put just 37 seconds into Ross Welsh, himself having his hands full in holding of Michael Cannon, also of the Big 5, by 13 seconds. Vicky van der Merwe mixed it up with the top men of the 15km race seizing 5th overall in 1:19:46 ahead of fellow Big 5 contenders Kate Dodds and Fienie Barnard who crossed the line in 1:23 and 1:26 respectively. The very tough inaugural 21km Great White Shark race was won by non-other than Knynsa’s own Melikhaya Msizi who ran 8 minutes clear of Shaun Gregory. Gregory posted 1:48:55 with the other place on the podium going to local hard man Marsel Roos in 1:52:03. Michelle van Zyl was in a class of her own in the woman’s 21km despite great runs by Tammy Stark and Nicky Mills. Van Zyl’s winning time was 2:07:25 while Stark and Mills followed in 2:25:01 and 2:25:11.