AJ Calitz’s Tankwa Trail Race Report

By AJ Calitz.

In 2016 I was invited to the inaugural Tankwa Trail. The sister event of the enormously popular Tankwa Trek Mountain Bike race held by Dryland Event Management.

Not to dwell on the issue too much, but Tankwa Trail 2016 was one of the most memorable and fun weekends of my life!

On to 2017 however, and the team from Dryland once again extended an invitation to join the Tankwa Trail for a weekend of living like a Kenyan….sleep, eat, run, repeat!

The drive from Stellenbosch to Kaleo guest farm near the bountiful fruit producing town of Ceres is a beautiful meander through some of the most beautiful scenery and passes in the Cape.

Arriving at our luxury canvas tents (with WiFi, lights, bedding and power points!)just before dinner, a quick registration and hearty meal later we were ready for race briefing and an early evening before the running fest to follow. Temperatures dropped into the very low teens on the first evening and I was very glad I have my trusty K-Way Drake down jacket and beanie handy!

AJ Calitz is one of South African trail running’s most recognisable faces. Photo by Oakpics.com.

AJ Calitz is one of South African trail running’s most recognisable faces. Photo by Oakpics.com.

The first day starts off with a flat gravel section ensuring the runners are warmed up before the start of nearly 30km of winding single tracks – all the way to the finish. Angolan runner, Endi Angelo Pegado (a MMA fighter!) set an early pace.

The previous weekend’s stage race still in my legs, I was not too keen on following, but some heckling from my previous partner, Mr Greyling, gave me the inspiration needed.

The quality of the single tracks is without equal – although not the most technial (for the benefit of our spandex wearing brothers no doubt…). Further to the point, organisers of mountain bike races truly know how to mark a route – even the poster child for getting lost (yours truly) did not waiver for a split second.

The kilometers flew by as we zigzagged around the DUTOIT’s farm and orchards – heavy with fruit for the upcoming season.

Water tables every 10km, or so, stocked with water, Coke, Biogen and numerous eats (including delectable date balls!) stopping was more temptation than need!

After each stage there is a snack zone….now this area alone makes the entry fee worthwhile! Fairview cheese, biscuits, healthy sweet-potato and beetroot chips, juice, chocolate/strawberry milkshakes, sweets, chocolates to name but a few….

From snack zone it was on to lunch (if it seems like we ate more than we ran….it is quite possibly so!) of home cooked food and the freshest salads, followed by carrot cake for pudding.

Well deserved afternoon chilling, sleeping and chatting under the scorching 37’C Karoo sun had runners taking mattresses out of their tents, seeking the shade of giant oak trees scattered around the Kaleo venue.

Tankwa Trail commentator Carel Bezuidenhoud, for some inexplicable reason, swan dives behind AJ Calitz as the latter completes his clean sweep of Tankwa Trail stage victories. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Tankwa Trail commentator Carel Bezuidenhoud, for some inexplicable reason, swan dives behind AJ Calitz as the latter completes his clean sweep of Tankwa Trail stage victories. Photo by Oakpics.com.

The evening was welcome respite from the searing heat with runners enjoying yet another scrumptious dinner follow by more desert – the energy brought into the event by MC and general ‘raasbekkie” Carel Bezuidenhoud is contagious as excitement for the queen stage – day 2 – started to build.

Runners a driven by bus to the start point in the heart of the Witzenberg, where we would cross back into the valley around Kaleo via 35km of scenic trails. If you arrive at Tankwa  Trail under-prepared, day 2 is where it will hurt! The climbing is steep and short, and the routes winding through pine forests until past half way where the valley opens up and you are greeted by a new “short” detour…have to admit that portion hurt!

Cooler weather was a welcome respite on day 2 as runners made their way to the finish area – obviously with the snack zone in mind! Another wonderful afternoon spent with fellow runners was capped with my highlight – when my wife and daughter arrived to share in the festivities. Late afternoon on day 2 my wife and I have a wonderful mountain bike ride on some of the routes we had run earlier that day – certainly to be recommended!

Day 3 dawned on us and it was with mixed feelings that I toe’d the start line – happy to have the work done, but knowing soon it will be over for another year….the pace on day 3 was quick to start with as runners made their way on the flat first section.  A nasty little climb separates the men from the boys just past the first feeding zone. Thereafter we made our way through some beautiful single track to a stunning rock arch and down to Kaleo – but just as you near the farm, the route suddenly turns a violent left and you go back into the hills once more for a final run through the incredible boulders and past the “swem gat”.

The smiling faces of my wife and daughter greeted me at the finish with the now familiar and very likable Carel Bezuidenhoud and the Dryland team welcoming us home.

It seems trite to say that we were once again spoiled with lunch and pudding….

The weekend of the Tankwa Trail is like no other. I have never experienced hospitality, friendliness and camaraderie like it.

If you doubt whether you should do it – let my put your doubts to rest….DO IT!

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