Life’s a beach… and then you run one!

If you’re looking for a trail run to simply cruise from start to finish, then Whale of Trail’s not the one for you. This race finish is not easy to bag. Sure, as ultras go this one’s at the shorter end of the ultra-distance spectrum but don’t let that fool you, it’s tough! This is 53km of pure, unpretentious trail – there’s no jeep track, it’s riddled with jagged rocks and much of the route in the second half is on beach sand. Not a single metre of the route offers free cruising – when you’re not hauling up a hill, you’re either negotiating rocky single descents, ploughing across stretches of stride-sapping beach sand, or slogging over a gnarly headland. And the challenging course is matched by its spectacular beauty. And that’s why Whale of Trail is rated one of the best trail races in SA – this route doesn’t pretend, it’s the REAL deal in every way!

photo by Kirsten Oliver

The route

Whale of Trail is Cape Nature’s stunning 5-day 53km Whale Trail hike squashed into a single-stage run over the same distance. Named after the hundreds of southern right whales that return to this stetch of coast every year to calve and mate, the setting of Whale of Trail is special, spanning the iconic De Hoop Nature Reserve – a World Heritage Site and marine protected area. De Hoop is a 3-hour drive up the east coast from Cape Town – far enough away from any town to be removed from the rigours of civilisation, and bursting with the natural beauty of the Cape floral kingdom, some species of which are unique to this area, they grow nowhere else in the world!

In the 53km race, all the magnificence of five days of fragrant Cape fynbos, graceful mountain ridges and endless views along rugged Western Cape coastline, long stretches of pristine beaches, and the drama of wave-cut rock shelves towering above turquoise tidal pools is magnified into a handful of hours, smacking the senses into overload. For those keen on a shorter but still challenging distance, there’s the 35km which starts at the same place as the 53km but cuts across a section and joins the full route for its final section.

photo by Peter Kirk

Some WoT history

I had the privilege of racing the inaugural Whale of Trail, back in 2014. I finished 3rd woman and 10th overall – in a time that wouldn’t touch those positions these days. But such is life with inaugural races, we were the event’s guinea pigs! Melikhaya Msizi won that year in a blistering 6:06. The course was rough, the beach a real b*tch, and the headwind a howler! Little did we imagine then that a whopping 1h36 would be sliced off Msizi’s time (in 2019 Johaardt van Heerden smashed the course record in 4:30!)

In my post-Whale blog post that year I wrote about how well organised the event was, and how Mountain Runner Events had something very special, there was no doubt it would grow. Fast forward 8 years and wow, grow it has! Not in terms of numbers (the field size remains the same, restricted by Cape Nature’s regulations protecting the condition of the trail itself) but in prestige and prominence. With long-term title sponsor Merrell, PSG Wealth Rosebank as generous prize sponsor, supported by Buttanutt, Strandveld Wines and Nuun, and hosted by De Hoop Collection and Cape Nature, this event radiates pure quality in terms of race organisation, fantastic route and best “gees”.

Race director Graham Bird said it best: “We were blown away by the pure, enveloping, positive vibes throughout the whole event. An excellent team, fantastic partners and the best ever crowd of runners made this our most memorable Whale event yet!”

photo by Simon Pocock

2022’s results

Every year this race attracts top runners at its sharp end. Speedsters like Kane Reilly, Rory Scheffer, AJ Calitz, Bernard Rukadza, Melikhaya Msizi, Nicolette Griffioen, Katya Soggot, Toni McCann and Meg Mackenzie have graced the various levels of the podium, with Johardt van Heerden smashing the course record in 2019.

No thanks to Covid the event suffered a two-year hiatus in 2020 and 2021, so this year’s race was long awaited! Johardt van Heerden defended his title (4:40), followed by Josh Chigome in 2nd (4:59) and Mvuyisi Gcogco in 3rd (5:07). Landie Greyling won the women’s title (5:50), with Kerry-Ann Marshall in close 2nd (5:52) and Nadia Jooste in 3rd place (6:05).

In the 35km race, Darryl Cooke scooped the honours (3:56) with Jade Bucklow as 1st woman and 2nd overall finisher (4:17).

53km Whale of Trail 2022 race winners Johardt van Heerden and Landie Greyling (photo by Kirsten Oliver)

The future

I can rave on for hours about this event. If you’ve run it before, then you’ll know what I’m on about. If you haven’t and you’re curious, add it to your bucket list, but be quick!
Next year’s date is 5th August. Entries open on 12th September.
Numbers are always limited with this one, don’t hesitate!