This was proper wild adventuring

Recce report: Rob Christian
Last year I managed to convince a mate of mine to fly down to Cape Town to take part in what was billed as “Cape Town’s 2nd annual Torpedo SwimRun”. You would be forgiven for not knowing exactly what this means but if you break it down it becomes fairly obvious. A SwimRun at face value is a swim and a run…then followed up by another swim and run and another, etc. until you finish the course distance. One of the main caveats here is that there are no transitions – so a wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and running shoes are worn at all times during the race; you swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. Pretty groovy from a race prep perspective – gooi everything you need for the day and go get it done. The company behind the event, Torpedo SwimRun, following rapid global growth of this new adventure sport, saw South Africa’s extraordinary locations and adventure seeking athletes as a perfect opportunity to launch a local African series. 

Now my mate is pretty trusting of whatever I sign him up for (Mad2Run, Mongolia Charity Rally and now SwimRun) without knowing much of what the event entails until we’re on the start line. Torpedo Cape was a lekker day out racing along the iconic beaches and bays of the Cape Town’s costline from Sandy Bay to Clifton. Incoming ocean swell added to the excitiment, but nothing that the hundreds of athletes that raced couldn’t handle.

Following on from the Cape Town success (next event: 18 November 2018) Torpedo is expanding with races across South Africa to showcase the sport as well as the diverse terrain our country has to offer. As such they commissioned a “recce” of a new route in the Wilderness region – a 5 hour drive up the Garden Route from Cape Town. Having previosuly scouted the area with a small group it was deemed to be a fitting race location and Torpedo decided to test it properly – bringing a group of adventure seeking people down for a weekend, to camp at Ebb and Flow Wilderness and test out the race route.

So on the 12th of January 2018, 25 Cape Tonians, one local Knysian and a Jozi dweller descended on the Ebb and Flow camp site for a weekend of adventure and what can be described with hindsight “as a blaady lekker time” for all. The racing kicks off with a short 6km prologue on the Friday evening introducing the group to the lush scenery of the area with roughly a 50/50 split in running and swimming distances. It proved to be a great route through National Parks trails and was a warmup and nerve settler before the main event the next day. A braai and race briefing wrapped up the evening and everyone went off to their tents in preparation for an early start. 

Up early, checking gear and loading up the cars, the convoy of SwimRunners headed out to the start line at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University campus on Saturday morning. One main distinguisher from the Cape Town race is that Wilderness features warm freshwater for the course (warmer than Cape Town anyway, but that’s not hard). The first 11km section features the Kaaimans River ravine, a river valley ecosystem with steep embankments such that once you are in there there is only one way out – race to the ocean. From the start, a short run down the 7 Passes road opens up the lung and splits the filed before you tackle the Kaaimans. The river has shaped the valley in a labyrinth of rock, vegetation and waterways. Caution is advised in this section, if not made immediately obvious by the fact that we all had helmets on due to the precarious nature of the terrain. While a minor fall can (and was) usually recovered from there are no shortage of slippery rocks, knife edge trails and low hanging branches which could cut your race short if you are too hasty in advancing down the river track.

It became immediately obvious that the key to successfully navigating the valley is to pick your line carefully. While at times one group seemingly would break away from the pack on river right, the terrain would then open up for the trailing group on river left resulted in that group quickly passing the breakaway group. A key take out of the race here – slow down and consider your options, while the race won’t be won, it can most definitely be lost.

Whilst navigating down the ravine there are sections which have to be swum – the water is cool and refreshing and figuring out the best option of swim vs scramble, is another dynamic which could give a competitor valuable time ahead of the group. This was proper wild adventuring. 

Upon exiting the valley we had the opportunity for a refreshment station and also to evaluate the next section of the race. Having completed the 11km ravine section there was still another 15 km of more traditional racing terrain ahead of us. Heading out towards the famous Kaaimans Railway bridge and through the old train tunnel you emerge on Wilderness beach. Beach runs are never easy but the fact that we had ditched our helmets earlier made it a helluva lot better to get over the beach and back towards the river. At this stage of the race the runners in the group had a chance to stretch their legs and capitalise on any time they may have lost due to bad navigation in the ravine.

Following the beach run it was the swimmers in the group who surged ahead with a 1 km swim inland up the Touws river. Depending on the tide and your race strategy you could wade through the shallower areas, duck diving along the way as opposed to swimming in the outer right channel of the river. The left is shorter but not necessarily quicker and you run the risk of blowing up your legs trying to wade through the shallows, depending on the height of the tide.

A couple of “in-n-outs” followed the river swim and lead us to the National Park trails where again the runners could now up the pace. Approaching midday, the sun had come out from behind the clouds and it was beginning to get hoooot so staying hydrated was critical to ensure you didn’t run out of steam. The last major swim was another 1km plus segment on Island Lake before pounding the jeep track back towards the finish line at Ebb and Flow. With a 3km run before the last Serpentine swim, now would be a good time for a competitive team to drop the hammer and finish strong.

In total the course was 26 kms, which could change depending on your navigation through the Kaaimans as well as your chosen line on the Touws River swim. After the race we all enjoyed some post race hydration courtesy of CBC Beer. As the afternoon wore on people indulged in some well earned pizzas and drinks before hitting up another braai later in the evening. Copious banter, lekker people and a thoroughly Epic race route all culminated in a weekend well worth the travel to get there. So when the #wildycool Wilderness route is officially announced later this year don’t hesitate to get involved.