The exclusive Merrell Whale of Trail in CapeNature’s spectacular De Hoop Nature Reserve, one of the most sought-after running events in the wild, will leave you breathless. In a good way of course! Pictures by Peter Kirk

This year’s Merrell Whale of Trail takes place on 6 August in De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape and there are still a handful of entries. Trail running enthusiasts have only one opportunity each year to complete the iconic Whale Trail Hiking route by running the entire 53 kilometres. Normally completed in five days of hiking, the Whale of Trail dares runners to finish the race within just a few hours. Challenge accepted?

The Whale of Trail is, to say the least, unique in many ways. It’s your chance to run past unforgettable mountain fynbos and seacliffs, greet southern right whales in the Indian Ocean and make long stretches of pristine white beach your training track.

Sarah Hearn from Whale of Trail, says the event is much more than a bucket-list item begging to be ticked. “Imagine starting off at dawn and heading straight up a hill, knowing that’s the highest climb of the day already done… Coming up to see the sunrise [the course heads east and ends west], the view of the Breede River on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other with this whole area as your playground for the day. Approaching the finish line – on firm ground after a long stretch of beach – to be greeted like a hero, no matter what position you place. It’s incredibly emotional.”

For the race’s first half runners can expect steep climbs and descents through fynbos landscapes, undulating rocky and technical seacliffs, with stretches of beach. “The winners take around six hours; last runners come in after 11 hours 30 minutes. A short-course option is in place for safety reasons and to make sure as many runners as possible cross the finish line. The Whale of Trail is run in the winter, so the early morning is quite chilly, but the uphill-start sorts that out! Be prepared for normal seaside conditions: it could be sunny and clear, windy or cloudy.”

Be prepared

Sarah urges runners not to underestimate 53 kilometres. “Listen to the advice of the organiser during the briefing. What looks the easiest on the route profile is actually the toughest section, and you’d be sensible to pace yourself correctly. Train on a variety of terrains to be prepared for the various different sections, and don’t forget to take the time to appreciate the whales waving at you!”

And why not make a weekend of it? This year’s event is taking place over a long weekend – just the excuse for cheering families and friends to enjoy the entire weekend at De Hoop or one of the nearby reserves.

Keeping it green

“CapeNature did an extensive survey before and after the first event [in 2014] to ensure there would be no damaging environmental impact caused by runners using the paths. The numbers are capped at 175 for this reason. There is no garbage. Runners keep their wrappers on them and a sweep runs at the back to ensure the trail is left clean. The high tide washes away the footprints that are the only evidence of people having passed,” says Sarah.

Click here to stay up to date for details on 2017’s event.