It’s always nice to get invited to a well-planned Christmas party. My invite came all the way back in July in the following format, “My name is Catherine Dixon and I do the communications, PR and social media for Westville Athletic Club. We host our annual race in December each year that is a bit of an icon on the KZNA calendar. I see that you are open to trying different races and I was wondering if A) you would be interested in running our event in December (Sunday December 10th) and B) What would be required from your end to run/blog about our event.”
I was still an injured runner in July but figured I could commit to a 15km in December. I therefore replied that if Westville were happy to cover my travel costs, I’d love to run their race. The helpers’ run is on Saturday so Catherine suggested that to get the full Westville Christmas experience, I arrive on Friday and participate in both the helpers and official run. I am all for maximising the experience so that is exactly what I did.
Westville is home to a host of running legends and I was fortunate to be hosted by Sanet Beukes, Westville’s first female honorary member and a seven-time Comrades top 10 finisher in the 1990s. Sanet* and her husband Jannie run the Loeriebos B&B in Westville whose views are only superseded by the hospitality they provided over the weekend.
* Sanet and her daughter, Janie Grundling, are the only mother and daughter to have won Comrades gold medals (no father and son has achieved this feat). True to form, Janie won the ladies’ race on Sunday in 59 minutes despite impaling her foot on a lampchop bone a week earlier.
The helpers’ run was a relaxed affair with just over 40 runners (and one dog) testing the hilly route through the suburbs (although I think the hills tested the helpers more than the helpers tested the hills). Westville went to every effort to emulate race day conditions and even produced a table of shooters amongst the refreshments.
Post-run, everyone immediately set about transforming the clubhouse and adjacent field for the following day’s festivities. One of drawcards of the race is the complimentary shirt which works in the Christmas theme brilliantly (for example, the Illovo logo is included as a decorative bauble) – my race shirt is in heavy rotation and has already been seen on runs both side of the Jukskei.
My race shirt ended up getting an earlier than planned wear when I realised that I had forgotten my Fourways vest at home. I normally focus on marathons – when I looked back at my logbook, I realised that I had not run an official 15km race since 2011 (and have also only run one official half marathon over the same period). In the relaxed novelty of packing for a short distance race, I did not do my normally diligent race gear check. However, perhaps running incognito in KZN was a wise decision since earlier this year I seemed to have stirred up angst amongst a group of middle-aged ladies in the Howick region and I didn’t want to get Karened.
Whilst some people run this as a normal race, many of the clubs dress-up and push around a self-constructed float. There are prizes for the Friendliest Bus and Best Float and these are hotly contested awards that come with local bragging rights.
On race morning, the Westville club was a hive of activity before the 6am start. The AOT Running Club added to the buzz by all dressing up likes bees for one of the best outfits of the day. Whilst the swarm was definitely in contention for one of the team prizes, unfortunately they were disqualified as they forgot to bring along their BEE certificate.
Searching the official photos and their Facebook page, it looks like someone needs to instruct their male members about how the birds and the bees work.
I understand that the queen bee was handing out the beer and honey but it looks like there’s a typo on their Bee Beer – I assume it should read ‘Santa’s Favorite Honey’ but maybe I am missing something…
Historically, race day always brings rain to Durban and this year was no different with an intense overnight storm and gloomy, threatening conditions on race morning. Luckily there was nothing heavier than light drizzle during the event but Pinetown & Districts AC came prepared for a worst-case scenario and all wore inflatables to ensure that their float would not turn into a sink in the event of torrential rain.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you inclement weather, make like the clementine-clad Toti club who were loud and proud in their outfits and noise levels. I was impressed that the Toti bus waited until the top of the first hill (just before the 2km mark) before taking their first drinks break. I was however later corrected by Dave Rademan that they had in fact started their hydration before the starting gun fired and this was their first refill stop.
The race is full of the Christmas spirit – and spirits. For those running without a club coolerbox, just around the corner, marshal Maxinne Moses was offering coffee with additives (your choice whether to fuel the rest of your race with tequila or Amarula).
With this kind of support from the marshals and support tables, perhaps the most important race prep is ensuring that you line your stomach properly. Fortunately there was complimentary coffee (just regular coffee thankfully) and Chelsea buns on offer before the start which seemed to do the job.
Kloof were another club with an interesting outfit. I verified with them that they were going for a Smurf theme rather than that of an obscure religious cult. Whilst Smurfette is the only female in Smurf Village, those worrying about the future of the Smurf lineage will be pleased to see that Kloof Village has an abundance of lady Smurfs. Unfortunately, by the time I took the above picture, it looks like Garagamel had stolen all their beer. Perhaps this is why the only male Smurf in the background is looking so glum, I would have thought he’d have been happy to run amongst all the Smurfettes.
Other clubs went with a traditional Christmas theme like Stella who went big with a massive present. KZN runners can get exceptionally passionate about their clubs so I am sure there are Stella members who’ve named their child Stella – which provides an opportunity to prank said kid by putting this gift
under next to the Christmas tree with a tiny present inside*.
* However, a word of caution, pulling this prank would quite literally make you a massive doos.
Savages also kept on theme with a Christmas tree float. No doubt the tree also can in handy when their members needed a bit of cover when making room for more beer.
However, the big winners this year were Hollywood AC and Hillcrest Villagers. Hollywood are the biggest running club in KZN so there were always the odds on favourite to have the biggest bus. I can also confirm that they were also the noisiest bus on the route and had the biggest float-come-coolerbox – which was in the shape of a Christmas cracker!
After completing the 15km at a very sedate pace with frequent drinks breaks, I went back to do a ‘victory lap’ and see if any of the clubs still struggling up the hills with full coolerboxes needed ‘help’ in lightening their load. Since Hollywood were carrying the biggest cargo, I ended up repeating the last couple of kilometres in their company and got chatting to club chairman, Greg Glossop, on the ‘back seat’ of the bus. Greg came armed with purple smoke bombs which were detonated as the bus hit the field to announce Hollywood’s arrival at the finish line.
Hillcrest Villagers had the best float and won the Friendliest Bus award for their magnificent Gingerbread House. I remarked that it was a pity that the house was not made of real sweets but apparently, even with Campbell Nel injured, Hillcrest’s chunkier members had consumed all the candy before the start. However, I was assured that no gingers were hurt in the construction of the house.
Dave Campbell-Hall was on sentry duty prodding tardy runners with his candy cane to ensure that the float did not cause a real-life game of Candy Crush when gravity took effect on the downhills. There were also complaints from other clubs that the Hillcrest float lacked realism as their Gingerbread Man was a lot easier to catch than the “Run! Run! As fast as you can, You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread man!” guy in the nursery rhyme.
Whilst some clubs went to great lengths in costume and set design, others went for a minimalist approach like DHS Old Boys who arrived with a bare basics ‘coolerbox in a running pram’ float. I guess this is a case of throwing out the baby to make room for the bathwater. Since much of the club is comprised of former Durban High School scholars, this reminded me of the ‘last minute / night before it’s due’ project tactic to get just enough done to pass the grade.
Whilst most of the club floats were full of beer, Team Vitality went to the other extreme, filling their trolley with all the recognised HealthyFoods that runners like to eat and drink before, during and after a long run.
The official Team Vitality bus definitely stayed on Santa’s ‘Nice’ list but I did notice that many other Vitality members did their best to get onto the ‘Naughty’ list and may have overcompensated along the route.
One such example are the ladies in the photo sequence above who reacted with audible shouts of glee when they spotted the shooters at the BDE Attorneys table. They then proceeded to guzzle their guilty pleasures with what appeared to be a well-practice ritual.
The Illovo table around the halfway mark was another that offered shooters. Here I observed another Vitality member who would have made the Discovery Insure team proud with his safety technique. First of all, he was running well below the speed limit and therefore did not lose any points for harsh braking. His smooth and cautious deceleration ensured that he could pick up his shot glass with practiced ease, minimising the risk of spillage. He then checked his blind spot before safely consuming the Jägermeister.
Illovo has sponsored the race for the last 30 years and they narrowly lost out on the Best Table award this year. Illovo also fed the 2,500 runners pancakes after the race. This is ironic as the route profile is the complete opposite of ‘as flat as pancake’. You run up and down every hill in Westville except Cowies which results in a total climb of 333m over the 15km. To put this in perspective, this extrapolates to a marathon with an elevation gain of 940m (which would make it 1.5 times tougher than Soweto Marathon).
Illovo provided the honey but The Cows brought the milkshake to the yard with some enthusiastic udder shaking and marshalling (or should that be mooshalling?) along the route.
* The Cows participate in a variety of endurance events to raise money for CHOC (The Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa).
BDE Attorneys held court as the top table of the day. For the prosecution, Illovo did their best to regain custody of the Best Table trophy. However, a combination good décor, cuteness and naughtiness swayed the jury with the verdict ruling in favour of BDE’s title defence (selected evidence is listed below).
A couple of the signs caught my specific attention like the ‘toenails are for losers’ one above. This poses an interesting paradox – if you lose all your toenails does this make you a winner? Funnily enough, my eldest daughter posted a no context photo of her new nails on our family WhatsApp group the previous day. I replied with a beautiful no context troll shot of my right foot. My toenails are actually in pretty good shape for this time of the year – nothing black or missing. Clearly I need to run more in 2024!
However, the sign that got the most reaction during the race (as well as afterwards on social media) was, “Run like someone called you a jogger.” I think this joke requires some local context but I understand it has something to do with Comrades. One thing is for sure though, there were a lot more runners crossing the finish line of the Westville Illovo Christmas Challenge in the last minute before cutoff than there were at Comrades this year.
I had promised Catherine that I would do my usual ‘humorous post a day’ on social media the week after the race. For some marathons, there is just enough material to cover a week’s worth of posts so before this race I was a little worried whether I’d get enough material from a 15km. However, I ended up with so many race highlights that I ended up having to do two posts a day to cover the race adequately.
I had an absolute blast at the Westville Illovo Christmas Challenge and can safely say that this is the most fun December run I’ve ever done. The event is a great advertisement for the club system and the benefits of joining a ‘real’ running club. Next year’s event promises to be even bigger as it is both the 30th running and 50th anniversary of Westville Athletic Club.
There is however one downside to this event. I still had a week of work ahead of me before going on official leave. This race is so full of Christmas spirit and festive cheer that my brain felt like it was already on its Christmas holiday break before I boarded my flight back to Joburg. It was hard work dragging myself to work on Monday morning – and for once this was not because my legs were stiff after a marathon.Follow Running Mann: