Since Port Alfred parkrun launched in December 2017, the course has been completed more than 13,000 times. Event Director Martin Neethling tells us more:
“If you build it they will come!” It was true for Field of Dreams, and it certainly became true for the Port Alfred parkrun! All it took was a few social media requests for Port Alfred to join the international world of parkrun and some brave souls who decided to lay the groundwork and the wheels were put in motion. Planning for the parkrun began in February 2017, and many locations were tested until the final decision was made to use the beautiful banks of the Kowie River where on the 9th December 2017 the first Port Alfred parkrun took place.
Every Saturday begins relatively early when the enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers arrive at the parkrun headquarters (aka the Girl Guide Hall which has facilities for the runners to use) for a quick cup of coffee and a chat before loading up the bakkies or their arms with boards, tape, flags and bollards and setting off to the various points. Extra care is taken to make sure that the route is clearly marked out and that all safety precautions are in place. As the runners and walkers arrive and park their cars just a few metres from the start, they are content in the knowledge that our vigilant parkrun car guards with their signature bibs are there to watch over their valuables. Adults and children, prams and dogs, runners looking for a PB or walkers who enjoy a gentle stroll all congregate at the start in anticipation of another successful Port Alfred parkrun. All around are hats and water bottles, and everyone from age 5 – 82, is filled with expectation. First timers are shown the route, special milestones are recognised, the obligatory rules are read and then it’s “Timekeeper are you ready? 3, 2, 1, go!”
As the pack set off up the small incline, excitement permeates the air. The scenic route meanders back in on itself and in winter you are assured of a beautiful sunrise over the river, and the summer brings many holidaymakers kayaking, swimming or on boats on the river to cheer the runners on. As you pass by the bridge, there is always a marshal available to help anyone who requires assistance up the verge, and just around the corner, you are hit with the tempting aroma of breakfast and coffee from a local hotel where breakfast goers are also waiting outside to spur you on.
The course then carries on along the grass of the banks of the river, past the putting green and to a turnaround point where fishermen are pumping prawns or skiers are getting ready to go up the river. Then it’s time to head back and do the second loop where you can see which new boats are moored outside the small boat harbour, or who is playing croquet or bowling and on the final corner offer some pearls of wisdom to those practising parking for their driver’s licences. By now your dog will be thirsty and there are many water points throughout the course as well as a place to drop hats or jerseys to be collected at the finish point. Soon the end is in sight as there is only one loop to go and the marshals are more enthusiastic than ever, shouting words of encouragement and hi-fiving those almost at the end. And then it’s there – the finish line just after the bridge where a sea of yellow jackets is driving you on to get to the end. You present your barcode and another Saturday is done! The excitement continues as friends and family wait for each other to share their experiences while some brave souls jump into the river for a quick dip. Slowly but surely the tailwalker comes in, the marshals and cleaning crew pack up and another successful Port Alfred parkrun has been ticked off.
While the route remains the same, the run has different memories each week: from a family of geese on a jetty watching the runners go by, to a cloudburst where scanning had to be done in the hall, to a local company setting up a water station for the runners or even the community and a leading retailer getting together to raise money for the SPCA and Hospice with breakfast stalls after the run.
We as volunteers have had the privilege over the last year of witnessing people become fitter, leaner and more mobile. It has been inspiring to see family members and friends that have joined in due to the recommendations of those who have done it before them and how it has now become a Saturday morning ritual. There is never a shortage of volunteers, and the slew of thumbs up that comes through on the group message after the call goes out for volunteers always brings a smile.
In Port Alfred, we believe that every walker or runner is a notable visitor, and whether you plan on smashing the run record or just enjoying a stroll through the magnificent terrain, we welcome you and hope to see you again!
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