George parkrun on the Garden Route has been running for over five years, with over 13,000 parkrunners visiting the course in that time. Event Director, Douglas Stanley tells us more:
How did George parkrun come about? Our parkrun was started in 2014 through the enthusiastic vision of Chantell Liddell and Neville Myburgh, who saw the potential for a 5km route from the Garden Route Botanical Garden into the surrounding forests and back. The event has grown to a steady number of average 450 parkrunners throughout the year, peaking at close to a thousand during holiday season.
Who helps to make George parkrun the success it is? As the backbone of any parkrun is its volunteers, we are blessed with a number of dedicated, smiling parkrunners who have made particular volunteer roles their own.
Marge Webster, a regular Tail Walker, made a hi-viz jacket for her dog Flash who accompanies her on her way around the course – making sure no parkrunner is left behind!
Then we have the dedicated setup team of mother and son Adele and Freddie Munro who arrive at 07:00 every Saturday to help with the pre-event setup duties.
And for the past two years our event team was headed up by myself and my wife, Ninke Stanley. We have made the parkrun our “baby”, cherishing the hundreds of parkrunners as though they are a close-knit family. We will now be standing back to care for our firstborn baby, but will remain near to the event team as regular volunteers.
What is the course like? Our course is a proper trail run, with parkrunners setting off from the Conservation Centre in the Garden Route Botanical Garden, heading out over a wide open lawn and into the Witfontein forest. After a steep, rocky descent the route crosses the first of two wooden bridges and turns left into the bottom section of the forest. The second kilometre of the route is winding singletrack that dodges pine trees with a twist or two. After exiting the bottom part of the forest, parkrunners make another bridge crossing before heading up the long L-shaped climb known as the Legbreaker. At the top of this climb parkrunners enter the tricky Cannonball descent that requires you have all your wits about you. The return journey over the second of the wooden bridges leads into a last part of singletrack before making a final bridge crossing as parkrunners head back to the Botanical Garden. The stretched-out lawn allows you to catch your breath before heading up Spiral Hill – a unique mound-shaped double-spiral climb dotted with interesting plants of all kinds. From the top of this mound the magnificent view of the mountain takes away what little breath you had. All is not done yet, though, and the final kilometre lies ahead. Faster parkrunners go flat out for this last section as the route circles the Botanical Garden Dam on paved pathways before making a final loop of the finish area where the volunteers cheer you in.
What are the typical George parkrunners like? Despite the challenging nature of the course, George parkrun welcomes a variety of athletes and walkers. As the Garden Route area is a trail running hotspot, many serious trail runners come to our course to test their speed and skill, although our course record is currently held by local road running champion Lloyd Bosman. Besides the faster runners there are many parkrunners just starting out on their athletic endeavour, working hard to beat their personal best time, be it sub-40 or sub-30 minutes. This group makes up about half our weekly field.
What makes George parkrun unique? The beautiful forest is also a major attraction for walkers, many of whom are parents bringing their children along for a fun morning out. It is always a marvellous sight seeing the bright smiling faces of the younger children as they come rushing toward the finish line, even though they were sighing only minutes before, “Are we done yet?!”
Over the past five years our event has been affected by devastating fires (October 2018) and the tragic death of Andre Kotze, a 59-year old parkrunner who passed away at parkrun on 2 December 2017 while descending the steepest part of our route. These incidents left lasting impressions on all the volunteers and parkrunners involved and has become part of our parkrun story. Ultimately, we all realised anew what a privilege good health and safety is, as well as appreciating the magnificent surroundings we live in beneath the Outeniqua Mountains.
What achievements have George parkrunners had? Our parkrun story is also one of enabling many people with sedentary lifestyles to start leading an active lifestyle. That is also a central principle of parkrun, namely making physical outdoors activity accessible to everyone. A number of parkrunners from George have gone on to longer distances, including Gavin Warner (in the 70-74 age category) who participates regularly in trail races in the area, including the 2018 George Mountain Ultra Trail 9km. Another success story is Patrick Rawlins (aged 61) who regularly wins his age category in almost every race he enters (anything from 3km up to 15km). Another stalwart of our parkrun is Marc Wierzba who seldom finishes outside of the Top 10 at George. Since starting running in 2015 he has joined the red 50 milestone club, but clearly takes his trail running seriously (with a PB of under 20 minutes) as he recently completed the 108km Outeniqua Quest event in under 20 hours!
What are the facilities like? We are most privileged to have the Garden Route Botanical Garden as our venue. The wide lawns offer ample parking while the start area is located in front of the Convention Centre, where parkrunners can visit the loo before heading out for their parkrun. The start area is separate from the finish area, though, so parkrunners are encouraged to arrive fifteen minutes before the start in order to allow them sufficient time to walk the 400m from the parking to the start in time for the pre-run briefing.
One other great feature of our venue is the Getafix Garden Café where parkrunners can enjoy a post-run coffee or a delicious breakfast at very affordable prices. The café is situated next to the Garden entrance, so parkrunners simply walk a few hundred metres from the finish to get their post-run coffee.
What should a first timer at George know? First-time visitors to our parkrun will be glad to know that dogs are welcomed at George parkrun, and they most certainly enjoy the two streams crossed by our route. Babies in prams have a tough time though, as only the most dedicated 4×4-prams successfully navigate the course over tree roots and small rocks.
George parkrun is without a doubt a worthwhile visit for anyone travelling through the Garden Route. It is also a highlight in the week for many locals who cannot go without their weekly “forest therapy.”
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