Trailblazers: Wild times for Riverside runners
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, the poet tells us. Or, in the case of your middle-aged correspondent, to outdoor pursuits and vague thoughts about getting fitter, and leaner, not merely meaner.
The dark winter mornings are behind us too, so quitting the bed is less of a wrench… all of which adds to the appeal of the Riverside Trail, a series of trail runs or walks held in Durban North and Umhlanga four times a week.
Riverside, which celebrates its ninth anniversary this month, can draw up to 60 participants on a morning.
Apart from providing an enervating and exhilarating dose of dawn exercise, it’s a fine way for tourists to meet locals and take in a few natural beauty spots.
I joined a bunch of Riversiders on Thursday last week at the basement parking lot at Checkers, Virginia Circle.
Buzz Bolton, who started the trail group in 2010, says he often gives a quick pre-run briefing. But with a modest turnout of mostly regulars he skipped this and we set off without ceremony, about 5.15am.
Thursday’s trail follows a 7.5km course, initially through Danville Park near the car park, then into the lower, middle, and upper parts of the the Virginia Bush Reserve.
Pretty sharpish the trail turns into a hill climb.
The course is a touch complicated for newcomers so it’s best to shadow Bolton, or another regular.
Fortunately, the veteran of 21 Comrades Marathons and numerous other races and trails was taking it easy.
He walked the very steep sections, allowing me to keep up.
As we went, Bolton told how he started the trail and why he and many others now prefer to do their running off-grid, as it were.
The trail is not part of any recognised athletics structure and follows paths and routes in natural spaces, rather than on hard surfaces or in suburbia.
Soon the sun is rising and we turn off our torches. A chorus of birdsong greets the day as we huff and puff.
“Knysna loerie,” says Bolton, picking up one call among the many.
Much of the trail is under trees and through indigenous coastal bush. Often it runs just inside the perimeter fence of the 38 hectare reserve.
We skirt or cross roads here and there; at other times we pass a soccer pitch and homes, swish and less so, bordering the reserve.
The trail takes us westwards. We climb up to the ridge and Umhlanga Rocks Drive, taking in some fine sea views on the way.
Coming down, the trail plunges deep into the reserve for a bit, doubling back on itself at one stage.
We cross footbridges, pass a pretty pond and run twice through a long glade, a stretch Bolton calls the “Best Mile in Durban, The Magic Mile”.
“Twenty-one,” Bolton cries out suddenly, leaping over a certain low stile in the pathway, placed to keep out dirt-bikers. “You shout out the number and you feel that you’re that age all over again,” the 70-year-old explains.
Many spots, hills, lookout points and other landmarks on the trail have been given colorful names by the runners.
There are four Base Camps at the start of steep sections, an allusion to the famous Everest camps and a light-hearted warning to River Trailers of what lies ahead.
“When you take a look at it you want to pitch your tent and spend the night there,” quips Bolton.
We pass “Barking Dog”, a stretch where a big bull mastiff for many years used to run up and down the fence “barking like crazy at the runners”.
Later we come to Eco House, a magnificent property on Margaret Maytom Avenue with its own water source, solar power supply and an impressive chicken coop.
Bolton points to a tree with big thorns. It’s where regular River Trailer Ryan Elson bumped his head one year, earning himself the Blood Nut award at the group’s annual Christmas get-together.
Elson passed us early on the Thursday run, hailing Bolton with a friendly greeting as he and his border collie, Argo, hared up a hill.
Elsewhere on the route we pass or are passed by other runners and walkers. Bolton seems to know most of them by name.
“One big happy family,” he says.
Speaking of Everest, or at any rate the Himalayas, towards the end of the trail we overtake a group from nearby Danville Park Girls High School.
The girls are being led by Alison Chadwick, another Riverside Trail stalwart and administrator of the trail’s Facebook page. They are preparing, we are told, for a trip to Nepal.
Bolton says the Thursday trail is popular with runners and walkers looking to build some extra stamina for big races like the Otter African Trail Run.
It gets a few visitors from further afield too.
Ryan Sandes, South Africa’s top trail runner, for example, likes to join the group when he’s up from Cape Town on business, says Bolton.
At the start-finish, runners and walkers are trickling in, gathering at the Seattle Virginia Circle coffee shop for a brew and a chat.
Then it’s in our cars and on our way. It’s perhaps 6.30am.
Other Riverside trails
Thursday was quite enough exercise for one week for this middle-aged Umhlanga Tourism correspondent, but not for Bolton and many Riverside Trail regulars.
Thursdays aside, the group’s weekly programme is as follows:
MONDAY, 5am: Meet at Umhlanga Sands Hotel at the boom for a 10km run on the beach to Umdloti and back. If the tide is too high the run goes inland through the sugar cane.
WEDNESDAY, 5.15am: Meet at Checkers Virginia Circle car park for a 5-8km run. Trailers are split into groups depending on their levels of fitness.
SATURDAY, 5.15am: Meet at Checkers Virginia Circle car park. A few groups do different trails varying in length from 5km to 10km.
SATURDAY, 5.15am: Meets at Riverside Hotel, 10 Kenneth Kaunda (formerly Northway) Road. This is for the more adventurous River Trailers, who enjoy the variety of the river and its trails. Distances range from 8km to 25km. Saturday’s trail includes a special initiation ceremony for newcomers.
For more details WhatsApp Buzz Bolton at +27 84 300 8923 or visit the group’s Facebook page, Riverside Trail Durban.
• Buzz Bolton credits a December 2010 partnership with with Umhlanga Tourism for helping to put the sport of trail running on the map in KwaZulu-Natal. He said a run was introduced into the popular Umhlanga Festival in that year, with a number of non- technical routes through sugar cane, along jeep tracks and flowing rivers and on the beach.