PUFfeR 2012

What do you get if you cross a windswept, soggy but enthusiastic trail runner with 78km of running from Cape Point to the V&A Waterfront? A PUFfeR 2012 competitor, of course!

Last Saturday was the 18th running of the Peninsula Ultra Fun Run, better known as the PUFfeR (or, for those not wanting to get their fingers and eyes in a tangle, we just call it the Puffer).

The weather was as predicted by the long range forecast: foul – a strong, gusty headwind blasted us from the northwest, bringing with it intermittent sheets of icy rain throughout the day and making progress damn tough for us all. This was my 5th traverse from Cape Point to the Waterfront (two of which were admittedly doubles – the Tuffer Puffer in ’06 and ’07) and until this time, I’d always scored perfect weather. I’d always known it would only be a matter of time before I paid for that…

Nic de Beer (left), Andre Calitz (centre) and Will Robinson (right)
The heavens opened as our starting gun at 5:30am, and 129 of us sloshed our way through the darkness of the Cape Point Nature Reserve and into the dawn light, counting down the 23km of t@r til the top of Red Hill when we could at last hit trail. The front bunch had bolted off at the start as though their lives depended on it, with record holder Will Robinson, 2011 winner Nic de Beer, and Puffer novice and veritable speedster Andre Calitz disappearing into the darkness, not to be seen again by the rest of us til prizegiving that night at Ferryman's.

I had my own battle to fight on the t@r section – between the relentless headwind and a slightly dodgy tummy that required two high speed bush visits, I had to keep a close watch on Melany Porter, who I had known would give the road section a good push. She had a comfortable lead, and I needed to keep her in view for peace of mind. I’d have to catch her once we hit the trail…

The rain lifted, the wind continued. I caught Melany on the t@r section in Sun Valley, just before the Woodcutters path. By the time I reached the Old Wagon Trail, I had enough of a lead to know that if I kept a steady pace, I’d be safe. Thankfully my legs didn’t have their usual Old Wagon Trail rebellion, and I ran strong, winding my way through the magnificence of Silvermine Nature Reserve at its floral best.
me on the Old Wagon Trail

Once past Elephants Eye and onto the far section of Level Five, I finally had a clear view of the back of Table Mountain, and my heart sank – it was shrouded in thick, dark cloud. I knew there was little chance we’d be “going over”, and that instead, we’d be sent “around”. No real Puffer runner wants to be sent around the mountain – it’s not The Real Thing, it’s a bow-out, a sap’s safe alternative. But with some 60 novices doing this year’s race, the organisers would be wise to make the responsible decision and re-route the race from Constantia Nek.

And that’s exactly what happened. The front three speedsters Andre, Will and Nic reached the Nek way ahead of everyone, and because their race was tight, they were cleared to head on up the mountain to Maclears Beacon and down Platteklip Gorge. The rest of us went around, following the (not-so) contour path above Kirstenbosch, around the far corner at the base of Devil’s Peak and ultimately onto Tafelberg Road, along the front of Table Mountain to Kloof Nek, to then join the standard route along Signal Hill Rd to the Waterfront, finishing at Ferryman’s.

Selfishly, I was disappointed. My strength is technical running, it’s what I love and what I’m best at. But it was the right call – conditions up there were very bad and sending 120+ runners up into swirling mist would be asking for trouble.

Andre negotiating his way along lower Signal Hill
The rest, as they say, is history – Andre, who had been closely followed by Will on reaching Constantia Nek, revved up a gear going up the mountain, turbo-boosted his way along Smuts Track to Maclears, flew down Platteklip, onto Signal Hill and sped to Ferryman’s to finish in 6:59:36, smashing the race record by 14 mins. Incredible in those conditions!

Still as lead woman but feeling sapped by that blasted headwind on Tafelberg Rd, I felt far from fleet-of-foot, so stubbornly plodded at pace, finishing in first spot for the ladies, 8:29:54.

Puffer’s a fantastic race. With the full length of the Cape peninsula as its stage, running what’s officially a five day hike (the Hoerikwaggo Trail) in a single stage is always a special experience. And every couple of years the mountain’s weather struts its stuff, showing us who’s boss. This year it did just that, and we all listened…  apart from Andre "AJ" Calitz, aka "GingerNinja", who strut his in defiance, and came out tops!

*photos courtesy of Jacques Marais

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