Not an end, rather a new beginning

Today’s a good day. In fact, it’s a great day! Not only is it the start of the festive season and, for many, holiday time, but it’s also NOT the end of the world. The Mayans were only kidding. What really happened is they ran out of space on their calendar.

So, instead of today being the end of time, we can see it as a time for a new beginning, a reboot, a fresh start.

And, being holiday time, it’s all the more reason (I prefer that word to excuse – we don’t need an excuse) to hit the trails. Hot trails they may be, but they’re special in any temperature, time, be they technical or not.

Speaking of all things trail, it’s time for an update on what’s afoot with the future of our sport in South Africa. Most of you will remember the much-debated debacle in 2011, when ASA selected and sent a team at very short notice to the IAU World Trail Champs in Ireland (too lengthy and complicated to go into in this post, so click on To regulate or not to regulate - that is the trail running question to read up, including its 31 comments).

Since then, there’ve been loads of positive developments shaping the future of trail running and, again in a very positive way, the formalisation of our sport. While many of you have been following this progress, others haven’t – not for lack of interest, but rather because they’ve been spending their time outdoors, enjoying the trails. A sort of feet-on-the-ground rather than ear-to-the-ground kinda preference.

So, I thought it’s about time I did a follow-up on the post I wrote in 2011, to bring Rockhoppin’ Trail readers up to speed with the good stuff that’s shaping trail running in South Africa.

To ensure accurate info, I went directly to the info source himself: appointed by ASA as convener, Altus Schreuder is the official driver of the process, and is working closely with Allan Ryninks (runner), Bruce Arnett (runner) and Juan Botes (race organiser) in a temporary sub-committee to steer progress until, in time, a formal committee takes over.

And the best news is, as a trail running community we ALL play a role, we ALL get to choose the destiny of our sport.

So, here’s the low-down of where we are (note, it’s in Q&A format for easy reading so you can get back out there quicker). All comments are welcome – and encouraged, so please air your thoughts and get discussing.

LD:  Why is Athletics South Africa (ASA) interested in trail running (TR)?
AS:  I thought it is best that ASA answers this question, so I posted it to James Evans (President) and this was his reply: “Trail running is, and always has been, a part of the sport of athletics. This is true on the international level, where there are international championships, and also locally where a large percentage of trail runners are also members of athletics clubs. So much so, that in the Western Province two clubs were formed to cater for trail runners.”

LD:  What is ASA's intention with TR in South Africa?
AS:  Once again the reply from James: “ASA has no specific intentions for TR in particular. As with all parts of the sport, we want the participants (be it athletes, coaches, etc.) to contribute to creating the vision of what they want. The current exercise being done by the trail committee is to determine exactly that. If people want to contribute to the growth of the sport, their input is welcomed and will be taken into account together with all other inputs. Ultimately we want a safe, fair and enjoyable sport.”

LD:  What will be the role of ASA in TR going forward?
AS:  This depends entirely on what we as the TR community decides how we want the sport to be structured and governed. On the one end of the scale full allegiance to ASA will result in TR becoming an official commission within ASA with separate but equal standing to other commissions like Road Running, Track & Field, etc. On the other hand, if we decide to handle our own affairs, ASA will be only be involved in choosing events as national championships, and then selecting and sending teams to international championships.

LD:  What will be the role of the current sub-committee for Trail Running?
AS:  We must investigate, consult and draft proposals for the formalisation of TR in South Africa. These proposals will be based on the feedback received from the TR community and will not be formulated to meet certain preconceived ideas. The committee may also facilitate processes and get the ball rolling, where necessary.
We will focus on three concepts: a national structure for TR in South Africa; essential rules to protect the safety of runners and the environment; and the drafting a national fixtures list, identifying national championships and selecting national teams.
Once its current mandate has been fulfilled, the sub-committee will basically cease to exist. In the event that TR becomes part of ASA, a Trail Running Commission will be established with properly elected members who will then take over the governing of the sport. However, iowever, f we decide to manage the sport ourselves, a committee that forms part of one of the commissions in ASA (probably cross-country) will be formed and will only look at the selection and management of national teams.

LD:  Where do you fit in and what is your mandate?
AS:  As is the case with sub-committees, the members were not elected but appointed: Allan Ryninks (vice chair of Trail WP); Bruce Arnett (runner); Juan Botes (race organiser), and I as convener.
I have a full mandate to do everything necessary to form a comprehensive and balanced picture of what the TR community needs and wants for the sport. ASA is not involved with the committee and it is up to me to ensure that the decisions we make are not in conflict with ASA.

LD:  What is the time frame for what the committee wants to achieve?
AS:  I’m reluctant to put rigid timelines to the concepts of a national structure and the drafting of rules because it is critical to get as much input and participation as possible. I will be quite satisfied if we could finalise these by the end of 2013.
The national calendar, championships and team selection are more urgent and should already be operational in 2013.

LD:  How will TR benefit from the formalisation of the sport?
AS:  This question goes to the heart of what we are doing because it forces us to ask what kind of structures we should have in TR and how we should govern our sport. My reply, like everybody else’s at this stage, is a matter of opinion because we are deliberating something that doesn’t yet exist.
For me, as it seems for most people, TR is primarily about running, freedom and nature. A national body should guard over these principles and in the process concentrate their rules and regulations primarily on two aspects: safety of runners and nature conservation. Of course this is all very philosophical and the question remains: how we are going to do it.
Right now TR in South Africa is developing smoothly and some people have indeed asked: why fix something that isn’t broken. But just like any contract, measures should be put in place when all is going well for when things could go wrong.  Now is the best time to get our sport organised because we are growing very fast.
Let me give an example:  In 2013 we will see many new events from organisers that are inexperienced in TR, like road running clubs, mountain bike events, local festival organisers, etc. With the current unregulated approach, any numberof organisers (even from other regions) can stage events in the same region on the same day as an existing event. It could also see inexperienced organisers or those with one eye on the money to compromise on safety or neglect the environment.
Another point to consider is to whom nature conservation bodies, regional authorities or even race organisers and runners should talk when problems arise. There are also other possible issues such as levies, race numbers, insurance, etc. that may need discussion.
As you can see, I’m not giving any answers on these issues because I believe my responsibility is to let us as TR community decide collectively on them, but I do firmly believe that we must come together to formally address them.

LD:  How has the feedback been so far?
AS:  It has been better than I expected. The bruising encounters of 2011 are still fresh in many minds and I was concerned that people would be downright dismissive of this new attempt to get something on the table. However, criticism has been mostly constructive and it is especially heart-warming to see the open-mindedness of people. It is, nevertheless, clear that the process will have to be managed very carefully.
Some race organisers are understandably cautious, particularly those who have worked hard over the years to develop successful and popular events without the interference of governing bodies. The two aspects that have raised the most concern have been the involvement of ASA, and the extent to which rules and regulations will impact negatively on events and runners.
Our top runners, on the other hand, are excited, especially about the prospect of respresenting South Africa. For them the most important aspects are well organised races and the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Having said all of the above, I believe that many people are still waiting to see where this process is heading before they will fully commit. This is fully understandable and once again emphasises the importance for us as a committee to do a proper job.

LD:  How has your call for bids to stage the SA Long Distance Champs so far been received?
AS:  So far five race organisers have showed interest, one of whom has already sent full documentation. I think once organisers see what it is all about, there could be much more interest. The most important aspects to understand when you stage a national championship are:

LD:  How do you see the short and long term plan for TR in South Africa?
AS:  The short term is all about fulfilling the mandate of the committee: compile the national fixtures list, decide on national championships, select and send national teams to the world stage. Also to get the TR community to decide on the essential rules and regulations for our sport, and finally to decide on a national structure for TR in South Africa. I believe this phase will end in the election of our first national committee.
In the long term I foresee a well-balanced calendar aided by a system where we sanction races that fully adhere to the rules we have decided on. For me safety and the environment are of the utmost concern and since we have only so many mountains and so many trails, we simply cannot have a free-for-all where our environment is harmed or runners are disadvantaged.
Another prospect is the establishment of mountain running in South Africa. This currently doesn’t exist here and it will be interesting to see how successful it will be.
Finally, we will definitely bid for the staging of an international championship. I think it would be wonderful to bring the mountain goats of the world to South Africa and show them what we have and what we can do.