Grobler Basson and Emily Djock raced to record-breaking victories in cold and windy weather at the PUFfeR Peninsula Ultra Fun Run across the spine of the Cape Peninsula in Cape Town over the weekend (Saturday 9 September).
One of the oldest trail races in South Africa, the PUFfeR, as it is affectionately known, takes place annually in spring between the southern tip of the Peninsula and Green Point at the northern extremity, with the route connecting a number of iconic sites along the Peninsula mountain chain, including Red Hill, Silvermine, Constantia Nek, Maclear’s Beacon, Platteklip Gorge and Signal Hill.
Emily Djock leads the women’s field through Beau Constantia after 40km. Photo – Stephen Granger
Since the COVID pandemic the race, ‘running in heaven, feeling like hell’ has been shortened by 10km from the original 75km, with the start moving from Cape Point Lighthouse on the tip to the Cape Point Ostrich Farm near the gate to the Cape of Good Hope Reserve but the rest of the race has remained essentially the same.
But the 29th edition of the PUFfeR, under the baton of new race director, Ryan Bekker, and a primary sponsorship package with Zlant, did see some changes, with the addition of the 23km PUFHie (Peninsula Ultra Half) between Cape Point and Noordhoek Sports Fields swelling the numbers for both events to almost 500 and the introduction of new incentives along the route.
Puffing Royalty – Grobler Basson and Emily Djock with their King and Queen of the mountains spoils. Photo – Barbara Cole
Basson and Djock won the Beau Constantia King and Queen of Constantia Nek and Rockrabbit Sports King and Queen of the Mountain titles awarded to the first athletes to Constantia Nek and Maclear’s Beacon respectively. Both athletes also won the newly-inaugurated Ryan Sandes finishers’ medal for athletes completing the race under 7 hours.
Basson has won many of the South Africa’s ultra-trail races in recent years and celebrated two weeks of newly-acquired fatherhood with a win at his first attempt at the PUFfeR.
Basson looked every inch the top athlete he has become and ran away from his rivals in the second half of the race to cross the line in 5hrs 58min 25 sec to better Kyle Bucklow’s 2021 race record for the ‘shorter’ PUFfeR course by more than 22 minutes.
Grobler Basson races home to victory in the 2023 PUFferR at Green Point Cricket Club. Photo – Stephen Granger
Basson’s time also compares favourably with Ben Brimble’s 6:54:42 fastest time on the original course, set in 2014, given that the additional 10km represented a section of relatively fast road running, likely of the order of 50 minutes running time.
“This was my first PUFfeR,” Grobler explained, “I was unfamiliar with the route, and made a number of navigational errors – I think I went off course on five occasions! But I felt good throughout and I’m pleased at the way it worked out today.
“I particularly enjoyed the single track climb up Smuts Track to Maclear’s Beacon. If anything, I found the longer flat sections tougher,” Basson continued. “The only place I didn’t feel comfortable was the descent down Platteklip Gorge, when my legs started to cramp, but I recovered and was able to finish quite strongly.”
Relaxed and strong, Emily Djock approaches the 33km aid station at Silvermine. Photo – Stephen Granger
Still a relative newcomer to trail, American-born Djock laced her first trail shoes less than four years ago, after returning from Holland, where she and her husband had lived for four years. But she has made rapid progress.
In the twelve months since her PUFfeR win last year, she has enjoyed a number of podium finishes, including wins at the AfricanX One-Day marathon and the Grape Run Half Marathon and an impressive runners-up position at Ultra-trail Drakensberg 100km four months ago.
Following a trio of second places in the current competitive Skyrunning SA series, Djock lined up in her title defence at the Puffer. “I felt I had run such a good race last year (when Djock won in record time in 7hrs 15 min), so I didn’t know how I could improve today,” Djock reflected.
Eduan Basson gets encouragement from a supporter as he approaches the halfway mark through the fynbos at Silvermine. Photo – Stephen Granger
“Someone posted on social media that 7 hours would be a great target for me at the PUFfeR, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that. However, at Constantia Nek I glanced at my watch and realised that it might just be a possibility.
“It was always going to be tight and when we had to stop at a road crossing to allow traffic through near the end of the race, I thought that might be it. In the end I made it by just seconds!”
This year’s race got underway from the Ostrich Farm before dawn and it was Oudtshoorn athlete, John April, who raced into an early lead, staying the pace with local Fish Hoek athlete, Kyle Bucklow, who was competing in the inaugural shorter ‘PUFhie’ over just 23km.
Determination or despair – an athlete pushes through the pain to complete the challenge of the 2023 PUFfeR. Photo – Barbara Cole
Bucklow duly won the PUFHie at a canter, but April took a wrong turn after the Noordhoek transition, completely losing his way and dropping out of contention for honours in the longer PUFfeR. April finished out of the top ten in 7:20:21.
Grobler and seasoned ultra-trail athlete, Anele Bans, ran through the 33km checkpoint at Silvermine in 2 hrs 37 min, 4 minutes up on Raydon Barrett with Nicholaas du Plessis and Nic Rupanga rounding out the top five. Last year’s PUFfeR champion, Patrick Cameron-Smith, and Ultra-trail Cape Town race director, Stuart McConnachie appeared out of podium contention in 9th and 10th positions.
Anele Bans – early leader, but just missed out on a podium finish. Photo – Stephen Granger
Bans paused to change his hydration pack on the descent to Constantia Nek, leaving Basson four minutes clear of Bans through the new and improved transition at Beau Constantia. Barrett was a further minute back in third.
Still running strongly, Basson moved further ahead on the climb from Constantia Nek and the race was effectively over as he reached Maclear’s Beacon – the highest point in Cape Town – with no rival in sight.
Basson took victory by a yawning 35 minutes, but the battle for the minor places proved intense with less than two minutes separating the next four athletes across the line at Green Point Cricket Club. Veteran McConnachie ran a powerful second half and his last-gasp sprint finish edged out Cameron-Smith for second, with Bans and Barrett narrowly missing out on podium honours.
Always smiling, Lisa Pringle finishes second in the 2023 PUFfeR. Photo – Stephen Granger
Djock held the lead from the start, enjoying a pillar-to-post victory in the women’s competition with Lisa Pringle running consistently to take second, 36 minutes down in 7:35:55. Madison Barefield completed the podium four minutes later. A late navigational error on Signal Hill likely cost Pringle her target of beating 7hr 30 min.
Djock’s record win at the PUFfeR will give her confidence for her first race in Europe – she is entered for the 100km (with 5600m of vertical climbing) in the Lago D’Orta near Milan in Italy in October.
Results 2023 Puffer
Signal Hill provides the backdrop for the top three finishers in the 2023 PUFfeR – winner Grobler Basson with runner-up Stuart McConnachie (right) and third-placed Patrick Cameron-Smith. Photo – Stephen Granger
1 Grobler Basson 5:58:25; 2 Stuart McConnachie 6:33:40; 3 Patrick Cameron-Smith 6:34:01; 4 Anele Bans 6:35:10; 5 Raydon Barrett 6:35:29; 6 Neil Broers 6:45:14; 7 Allan Lamont 6:53:04; 8 Alex Clark 6:54:01; 9 Thomas Vermaak 6:58:21; 10 Matthew Burke 7:04:00
Veterans 40 yrs: 1 McConnachie; 2 Kevin Evans 7:20:00; 3 Mike Coles 7:21:05
Masters 50yrs: 1 Dave van Ginkel 7:39:15; 2 Trevor Jacobs 7:45:36; 3 Dave Bucklow
Grand Masters 60yrs: 1 Carl Pohl; 2 Kevin Balfour; 3 Ian Jones
Great Grand Masters 70yrs: 1 Peter Johnson; 2 Scott McIvor
Top two finishers, winner Emily Djock (left ) and Lisa Pringle, share the excitement of the race. Photo – Stephen Granger
1 Emily Djock 6:59:31; 2 Lisa Pringle 7:35:55; 3 Madison Barefield 7:39:47; 4 Kate Mapham 8:01:39; 5 Jana van Houwelingen 8:03:18 6 Susan Machpesh 8:11:56; 7 Amy Beachy Head 8:11:28
Veterans 40 yrs: 1 Roule le Roux ; 2 Ilse Langhout ; 3 Liz de Gouveia
Masters 50yrs: 1 Susan MacKinnon; 2 Philippa Law; 3 Anilze Enslin
Grand Masters 60yrs: 1 Jackie Loydell