Karoline Hanks tagging the beacon on Devil’s Peak during her 13 Peaks run, December 2020. Photo: Mark-Sampson

Forty-nine-year-old environmental campaigner and vegan cooking instructor, Karoline Hanks, has run a Fastest Known Time (FKT) for women in the 13 Peaks Challenge over South Africa’s Table Mountain, aiding turtle conservation in the process.

Hanks improved Stellenbosch-based trail athlete, Amri Williamson’s time for the popular challenge by almost half an hour, clocking 21 hrs 25 min 55 sec and raising over R70 000 (almost 5,000 USD) for turtle conservation in the process, on a ‘one peak one turtle’ basis.  The funds raised will help rehabilitate thirteen little loggerhead sea turtles at the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation Hospital, most of whom are suffering plastic ingestion.

Karoline Hanks holds a “lucky” sea turtle cutout during her 13 Peaks Challenge run, December 2020. Photo: Karoline Hanks

Over four hundred runners have completed the iconic challenge, which includes summiting thirteen prominent peaks in the northern section of Table Mountain National Park, since top ultra-trail athlete, Ryan Sandes launched the project early in 2019.  Sandes himself logged the fastest time for the challenge this August – an incredible 13:41:10 for the challenging 100km plus circuit with over 6200 metres of vertical ascent.

Leading Hout Bay trail runner, Linda Doke, became the first athlete, male or female, to run the challenge solo and unsupported in under 24 hours, setting the then Fastest Known Time (FKT) of 22:57:15 in August last year.

Hanks, coached by Doke, celebrated the anniversary of her mentor’s initial run by taking an hour off her time, but her new FKT lasted just two months. Stellenbosch trail runner, Amri Williamson, shaved her time by just four minutes, running in 21:51:25 in October.

But Williamson’s mark merely became an incentive for Hanks, who was determined to regain her slot at the top of the table.  And she did so in no uncertain terms last Monday-Tuesday, affording Williamson even less than two months to savour her success in 13 Peaks pole position.

“Although it was probably over-ambitious, I decided to aim for a sub-21 hour target,” Hanks said. “I was on track for much of the circuit, but it’s a tough old route that Ryan has designed and I lost time up Newlands Ravine and Devil’s Peak (the 12th and penultimate peak).”

Hanks set off from Signal Hill as the Noon Day Gun sounded, ensuring she would run the Table Mountain and Back Table sections in daylight. “Silvermine East is my playground and I feel safe there. So I was comfortable running that section (which included Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoek Peak and Constantiaberg) in the dark.

Karoline Hanks trailed by Filippo on Lions Head during her 13 Peaks Challenge run, December 2020. Photo: Mark Sampson

“Of course, it made a big difference running in mid-summer compared with August – the extra hours of sunlight really helped,” Hanks continued. “Although surprisingly I think it was even colder and wetter than my August run, with thick mist covering many of the peaks.

“It makes a huge difference running for a cause, especially when the going gets tough.  There can be no bailing out – that’s a no go. How would I explain to all those who funded the turtles?”

In the end, it proved a good day out for Hanks, who had a relatively trouble-free run after clearing Lions Head, Maclears, Grootkop, Judas, Klein Leeukoppie and Suther Peaks in the daylight, with only a challenging ascent of Suther Peak, a cold and unpleasant descent of Celia Ridge “where I lost my sense of humour” and the tough haul up Devils Peak providing some physical challenges.

The end in sight. Karoline Hanks on Signal Hill Road and with Lions Head in the distance, during her 13 Peak Challenge run, December 2020. Photo: Mark Sampson

But these were offset by many highlights, including sighting two genet cats near Constantia Nek, hearing the dawn chorus of bird calls before sunrise at Klaassenskop, getting through the entire run without a fall and running Chappies and Noordhoek Peak after sunset.  “But I think the running highlight for me was running up Constantiaberg with my 17-year old son.  He’s done a bit of road running but he has not quite discovered trail. I think he enjoyed it.”

Hanks with son Timothy. Photo courtesy of Karoline Hanks.

Next up for Hanks is likely to be a return to the Addo 100 miler in March, COVID permitting, just a month before reaching another milestone – her 50th birthday and new status as a “Masters” runner.  Hanks placed 4th in the women’s competition at Addo two years ago and will challenge strongly for a podium position this time round, imbued with her new-found sense of confidence through holding the FKT for the 13 Peaks Challenge.

Story by Stephen Granger

@SPNAfrica News