Frans van Rooyen completes the UTCT 21km with his children there to greet him at the finish. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

By Stephen Granger

Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) Manager Frans van Rooyen has been unstinting in his praise for the recent Ultra-trail Cape Town (UTCT), suggesting that the event’s partnership with the people who look after the city’s huge tourist attraction is likely to continue well into the future.

The end-of-year event has grown to become South Africa’s premier trail running competition, encompassing 100km, 65km 35km and 21km races in and around Table Mountain.

Van Rooyen, who participated in the 21 km race, acknowledged UTCT as a world-class event and an important means to promote the park’s profile and conservation objectives.

“It was a great course, starting in an urban area and then going into the beautiful mountain landscapes, underlining the ‘City within a Park, a Park within a City’ concept which defines the unique TMNP,” Van Rooyen enthused in an interview after the event.

The early morning rain drops cling to the Erica bush along the route of the UTCT 21km. The rich biodiversity of the Table Mountain National Park is a key marketing element of the UTCT. Trail running and conservation are increasingly working hand in hand to raise awareness of the planet’s fragile ecosystems. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

As senior manager responsible for the park’s governance and operation, Van Rooyen worked closely with SANParks’ head-office officials in Pretoria and his staff on the ground in Cape Town to ensure best practice in hosting the event. This ensured that the environmental impact of UTCT on the mountain ecosystems was minimised and other, positive impacts were enhanced.

Van Rooyen’s 21km course at the race also took him along some TMNP trails he had not yet explored during his relatively short tenure at the helm of the park.

MNP Park Manager Frans van Rooyen negotiates a technical descent along the trail of the UTCT 21. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

“I haven’t yet explored all the trails in the park and the race took me to some new parts. I had not yet been up Newlands Ravine and found that particularly awesome, although hard work getting to the top! And then there were beautiful views of waterfalls, especially the one we crossed after coming over the Saddle on Devils Peak and back into the City Bowl,” Van Rooyen acknowledged.

“There were a few slippery places along the trails from the rain, but otherwise it was a fantastic race.

“I’ve been quite busy, so couldn’t prepare as well as I would like to have during the winter, but I was very satisfied with my position at the finish. Hopefully next year I can improve.

“I enjoyed my race from start to finish.”

And they’re off – the UTCT 21km race gets underway. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

Van Rooyen was proud of what the combined team managed to accomplish.

“I think it can compare with the best in the world. Everything was in place and I really loved the use of technology which helped bring the race into people’s homes. The Go-Pro cameras which were connected live were especially impressive.

“I was also impressed with the substantial support from spectators along the route, cheering on and motivating the runners to the finish – that certainly helped me!”

Race director Stuart McConnachie acknowledged Van Rooyen’s ability as an athlete. “Frans absolutely loved his run and he’s a very decent runner – finishing in the top 50 is no mean feat. We managed to arrange for his kids to meet him at the finish and earlier they took part in the kiddies race around the fields at the finish.”

Frans van Rooyen’s children (and friend) were there to greet him at the finish. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

While Van Rooyen was the sole SANParks official to take part in UTCT this year, the park manager plans to encourage his staff to take part next year.

“It’s good to hear about how trail running and conservation have been able to support each other and the participation of other park officials in next year’s race can contribute to that,” he explained.

“I’m pleased to hear of other good examples of responsible trail organisers committed to conservation, such as at the Otter Trail in the Southern Cape and the Golden Gate Nature Reserve in the Free State.

“We held a successful two-day trail race along the Klipspringer Trail when I was manager at Augrabies Falls National Park and ninety percent of the Augrabies seven-day ultra-trail race runs through that park.

“People are an essential part of conservation, running and walking in nature, enjoying health benefits and beginning to build an appreciation for conservation.”

Athletes line up for the start of the UTCT 21km race at the Gardens’ Tech Rugby Club in Oranjezicht, Cape Town. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

While funds flowing to SANParks from the registration of athletes in the race will likely be channelled into the SANParks central accounts, Van Rooyen emphasised that these funds will benefit Table Mountain National Park and its trails in particular. “Funds from the race will return to us from different income streams – both indirectly from our allocation from Pretoria and more directly, where we are able to provide support to our important Honorary Rangers initiative. These illustrate the mutual benefits to trail running and conservation.”

What does next year hold for UTCT and TMNP?  “I’m looking forward to seeing the race continue to grow. The (new) 100 miler will take runners into even more of the Park and we will work with the race organisers to ensure the best outcomes for both the runners and the Park.”

American Jess Brazeau brakes the tape to win the UTCT 21km race. Photo: courtesy Ultra-trail Cape Town

McConnachie was adamant that UTCT would continue to emphasise the importance of conservation and, in particular, heightening awareness amongst runners and supporters of the need to tread lightly on the planet and particularly in natural areas, such as on Table Mountain.

“We have always understood that trail running plays an important role in educating people about the environment,” explained McConnachie. “Being part of the trail running community means they quickly become aware of the importance of conserving our natural heritage. Unfortunately, quite a few people who access the mountains are unaware and leave behind litter. Becoming trail runners often changes their perceptions.

“Our relationship with SANParks is very, very important.  They are conservationists and we are trail runners and we appreciate that we can support one another. We believe that we can help SANParks with their public relations – reflecting a positive image of Table Mountain National Park to the rest of the world. And we believe that UTCT is a powerful vehicle to achieve this.”

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