"We [the organisers] didn't sleep at all last night [Juy 13], watching the weather, hoping that the cancellation of the marathon would not be necessary," said Nicci Rousseau-Schmidt, Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival manager.
Inset: Resembling a lake rather than the finish line to a marathon, proving that it was a wise decision by the organisers of this year's Pick n Pay Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon to cancel the run.(Photo: Knysna-Plett Herald)
For the first time since the inception of the Knysna Forest Marathon 29 years ago, the race was cancelled due to terrible weather conditions.
"All the disaster management roleplayers gathered at the JOC [joint operations centre] around 04:15 on Saturday to look at the various options open to us," explained Leon Brown, Knysna Marathon Club chairman. "While we were busy in the meeting we were receiving several reports from within the forest and around Knysna about serious flooding and realised that the town's emergency services would need to be redeployed to disaster management roles in the area. The only option was cancelling the race as conditions were really too dangerous." he said.
"The runners safety was our first concern."
Rousseau-Schmidt added that many trees along the route had been uprooted and there was a possibility of flash floods occurring. "We really did not want a repeat of the terrible Tsitsikamma Blackwater Tubing disaster, when 13 people were killed by a flash flood."
"We are as heartbroken as the runners are," said Brown. He explained that the organisers had spent nine months preparing for the event. "The disappointment runs deep."
Besides the safety factor, the taxi departure point in Vigilance Drive was flooded, as was the nearby Loerie Park parking area, "It would have been impossible to get the 8 100 runners to the starting point safely," said Rousseau-Schmidt.
While officials were turning runners away, explaining that the race had been cancelled, the many support services, such as the water tables, marshals, medical support as well as Knysna Family Care Services (who would have collected the clothing discarded by runners), were out in the forest trying their best to set up for the race in the most awful weather conditions.
"Many runners set their own disappointment aside and still came forward to donate clothing with the help of Pick n Pay who served as a collection point. By Sunday morning, two bakkie loads of clothing had been collected," explained Brown.
According to Brown the understanding of the runners had been phenomenal with messages of support streaming in. "Well done, organisers and volunteers, so sorry to see you had to cancel this with all the work you have done. We all understand conditions like these are out of everyone's control. Can't wait for new year to join all our runners for a beautiful, well-organised event," reads one such message.
"Even though I travelled from New York City to run the race, this was the right decision. I applaud the organisers for making the couth choice," wrote Michael Clinton.
"It is the spirit of the runners that makes all the hard work worth it," concluded Brown.
By Fran Kirsten