Words by Miles Masterson and Dom De Jesus.
The beach stretch of the 21km course. Some truly mesmerising landscapes between the Olifants Estuary and Strandfontein. Image – Khaya Pullen.
Conceived in 2021 by Cape Town runner and surfer Dom De Jesus to raise awareness about rampant illegal mining on the West Coast, the latest leg of Run West attracted 145 entrants and raised more than R40,000 for Protect the West Coast (PTWC).
The first Run West entailed a marathon 550km run in six stages – or chapters – down the entire West Coast of the Western Cape from Groenrivier lighthouse to Cape Point lighthouse. The run garnered such media and public attention, it grew into a social movement of like-minded souls showing solidarity to a special cause, which is to raise awareness about unregulated mining, and to support and raise funds for PTWC.
Run West Chapter 7 comprised a 21km run from the Olifants River Estuary, and a 10km run from Strandfontein, to Doringbaai on September 24, snaking through pristine bays, deserted beaches and stunning coastal cliffs. The runners also passed through an unrehabilitated mining prospecting site. While galvanising the local community and providing a rare moment for them to gather, the runs were covered by several media entities to bring the collective fight against illegal mining into sharp focus.
Based in the Strandfontein campsite or rented accommodation nearby, many runners had never been to the West Coast. They were amazed by its natural beauty, and horrified to see the extent of the devastation caused by coastal mining – in particular by Trans Hex at their abandoned mining prospecting site near Doringbaai. The designated running trails along the coast were polluted by building waste and rubbish dumped on the beaches and cliffs.
Despite a heavy cold front that slammed South Africa that weekend, the runners and organisers braved the conditions with unbridled enthusiasm, as exemplified by big smiles and a sense of community spirit and Weskus ‘gees’.
The experience brought home the need to protect this fragile environment and support local communities to safeguard precious natural resources. This was poignant in light of PTWC’s recent out-of-court settlement with Trans Hex to prevent it from mining at the vulnerable Olifants Estuary near Doringbaai, and other parts of the adjacent coastline.
Far larger in ambition and scope than the previous six legs of Run West, which attracted small groups of 15-20 runners each, Run West Chapter 7 enjoyed a much larger complement of entries and spectators. Founder Dom did not run in the event, but instead used his considerable energy to ensure the races ran smoothly.
“The previous project of six chapters was very much based on long beach runs in the middle of nowhere,” said Dom of the changes and massive success of Run West Chapter 7. “I think some of the locations and distances over those days were not very inviting, so I think having a small event in one place in one day was a lot more inviting to people. I also wanted to highlight the Olifants River as an important location on the West Coast.”
Some snaps from the previous chapters. Images – Zac Zinn.
Apart from attracting runners from far and wide, a few residents from the area also entered the race. Much to their surprise perhaps, Doringbaai locals Shadley Klasse, 24, and Gilbert Mcquin, 20, tied for first place in the 10km run with ease, finishing in just under 59 minutes. Both avid athletes and rugby players, they enjoyed massive community support and received resounding applause at the post-event prize giving at the Kommetjie restaurant in Strandfontein.
“Running is one of my hobbies and I am very active in sports like rugby and athletics, that is why I was anticipating the event for a long time beforehand,” said Gilbert. “I learned from the experience that where there is a will there’s a way, and you must never underestimate yourself and put in the extra effort, which is the main thing I took from participating.
“Events like this are a good thing for the community, where in the end the youth and youth leaders should become more involved, as it keeps people out of trouble. I will definitely be interested in entering the event next year and I will motivate myself to take part in the 21km run.”
Suzanne Du Plessis, a Strandfontein resident and long-time West Coast anti-mining activist, guardian of the Olifants Estuary and supporter of PTWC, was overjoyed at the turn out and success of the event, which she hopes will return bigger and better next year.
“It was with excitement the locals embraced Dominique and his amazing team of Run West,” said Suzanne, who also made a considerable contribution to make sure the event was a success.
“No matter the weather, the Papendorp ladies braaied wors and roosterkoek. In Strandfontein on Saturday, the horseshoe campsite was packed with runners. Race day Sunday highlighted the beauty of the Olifants Estuary and threat of mining. The whole community is already looking forward to next year!”
Dark horse entrant Raydon Barrett won the 21km with ease in a time of 1:38:45, despite a late night prior to the race in a local pub watching the Springboks lose narrowly to Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.
“Unrefined, natural, raw beauty,” said Raydon of the experience. “The way it must remain for generations to come. Run West was an incredible experience running the pristine and sensitive coastline that is the West Coast. Thank you Dom and the Team and Protect The West Coast for fighting the good fight. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Raydon was followed by Justin Broadley second and Mark Sheehan third. The women’s 21km was won by Cally Silberbauer in 1:59:16, with Shaf Gordon second and Megan Steytler third. Tyler Coast finished third behind joint winners Shadley Klasse and Gilbert Mcquin in the men’s 10km, while Kat Baguley (in a time of 1:07) won the women’s 10km, with Annene Mare and Celine Oates second and third.
Happy faces, tired legs and a big boost for the awareness of our fight. Images – Khaya Pullen.
PTWC would like to extend a huge thanks to organiser Dom De Jesus and his team at Run West, and all of the entrants, as well as our sponsors and supporters, including Cederberg Brewery, Reduce Reuse, Strandfontein NSRI, Matzikama Municipality, Namaqua West Coast, Fryers Cove and the Namaqua Athletics Club.
Thanks also to the Strandfontein campsite, the residents of Papendorp, Strandfontien and Doringbaai and everyone who contributed to the success of this event, which promises to be bigger and better next year. See you in 2024!
Hit the link to donate to our cause: https://www.protectthewestcoast.org/donate
You can view the full gallery from the race at the end of this article.
Q&A with Run West Founder and Race Director Dom De Jesus
The legend himself. Dom De Jesus giving the opening speech of the Run West Trail Run. Image – Khaya Pullen.
Where did the idea for Run West come from? What was your motivation?
Run West came from a place of curiosity and interest to help and understand what is happening around mining on the West Coast. Without the understanding it can be hard to help. Once that understanding started to be clear, the intention was to assist in creating awareness through my love of running.
How many Run Wests have you done so far and where?
I have run all six chapters over the 550km from Groenrivier lighthouse to Cape Point lighthouse. This first public event last month was the first time I have not run and having to direct a race was very new to me. It was worth every lesson I learned.
What obstacles have you faced and overcome in putting on the Run West runs, especially this last one, which was larger in scope and scale than the previous runs?
I have always been really energised by this and felt very motivated, so the challenges never felt overwhelming; but I would say the task of putting on an event with no money at all was challenging, but somehow when you want to do something you find away and you just keep going for the sake of the reason you are doing it, so I’m just going to do all I can. It’s worth it.
Although the weather was not great, everyone seemed to really enjoy the two runs? What do you think the runners took from the experience? Many had never been here before?
I think people took a different perspective of the West Coast and also the sense of community up there. Being around a beautiful estuary and cliffs and feeling the people from the West Coast. I feel and I hope they took home a little more sense of value having spent some time moving through that space. In that I hope they know what can potentially be lost and that it’s so worth protecting.
We also saw some locals from Doringbaai enter and win the 10k? What do you think they took from the experience?
Yes it was incredible to watch them race together. They moved so well and I feel they took home something new and perhaps brought them even more excitement about where they are from and a sense of pride from being from Doringbaai. As they should be. Such great guys. They are now friends of ours and we are so stoked to have them part of Run West.
I am sure you would deem Run West Chapter 7 a success, with more than R40k raised for Protect The West Coast? What do you think made this one so special?
I think it was all the people involved that made it what it was. What made this special was harnessing like-minded people and giving them a way to help in the way they can, through an experience to race or merely just get out for a run with like-minded people. Giving them a place to do so in the form of a run.
You also enjoyed a lot of community support from the people of Doringbaai and Strandfontein, what do you think they took from the experience of hosting the event in their backyard?
The support from the Papendorp, Strandfontein and Doringbaai communities was overwhelming. Some of the most beautiful people I have ever met. So grateful to call them my West Coast family. I think they took a bit more hope from the event. Hope that there are people that also care deeply for the West Coast and we are here to help and assist in preserving this space.
There has been a lot of talk of expanding the event in Strandfontein next year and maybe even making it some kind of international event, what are your thoughts on that, is that where you want to take it? What would you need to achieve that vision?
I have been asked this a lot. I have a lot of respect for the area and the people, so growth should be an organic process in this case, and balanced with respect for area and controlled growth without going crazy. Run West has always been something that grows on its own and I’m here to balance it and maintain the objective for the cause and to keep it manageable for me and my small team of Run West family, to continue this for many generations to come. Growing anything requires resources, so for now we will do what we can with what we have, like we always have, and just keep focusing on our cause.
Who would you especially like to thank in ensuring that this year’s Run West was such a success?
So many people to thank. My wife, Terri De Jesus, the incredible photographers, Damien Schumann, Zac Zinn, Fahwaaz Cornelious, Simon Poccock, Nic De Jesus, the Run West family, Jacque Ackerman, Kevin Row, Pip Dickson, community members and local officials, Suzanne and D Du Plessis, Tania Leon from NSRI, Monika De Jager from Namaqua West Coast, Thesme Van Zyl from Matzikama Municipality, and Elizabeth from Namaqua Athletics Club. There are so many people to name and thank, including our epic partners: Cederberg Brewery, Fryers Cove, NSRI, Reduce Reuse and Namaqua Athletics Club.