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Trail of fire: CSO runner halted by blaze

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No amount of preparation and training could prevent the fire that brought runners like Steven Berman to a halt in the 100km RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town (UTCT) Race on Sunday, 27 November.

Berman was feeling great and everything was going to plan until the fire stopped him and an unlucky group at the 56km mark.

Berman and his friend, fellow Capetonian Bengi Goldberg, were running to raise funds and awareness for the Community Security Organisation (CSO) Cape Town, an organisation close to their hearts.

Goldberg, the head of the customer success team at Signapps, wasn’t affected by the fire as he was running ahead of Berman when it broke out in Hout Bay.

Berman, who works in the motor industry, was disappointed. “We were told that we couldn’t run that section because it was too dangerous due to the fire. We were put in a car and driven around the fire in a 15km detour. I still crossed the finish line and received a finisher medal for the 100km race, but instead of running the full 100km, I ran only 85km.”

Berman had been training hard, running six times a week, since February in preparation for the 100km race. “When I finished, I still felt really strong but disappointed, even though I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

Goldberg, who has been running since he was 12 years old, says, “The race was one of those few experiences in life which you know you’ll never forget. It was a party, celebrating five months of dedicated training, sacrifice, and planning. I loved being out on the trails with the incredible trail running community, and coming into aid stations to see my friends, family, and the CSO team.”

He says the crew aiding him supported him from 04:00 on Saturday to 01:00 on Sunday morning.

Goldberg, whose longest race prior to Saturday was 50km, says the runners required a perfect day to finish. “The stats show that of the 260 odd runners who started, 97 didn’t finish. I knew pretty early into the race that I would miss the 17-hour mark, especially with the 80km/h wind.”

The UTCT 100km race starts with a climb out of Cape Town, up to Signal Hill and around Lion’s Head, with Devil’s Peak marking the home stretch.

In the first half of the 100km, runners climb Table Mountain and the remote trails of Karbonkelberg. The second half is equal in elevation, but consists of more sustained gradients.

Berman, who ran his first trail race, a UTCT 35km in 2018, aimed to complete the 100km within 18 hours, but it wasn’t possible as the wind was intense and energy sapping, he says. “If I hadn’t been being pulled off course due to the fire and I was able to run the full 100km, I probably would have finished in about 20 or 21 hours.”

Although Berman placed ahead of Goldberg in the official results, he benefitted from the 15km detour.

Berman didn’t run with Goldberg at any point during the race. “Bengi is a much stronger runner than me, so if I tried to keep up with him, I would have suffered. I ran with another friend, Nathan Bernstein. It’s such a long day and night that if you go too fast, you’ll suffer towards the end. We paced it so well, and we were ready to start going faster at Hout Bay and then bang, the fire happened. It was such a weird feeling to be on a trail run and suddenly get into a car before starting to run again at Constantia.”

At the time of speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Berman and Goldberg had raised R49 650 for CSO Cape Town.

Berman has been volunteering at CSO Cape Town for 12 years and is one of the department heads. He decided to take on the challenge of this run to raise funds for the organisation because, he said, “Running the 100km is a wonderful, extremely tough challenge, and a great way to raise awareness and a little bit of money for the CSO so we can continue to provide the good service we do for the Cape Town community in terms of security and medical services.

“When I finished my studies around 2010, I was so disconnected from the community. I got a call from one of my friends saying I should come down to the CSO and check it out. I didn’t think it would be for me, but I was hooked from the first training session. I still love it. It’s been such an important part of our life in terms of making friends. We’re giving back to the community and doing a mitzvah.”

Goldberg chose to run the UTCT 100km because “running 100km was kind of a progression” and running it to raise funds for the CSO, which he has been a volunteer for since 2017, “seemed like a good way to give back to the organisation”.

“We’ve all been in a situation where we needed the CSO. Just knowing that if I need anything, I have the privilege of picking up the phone, not worrying about whether I can afford it, and knowing that someone will be there who really cares. The organisation has grown on me both in the incredible work it does and the people who make it up.”

“Steve and Bengi are both long-time, dedicated volunteers, and instructors at CSO Cape Town,” according to the organisation. “We felt a real sense of nachas watching them train for this mammoth challenge, and were blown away at their endurance and effort on the day of the race. They are both absolute mensches, champions, and superheroes!”

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