Deon Braun – what trail running does for conservation
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, it’s awesome to have you with us and it’s going to be even better to be chatting all things running. We’re going to be having a slight spin on it today with regards to trail running.
We spend a lot of time chatting about road running in South Africa, but I think the trail scene is really exploding. It’s a great pleasure to welcome a man who I believe has been partly to blame for that explosion. Deon Braun joins us now. Deon, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, great to catch up again.
Deon Braun: Brad great, fantastic being on your show always, always a pleasure and thanks so much for having me on the show.
BB: Deon, you come from quite an interesting background. You used to publish a magazine called Go Multi, the last physical printed copy was back in late 2013. Things have changed in that industry over the last few years. You’ve been involved in mountain biking, surf, ski, paddling, cycling, triathlon, swimming, you’ve differentiated yourself slightly, now moved towards trail. What makes trail running different to the sports that you’ve been involved in in the past?
What makes trail running different?
DB: Brad, that’s a great question and I loved all those sports. I still do but something that really draws me to trail running is the community. It’s the people that are in the community, I find them very different from the previous communities.
That is that although there is a competitive side, it’s a much smaller part compared to the others. I find that the bulk of people really just want to be in the outdoors, they want to experience nature. They want to have fun with their friends. But for them it’s really just being alive in the moment. That to me is very important. I’m not a religious person, but I definitely relate to concepts like meditation, to prayer, to being mindful. As you get older, I’m not saying you’re getting old –
BB: I was going to say, what are you trying to say Deon?
DB: Yeah, as we get older, as WE get older, the collective we. what happens is that we realise that wow, I was really dumb when I was younger, you do stupid things. I was not mindful of other people, I was not mindful of myself.
We realise that hey, there’s a better way to live and that is where I see trail running being more in the moment and more mindful. That’s what I love about trail running so much. I also love the fact that the trail running movement gives back more to the wild places that it runs, that it goes through.
There are events like the Otter African Trail Run, Andrew Booth’s KZN trail running events, and then all the Wild Series events, there are four of them, as you well know, sponsored by Old Mutual. Then there’s also the Wild Runner’s Series that Owen and Tamaryn Middleton put on.
Those events all put money back into wild places. If I haven’t mentioned your event and you are doing that, if you’re an event organiser and you’re listening to the show my apology. But there are lots that do, but those are the ones that just really stand out.
BB: Deon, you make an interesting point there too, talking about giving back into the Wild. If you look at trail running, the way it’s exploded, particularly here in South Africa. I think your history is probably very similar to the way things have gone in trail.
You came from a traditional media background, print magazine. You’ve gone into a niche more on trail running, you’re focusing more on the digital side of things. Do you think digital media has been part of this explosion? That’s one of the risks that we face in trail running.
Because of this explosion more and more people are wanting to do it. Which puts more and more pressure on these wild places, which forces, if you’re thinking of putting on a trail run, you have to give back. You have to sort of conserve these wild places. Because if we just have every Tom, Dick and Harry traipsing through them, we’re risking losing what we love about it.
Digital media is driving awareness
DB: Absolutely, Brad, digital media has driven so much awareness. I think it might well be the saviour of the human race and I’ll get back into that a little later. There’s no doubt that it’s so much more immediate than print. We are still, our flagship is still the print magazine, Trail Magazine is still the bulk of our revenue. It still comes from magazine sales and advertising in the print format. But digital and social media, it’s definitely driving that and it’s just driving this incredible human awareness.
We are now aware of things that we were not aware of before. I think the dialogue with the human race now is just so much more dynamic than it could have been even five years ago. I think we can see Sea Shepherd doing that with the damage to our oceans.
Captain Paul Watson who basically heads up Sea Shepherd says, you know, the Blue Fin Tuna is going to be gone in 4-5 years’ time. It’ll be extinct because there are certain nations who continue to want to consume them. Even though people are saying we need a moratorium, it’s those people who are saying, no, we will continue to exploit them.
Yes, the trail running series, putting back into those places, it’s imperative because if we don’t look after those places, we’re going to be running through developed land and that’s not trail running. Trail running is all about leaving the world that we run through better than before.
If we look at events like the Baviaanskloof, the Otter, as I’ve mentioned, Rhodes Trail Run, if you litter there, you get disqualified. That could be one gel wrapper or the top of a gel wrapper. They’re very strict and they’re very serious about that. I think we’re seeing that with road running.
Sean Falconer and Modern Athlete, they’re driving that as well, and other media. But they really are saying, hey, this has got to stop in road running. We can’t have people just throwing water sachets into gutters, into drains and on the side of the road. You can just run with it, it weighs a couple of grams, take it to the next station and just throw it away. I think that’s important.
BB: You make a very important point there Deon. It’s something that’s very close to my heart as well and some of the sports are getting it right. Trail running, I think is one of them. Triathlon is trying, there are some events that do it better than others. I think road running leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to that. But initiatives like the Modern Athlete initiative definitely do drive it as well.
What role do you see corporates playing in the development of trail running and keeping the wild places wild, so to speak? Old Mutual, as you mentioned, sponsors the Wild Series, they play an important part in the sport and the development and sustainability of the sport.
Old Mutual in it for more than themselves
DB: One hundred percent. Corporates are the drivers of some of the biggest damage in the world, but they should also be the biggest good in the world. When we look at places like the tropical rain forests of Borneo. Those conversions to palm oil fields were financed by big banks.
So we now, I think the new dispensation has got to be that hey, companies like Old Mutual, they’re doing good. Because they’re actually sponsoring events that are making people so much more aware of the need for conservation.
Old Mutual and other companies in that same space are just, I think, absolutely crucial. To number one, make it possible for people who are dedicated to making that happen; such as Wildlands and Andrew Booth and those companies that are putting the time and effort. People on the ground to make that happen, I think that’s totally vital. It’s just good to see South African’s supporting those events.
They’re not necessarily the easiest to get into from a cost point of view. But just great to see on the Wildlands or the Wild Series website that if you want to do one of the stays on any of these stage races, you can send in your details. I think it’s done randomly, but people are now able to run them for free, just one of the days. I don’t know how the people are chosen, but I think that’s also a great initiative, so that’s fantastic and kudos to everyone involved.
BB: Deon, interesting question, with the growth of the sport and these multi-day stage races that are popping up. You’ve mentioned a few of the organisers, Owen and Tamaryn Middleton do some great work; as you mentioned Andrew Booth as well, he does some fantastic work. I know there’s been a lot of criticism within trail circles that the more commercialised you make these events, the more the appeal diminishes.
It’s important to have these series and let’s talk about the Wild Series as an example. They play a pretty important role, in my opinion, in trail running. What’s your thoughts on things like the Wild Series and the role that they play in the sport?
DB: I’m glad you asked. I think, and you will concur, that there’s a place for everything. In marketing, let’s just use a marketing analogy. Digital is important, podcasts are important, print magazines are important. You’ve got to reach people where they’re at.
I think you’ve got to have different tiers and different levels of price points. You’ve got to have different levels of difficulty, so that’s why we’re going to have, in South Africa we’ve got everything. From 2km trail runs to 100 milers, like the first Addo, which came back this year at Addo Elephant National Park.
Which was absolutely brilliant and it’s so great to have South Africa owning a 100 miler again. Please, if everyone could support that as well. You don’t have to do the 100 miler, there’s a 76km, there’s 44km, great to have events like that.
What the Wild Series does for conservation
Coming back to the Wild Series events, there are four, as you know, four events. So Three Cranes supports the Karkloof Conservancy Farm Schools Project, I see on their website and that’s to help our cranes. We’ve got three cranes that are in serious trouble in South Africa. If we lose those, we lose part of our identity.
Then the other events are the Kruger2Canyon, that supports the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere Project. Then there’s Mont-Aux-Sources and then there’s Golden Gate. All of those are looking after projects in their immediate area. I think that’s really important, to be localised and to be regionalised. Yes, it costs a lot of money maybe to do them, but I think they’re an aspirational event.
It makes people aware that hey, I want to do them, I’ve got to do fundraising. It’s not easy, but I think running is an activity that makes people reach higher and I think that’s a great thing. I don’t have a problem with that. I think it’s good that there are some that are pricier, more difficult. Because hey, the logistics do take a lot of creativity, a lot of energy, a lot of time. We can’t expect those entries to be R150 for 2-3 days.
BB: I couldn’t agree more. If you want to find out more about those Wild Series, we did a fascinating interview with Andrew Booth at the Comrades Marathon in 2016. We chat in depth about all four of those races within the Wild Series. You can go back and have a listen to that. I’ll make sure that we put the link to that in the show notes of this episode of Old Mutual Live as well, you can get all the details there.
Deon, for you, you’re obviously passionate, I can just tell straight away. I know you well and I’m sure it comes across to our listeners as well. But you’re very interested and you’ve got a passion about conservation and sustainability and it’s vital. Not just for the sport of trail running, but it’s vital for our survival as humans on this planet.
DB: Completely. Something that I believe in is the Butterfly Effect. That is that it’s the thinking that small causes can have massive effects. If we can imagine two planes flown into two buildings in a city. You’d think well, that’s only going to affect people in that city.
But if we look back in history, that happened and what did that do to the world? The whole world basically went into a free fall and it affected people thousands of kilometres away. I know this is, I don’t think there’s much dispute, there’s not much need for much debate on that. Is that what we do here in South Africa will be having an effect on people in Botswana and Malawi etc.
If there’s a lot of air pollution from our big cities, that can blow over onto those areas. Economically, massive, tomorrow is the big crunch day for our credit rating internationally. Those things have long term effects and it’s the same with the environment.
I’m just in the last few years, I’ve just felt that calling to be, as I said earlier, more mindful and to realise that what I buy or what I choose not to buy. The way I choose to live has an effect, a very small effect. Yes, a little butterfly with wings, but you have enough, thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions and eventually billions of people doing that, it has a big effect.
We’ve seen a negative spin on that. But I believe that if we can just get that ground swell of people going, hey, I’m changing the way I do things. Because the way we have been doing things is not working. We’ve looked at a particular form of materialism and capitalism which worked up until a point. It was good because it drove a lot of change in our world.
But now that change is actually, it’s becoming too big. It’s like you’re on that bicycle and you’re on that downhill and now you can’t find the brakes. You’re in a big gear and you’re going too fast. I use this, another analogy very often.
Because a few years ago I went, I was very fortunate to go on the Zambezi River and see the Victoria Falls and just the power and the immensity of those falls. I always say it’s a bit like being on a river. We can hear the waterfall, we don’t know where it is, but we know it’s coming.
We’re in our little boat and our little canoe is just going down that river and we know that if we don’t do something, we are going to go over the fall. So it’s time to get to the bank as fast as we can and to make changes, to slow down the negative effects.
That’s why I just want to support anyone and any company, any individual that is part of the solution because we need solutions. We don’t need complaints, we don’t need finger pointing, but we just need people to actually go into action. I think it’s happening around the world.
There are just people doing great stuff, everywhere in the world, we just need more people to come on board. We need people to say, I’m going to stop worrying about what shoes I’m going to buy tomorrow. I’m rather going to think about how I’m going to do something really good for my immediate community and the greater community of the world that I live in.
BB: Deon, it’s an interesting mindset change. I think in South Africa we’ve got a unique opportunity because we don’t live in a big city like New York where we are surrounded. It doesn’t matter where you are, maybe Johannesburg is slightly different if you are in that big city.
But for the most part, South Africans are surrounded by immense natural beauty and we’re so lucky to live where we do. If we make a slight change in the environment around us and it’s not major changes, but if we do little things. We can make a huge impact on many fronts. From a conservation perspective, also on an economic front.
How can individuals start playing their part?
What are some of the things as individuals we can do that can conserve these wild places? Even if you don’t live in a wild place. What you do in the city has an impact on those wild places around us? What are some of the things, I know you like to chat about water conservation and those sort of things, what would you suggest?
DB: I think people should look at what is closest to their heart and then just start with one thing. Braam Malherbe, you’ll remember from 50/50, that great show, Do One Thing. It’s really just starting with one thing that is easy to do. Let’s start with something that’s close to your heart, that’s close to home and that you can do.
You might want to start growing veggies. You might think well, what’s the big deal with veggies, but by growing your own veggies, number one, you’re eating organic, you’re saving a lot of water because you can recycle grey water, you can filter your grey water and reuse it. With a bit of research you could do that.
All of that water that you’d normally put down into the sewer system, which is putting a huge burden on the sewer system, is now going back into the ground. I heard a great quote the other day that said; that every time it rains, we’re wasting water and that’s so true.
When I’ve paddled in the Durban harbour, you won’t believe the amount of rubbish that comes down and just the amount of water, it’s just billions of litres of water that’s going into the ocean. I’m not a fan of dams because they actually do a lot of harm to river systems, a lot of people are against those. In fact in the States there’s a big movement to dismantle them and to decommission dams.
You know, for water, a big thing, put in a water tank. It’s going to cost you about a rand per litre of water holding capacity, but the amount of water you’re going to be saving is huge. I think 1mm of water on a 10x10m roof will product 100l. So, you can imagine just over a period of time, the amount of water you could be saving.
You could be using that for watering your garden, cleaning your car. If you mulch your garden with waste that you have from your garden, that’s just another of my pet peeves. People’s leaves fall down, we put them into blue bags here in Durban and we put them out on the street. There’s all the carbon, all the fumes and the petrol and the diesel that is used to take the thing to the compost heap.
Then we go in our car and we drive to the garden centre and we buy compost and we bring it back. Those leaves could have been brilliant compost in about two weeks.
Just small little things like that. If people want to Google something called Permaculture, which I’m a big proponent of, growing your own food. Making food and habitation and intelligent living just one thing. They’re all one and the same, so you could be growing food instead of just plants that are possibly toxic.
I see a lot of gardens here in Durban, they’ve got oleander and they’ve got all these exotic poisonous plants. I think, wow, why don’t we grow edibles? There’s 20 000 plants that are edible on this plant, 20 000 plants. I’m on a mission actually to try and eat as many of them as I can. I’m vegan, so I don’t eat any animal products and it works for me.
I’m ready some really great books on diet at the moment and I respect that not all food, diet systems work or nutrition systems work for everyone. But I just am really on fire to get more and more people to eat more healthy organic plants. I think that’s the solution.
There is no eating regime that says eat less plants, eat less greens. They all say that, so that’s one thing. You could start tweaking your diet, get into that. Grow your own food, lots of ways. You could Google something called Earth Ships as well, that’s really interesting.
That’s just a different way of living, using a building architecture that doesn’t require heating or cooling, hell of interesting. As I said, the internet is opening up a lot of things and if we search for the solutions, we’re going to find them. I’m hell of excited about the future. I think we can do so much with our lives and it’s just great to be alive.
BB: I think your passion is incredible and I love the fact that your passion for sport is filtering out into other aspects of your life; that affects your sporting endeavours at the end of the day. So, if people want to find out more about you and what you do and more about Trail Mag, where can they get more details online?
Where Trail Magazine is at
DB: Brad, they could go to trailmag.co.za, on the web and then on Twitter we’re TRAILza – as in Zuid Afrika and we’re Trail Mag on Facebook and we’re also Trail Mag on Instagram. So it’s TRAILza on Twitter, Trail Mag on Instagram and Facebook.
Another thing we’re doing is where we’re bringing this altogether and this is very exciting, a project we’ve been doing for about a year, is our trail clinics. We’ve actually got two levels. We’ve got trail camps and we’ve got trail clinics. Both of them are the same website, so trailclinics.co.za and then the other is trailcamps.co.za.
If people want to know more about trail running, we have experts who will coach them and train them. We’ve got our next one in Gauteng in two weeks’ time. So if they can go to trailclinics.co.za, we’ve got one or two seats left and really fun.
We’ve got Ryno Griesel, we’ve got Anca Wessels, we’ve got great runners. We’ve got great biokineticist’s, strength coaches, Peri Zourides, we’ve got Chris Crewdson talking. He’s from the Otter, so it’s going to be two fantastic days.
We’re going to have it at the Water Sisulu Botanic Gardens, so we’re supporting SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute with their beautiful gardens. It’s just a great place to trail run and if people could look up that, that’s a great way to connect with us. I’m also on Twitter, Deon Braun and that’s about it. I think it will be great to hear from people and connect with people who are as passionate about making a change to our future.
BB: Could not agree more. If you want to check that out, all the links will be in the show notes to this episode of Old Mutual Live. Deon, best of luck with those clinics, I know you are planning on taking them around the country as well. So people just need to keep checking back on that website too if they want to see if perhaps they’re not in Gauteng at the moment and they’re in a different part of South Africa. Those details will be on that website. Deon, as always, great to catch up, I look forward to doing it every time your name does pop up on my diary, I love our chats and I look forward to doing another one soon.
DB: You bet Brad, an absolute pleasure to contribute. Lots of ideas and I’m a big admirer of what you’re doing as well, so thank you very much. By the way, the introduction, I’m just a small wheel in the cog, but much appreciated. I believe we’re all absolutely vital and that’s what makes it such a vibrant and just a wonderful community.
Thank you to everyone, you know who you are and that’s basically all of you. Thank you to our readers and to our followers on social media, just great to hear from you all and let’s keep it going. Let’s make it happen, let’s make South Africa a wonderful place to live.