In 1993 a group of friends were sold, and then bought into the idea of a run through Horseshoe Valley in commemoration of the training fields of one Chris Sole, a “mountain goat” of note.
Sole was, and still is, one of the Eastern Cape and South Africa’s all-time great runners. A quiet and humble man, Sole left East London without the true recognition he perhaps deserved.
Therefore the idea of naming a race after him and running it on the terrain that helped make him great, became an easy sell to those who understood the sport of running – not everyone does, any more than every casual golfer, bowler or tri-athlete understands the elite aspects of their sports.
Sole was a South African 1500m champion and he won the Table Mountain Race in Cape Town 13 times. He still holds the record for the iconic event. He was a great cross-country runner, middle-distance roadrunner and a coach of numerous fine athletes.
Border records were also part of his running CV. A pupil and later a teacher at Cambridge High School, Sole eventually left East London to study physiotherapy in Cape Town before moving to New Zealand, but not before he could be invited by the founder of the race that would bear his name, The Sole Destroyer, to run it at least once.
While Sole ran through his favourite “valley” bare-chested in both summer and winter, he can now be found – well into his fifties – running barefoot, still over testing terrain and challenging many a younger runner.
Sole is today a major advocate of barefoot running, according to an online article from New Zealand, and as evidence there is a photograph of him completing the Three Peaks race in the environs of Dunedin and the Silver Peak Mountain Range, barefoot.
Sole finished first in his age group at the 26km Three Peaks in 2009, 2011 and 2014. While a few years older, he is now in the same age category as Makaya Masumpa, who was the first winner of the now named and sponsored Caltex Sole Destroyer.
The 2016 chapter of the race, which when introduced to the local public was a true groundbreaker in the world of running, will be run on Sunday for the 24th time, starting close to the Highgate Hotel and finishing at Oxford Striders in Nahoon.
The first women’s winner was also someone who has indelibly left her mark on athletics in South Africa, Diane Sandford (née Massyn). She was a national cross-country runner at the same time that Zola Budd was making her name in the sport.
Sole, Masumpa, Sandford and many other great athletes, commentators such as the late Ted Allen and David Denison, along with visionaries of the sport, have touched this race.
With a concerted effort at developing young athletes, many more could follow and build on the legacy.