13 Peaks Challenge: Endurance runner completes 212km in aid of turtle conservation

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Talitha Noble, Claudine van Zyl and Karoline Hanks.
Talitha Noble, Claudine van Zyl and Karoline Hanks.
  • Karoline Hanks became the first person to complete the demanding 212km 13 Peaks Challenge back-to-back.
  • She has already raised roughly R40 000 of her R70 000 goal.
  • It will pay for a state-of-the-art tracker for Bob the turtle, which is part of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation's Turtle Rehabilitation Programme.

Endurance runner and environmental activist, Karoline Hanks, became the first person to complete the demanding 13 Peaks Challenge back-to-back.

It was for a fundraising initiative to raise money for the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation's Turtle Rehabilitation Programme to acquire a state-of-the-art tracking device for Bob the turtle.

Everything that is done through the foundation is done on a donation basis, so they rely on fundraising and donations to be able to do their rescue, rehabilitation and release work as well as the education, conservation and research work, said aquarium spokesperson Renée Leeuwner.

READ | At COP26 talks, 45 nations pledge to protect nature in climate change fight

The gruelling 212km distance took Hanks 71 hours and 16 minutes to complete.

She has already raised nearly R40 000, but aims to raise a total of R70 000, with the fundraiser continuing until January 2022.

When finally crossing the finish line, Hanks explained the amazing sense of accomplishment she felt.

"I had my friends with me. And they were, I think, a little bit more excited than I was. For me, it was a bit of a blur. I was quite keen to get home and put my feet up at that stage. I think that sort of elation kicks in, in the days to follow," she says.

Her passion for animals and protecting their habitats started on one of her many trips up to Maputaland, which is where a lot of the turtles nest.

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"In 2013, I had my first encounter with a massive female leatherback [sea turtle] and it just changes you," she says, adding that these wild animals have to deal with trash on the beach where they nest, and then go back into the ocean.

Karoline Hanks
Karoline Hanks.

"So that was a bit of a game-changer for me. And I got more into turtles and ocean plastic, and campaigning in that sort of space," says Hanks.

Bob the Turtle

Hanks first met Bob the turtle in 2014.

She was with the general manager of the Two Oceans Marathon because she was trying to reduce the plastic footprint of road races by cutting out "those horrible plastic sachets".

"At one stage, we decided to take her into the medical pool with Bob. That whole wildlife encounter thing that I've experienced, we thought might change their mindset. And there was a bit of a shift, so that was the first time I met Bob," says Hanks.

At that stage, they were still doing human interaction with Bob, where visitors could tickle his throat, but now they are trying to back away and re-wild him.

Bob's state-of-the-art tracking device will cost exactly R70 000, but Hanks is hoping to raise more to contribute towards his transport costs, and his further rehab and enrichment programme. 

She said:

And I would dearly love to be at his actual release. That would be a real dream come true to watch him go back into the ocean.

Leeuwner said: "Working with Karoline, her passion has just been incredible, and how she actually pushes herself to such amazing and incredible achievements because of that passion and dedication that she has."

Through her fundraising and other projects, Hanks is trying to get humans to reduce their waste footprint, because the animals don't have a voice.

"It's just being aware of your own personal footprint. It's refusing the coffee couplet. It's refusing that flimsy plastic bag at the shopping counter. It's taking your own bags to the shop. It's so many little tiny things that are not a huge inconvenience."

The challenge

Hanks has done the 13 Peaks Challenge twice in 2020, so she was comfortable in terms of mileage.

"For this particular one, I had a coach who drew up a programme for me. The mileage kind of rose to about 125km per week, in the biggest weeks, and then I was running twice a day, some days," says Hanks.

Her strategy was doing one peak at a time.

READ | Why birds in the Eastern Cape have been dropping dead from the sky

"Every time I met my friends – and I had amazing friends along the way – they would just remind me to not think about the big picture. Just think one bite at a time."

However, when the pain kicked in, it became pretty tough, says Hanks.

"They were bad from about the first or second peak of the second lap. So it was just about pain management and not thinking about how much further to go," she says.

Hanks ended the race with some severe blisters, which saw her in a wheelchair and then crutches the days after. But, in spite of all of the pain, Hanks' journey ended in beautiful fashion.

"When I came down the peak on the last neck, there was a whole pod of humpback whales in Sandy Bay. It was amazing. It was almost like they were there to see me off," she says.

In future, Hanks wants to run south to north of the Kruger National Park for anti-poaching teams or the dogs.

"There's going to be challenges there, with SANParks, and running through the night, obviously, in lion country."

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