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8 December 2022

Putting South Africa on the World Stage with Stuart McConnachie (Ultra Trail Cape Town)

Stuart McConnachie is the race director of Ultra Trail Cape Town (UTCT), one of the most prestigious trail running events in the country!

Since its inaugural event in 2014 UTCT has grown to become a major international race, with 35% of participants coming from 55 countries and boasting one of the world’s best international athlete fields.

He joined Eitan in the lead up to this year’s event, to take us through the story of exactly how he managed to build a global community around his brand and take UTCT from a capetonian event to the world stage.

Take a listen.

 

 

 

 

Stuart McConnachie (00:00):

My whole race strategy is always like, if you think you’re going slowly, go slower. First half of the race is just manage, manage, manage and, and eat and drink and, you know, get all those things in. Second half of the race is where you go, okay, now we go like, it’s time to get home. Almost rather than suffer for the last third and, and run comfortably at the beginning. It’s almost like you’re just constantly holding yourself back.

Eitan Stern (00:24):

If you think you’re going slow, go slower.

Stuart McConnachie (00:26):

Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s always mind. That’s the thing I’ve learned.

Eitan Stern (00:35):

Welcome to Legalese’s Big Fish Stories, the podcast where we showcase local South African entrepreneurs their stories and their big relevance to the world around them. As lawyers working with startups and established businesses in the tech and creative industries, we get front row seats to some incredible business adventure rides. The problem is that as lawyers, our work is confidential with big fish stories. We’re going inside the room with some proudly South African entrepreneurs to talk about their airy highs, lonely lows and creamy middles of the road to success as a country deep in economic development, there is massive potential for smart entrepreneurs to build something. Great. Join us as we meet some of these big fish and find out how they’re looking to make their ponds even bigger. I’m your host managing director of Leagalase. Eitan Stern. Okay, cool. I always like to start these with a simple thing. So do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do for a living?

Stuart McConnachie (01:27):

Sure. I’m, uh, and I’m the race director for Ultra Trail Cape Town.

Eitan Stern (01:33):

Awesome. What is a race director? You hear that term with all the different races. Can you explain what that actually is?

Stuart McConnachie (01:38):

I guess it’s the buck stops with the race director decisions made calls about the event. It covers quite a big scope because we’ve got a very small team, but it’s yeah. Ultimately the person who controls the event.

Eitan Stern (01:54):

And Stu have you always been into running or is this something that you discovered later in life? Maybe before we get into the store of UTCT I’m very curious, what’s your story? What’s your background with running?

Stuart McConnachie (02:05):

I grew up running, I was, uh, I loved it as a kid. I was pretty good at cross country at school and things like that,

Eitan Stern (02:11):

But trail running wasn’t a thing when you were a kid or was that always

Stuart McConnachie (02:14):

Um, it wasn’t really called trail running, but you know, our school, cross Country League took us to parks and to Newland Forest and took our forests and all over. So

Eitan Stern (02:24):

Where did you go to school

Stuart McConnachie (02:25):

At Rondebosch in Cape Town. Yeah. So, yeah, it was largely that and I was exposed to two oceans. My father and my uncles all ran two oceans. Okay. Um, so as a young kid, I remember spending hours on the side watching two oceans and other marathons. Um, and then obviously Comrades was the big, the big day. Yeah. Um, in South Africa. So yeah, it’s, it’s been been a part of my life since, since I was a kid.

Eitan Stern (02:51):

Yeah. Amazing. And Stu so before we get into utct, what is your life like before that? What, what did you do before you got into UTCT? Were you involved in sports or was

Stuart McConnachie (03:01):

A different career? Um, I, well, I, I tried to make it as a professional cricketer Okay. After school. Wow.

Eitan Stern (03:09):

Yeah. I mean, there was quite, there were a couple of Rondebosch boys on the proteas side, eh,

Stuart McConnachie (03:13):

Yeah. They’ve been, you know, Gary, Kirsten, uh, there was a few guys. Okay. So yeah, we were, I was obviously trying and then kind of lost the gees for it, I guess, and decided to, and obviously travel a bit and find myself. And I spent a couple of years, uh, three years basically living in the States where I kind of picked up a lot of their, you know, go get it. Culture of just, you know, you can do anything. And that, that kind of stuck with me, the, the, the confidence because, you know, in South Africa traditionally I’ve come from a, I kind of referred to it as a family of lawyers. Sure. So, you know, it was, you know, you’re a lawyer or you’re this or you’re that. Yeah. And, and I couldn’t kind of never fit it into that. So yeah. That was for me the space I wanted to explore. Anyway, so then I, I ended up before UTCT I was in the sports retail space. Okay. Um, actually at cycle shops. Okay,

Eitan Stern (04:07):

Cool.

Stuart McConnachie (04:07):

Because running wasn’t really a sport that you could kind of earn enough in. So Yeah, I, I, I explored that a lot. I did a couple of cape epics, so I knew mountain biking quite well.

Eitan Stern (04:18):

You, you rode the Cape Epic Yeah,

Stuart McConnachie (04:19):

So yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Amazing. Three times and then

Eitan Stern (04:21):

Just casually dropped that into the conversation,

Stuart McConnachie (04:23):

Just casually dropped it in <laugh>. Yeah. So then, yeah, eventually got to a point where I realized that the retail space was something, especially just having had a kid, it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’d been sick for a while and um, I decided to yeah. Walk away from everything and, uh, kind of wait and, and hope that something came about mm-hmm. <affirmative> and that was when utct kind of arrived.

Eitan Stern (04:46):

It’s, it’s funny that you say that America has that go-getter culture and, and you’re right, it’s like the American dream. You don’t need to be defined by your birth. But when I think about entrepreneurship in South Africa, like that seems to be a very similar culture here. Like, you know, if you grab in South Africa and you like, there’s just endless amount of opportunity from my perspective. Yeah. And there’s, if I think around at my group of friends, I don’t think I know anyone with a job. Yeah. Everyone’s an entrepreneur. Yeah. Because, you know, there’s, there’s just opportunity here. So it’s interesting that you, you, you picked up on this. It sounds like you have a very similar story with that. And let me ask you, so, so, so you were working in retail, this thing of sporting events. Was that a thing? You said that, I know the Cape Epic in two Oceans, but how did you decide to start a sporting event?

Stuart McConnachie (05:30):

Yeah, so the story was basically that I’ve got a, a partner in the race was Nick Borman. Okay. Um, and Nick was living in Hong Kong at the time and in Hong Kong they had 400 K races. Wow. All with thousand runners, you know, selling out in 24 hours. This was like late 2010, kind of 2011, 2012 stuff. And he obviously looked at Cape Town where he was at school at Rondebosch as well, and said, you know, what kind of, what’s going on? Um, why aren’t there any hundred K races in on Table Mountain, for instance? And anyway, he started the process, went through it all, um, and what happened was the first time he advertised it, which was in about, uh, January, February of 2014, I saw that and I got in touch with him cuz I recognized the name from kind of way back when and I said, you know, Nick, like this is amazing. What are you, you know, how are you gonna do this? And who’s helping you, kind of thing. And he said, I don’t have any help at the moment kind of thing, <laugh>. So I said, okay, cool. I’m, I’m in.

Eitan Stern (06:35):

And sadly you found this thing that you’ve been waiting for.

Stuart McConnachie (06:37):

Exactly. And I said, I’m in. And he’s like, well, I can’t pay you. So I said, don’t worry, I know where we are going kind of thing. Yeah. So it was immediately like we both had this vision of the Epic was a blueprint almost. Yeah. And, and we wanted to drive it international.

Eitan Stern (06:53):

I mean, when you say you, you, you had the idea of doing a hundred mile race. I mean, that’s only kind of come about this year. So Yeah. I mean, so how, what are the kind of immediate challenges in starting a hundred Mile race? So why is it that you started with smaller races and you it’s taken like six or seven years to build to the a hundred?

Stuart McConnachie (07:11):

So the, the a hundred K was where we pretty much started. Okay.

Eitan Stern (07:14):

Oh, I see. Was that

Stuart McConnachie (07:15):

One of the first We landed the a hundred K in in 2014. Um, we had 36 runners enter. Wow. And 17 finished. Okay. Um, we had a 15 hour cutoff because the park wouldn’t let us run at night. So we would just kind of, we realized that it was gonna take time. We had to kind of move the boat incrementally, but as long as we got it out the harbor, it

Eitan Stern (07:37):

Would. Yeah. I mean, that’s quite an elite run as someone that can run a hundred K in, in in

Stuart McConnachie (07:41):

15 hours, you know that.

Eitan Stern (07:42):

So, so then kind of dialing back for one second then. So what did the trail running community look like then? Obviously today it’s quite a, a profound, a big community. And what you, what you’re saying is secondly, which is interesting, is that you couldn’t, there wasn’t ability to make money in retail and running, which I, I think today it would not be the case. What, what, what was the running community like back then?

Stuart McConnachie (08:01):

It was pretty small. Okay. Especially the trail community. I mean, the road community in South Africa has, has naturally been a really strong community. Yeah. Fordice. Yeah. You know, the whole, I guess it’s established through the clubs. Yeah. But in terms of trail, you know, there were, there were one or two groups that we’re running at the same time. We started, uh, utct was in 20, early 2014. We started Tuesday Trails. Okay. And that was a way for us to connect with community and to build community because trail is, it’s synonymous with community. So ultimately we knew that to have a successful event, you had to kind of have a community behind it. So Tuesday Trails and UTct kind of almost went hand

Eitan Stern (08:43):

In hand. And was, was that part of a strategy for you? Was it like, cool, if you want to do the sport and event, we need to build a community? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So Tuesday Trails was part of the thing to, to build a group

Stuart McConnachie (08:52):

Of runners. Yeah, yeah. Without signing two kind of of corporate or planned. Yeah. It was, I mean, we never expected or, or saw the growth or the success of it as it has. We definitely wanted to connect with people, but the way it has grown into this kind of monster almost is is,

Eitan Stern (09:08):

I mean it’s a similar way to how I discovered trail running. It was, but not through Tuesday trails through a group. I dunno if you remember a group called Craig Yes. Cape Runners Against Gravity and they had like a Yahoo male list that you would lead to like send exactly

Stuart McConnachie (09:20):

People to

Eitan Stern (09:21):

You find out where the trail was every Tuesday. I mean, that was, you know how I discovered Routes that you’d go and there’d be some older guy who knew Table Mountain World would show your new roots and then you’d show your mates.

Stuart McConnachie (09:31):

Exactly. That’s such,

Eitan Stern (09:33):

That’s it. I mean, today when I look at UTct it looks like a pretty well-oiled machine. I mean, we are just so we, we are recording this, what, like 10 days away from race day. Yeah. Uh, and you have an hour of your time to come and sit with us here. So I mean, and what we’re saying a second ago is that things are quite you, like most of the logistics is done today. It seems pretty well oiled. Yeah. In the early days. Was that the case or? Sure. What are some of the logistical challenges you had?

Stuart McConnachie (09:59):

Yeah, I guess early, early days were obviously securing volunteers and, and you know, to be honest, Nick and myself, and we had another, we had a third guy in, in the first year who was a friend Martinez who was involved. The three of us had never done an event before. Okay. You know, so we took on this thing, and I’ve, I’ve said it before that I think, and Nick will probably agree, is that if we had known what we were getting into, especially the first year,

Eitan Stern (10:25):

You would’ve gone back to selling bicycles, you

Stuart McConnachie (10:26):

Would’ve gone back to selling bicycles. Definitely. It was one of those things that was a, uh, just a horror show of, you know, but you, you learn as you go and

Eitan Stern (10:36):

You why would tell me why, why was that asking? I

Stuart McConnachie (10:38):

Don’t know. Cuz you know, I think I marked about 70 Ks of the roots of the a hundred K route over three days kind of thing and tried to, you know, still come back, answer emails to people who are asking questions, start, finish, blew away overnight. So people arrived and there’s like, you know, we don’t have, we didn’t have people to help, you know, you can’t just go, Hey, come do this or, you

Eitan Stern (11:03):

Know, and your logistics for your race is not sitting at a computer. You need someone who can go around 50 K.

Stuart McConnachie (11:08):

Yeah, exactly. Trail. I mean, I remember like, you know, Nick and I were out until midnight on the Friday back at Race Village at 2:00 AM probably, um, and then start the race at 4:00 AM

Eitan Stern (11:22):

So I’m quite curious about that transition. And, and I mean, the reason I got the idea for this, this, this to interview you for this is we were, I’m running the 55 K this year, um, hoping that after, hoping I’m gonna finish and hoping this can look back at this with, with good favor. But, um, we were out on the trails doing a rei and there was a couple that were out there and, you know, he was doing the hundred, uh, I think his name was Marias, he was doing the a hundred miler. Um, and I think it was his girlfriend or his friend, she was, she said she was gonna be clearing part of the trails and it kind of hit me that like, yeah, that I don’t, that she must have been a volunteer’s giving up for a time on a Thursday night to go and run a stretch of 50 Ks to, to go and clear trails for a race that she’s not even doing. And I doubt getting paid for, I mean, I know with running a business, like it’s hard to do anything. It’s hard to like, convince people of doing anything and believing your passion. But that’s like a whole other degree of like, community or, or like, uh, messaging. So I’m, I’m curious about like, first of all, how big is this volunteer network? How much do you rely on the volunteers and how did you go about building

Stuart McConnachie (12:24):

That? So the volunteers, we’ve always said the the, you know, the community is the, the backbone of your event. They transfer the goodwill to the runner. They, without the volunteers, you, you, you can’t do it. Okay. So yeah, we’ve got around 650 odd volunteers this year, which is, yeah, it’s a staggering amount of

Eitan Stern (12:45):

People. That’s incredible.

Stuart McConnachie (12:46):

And that’s

Eitan Stern (12:47):

650 runners who are not running, not getting paid, who are going out there and helping.

Stuart McConnachie (12:52):

Yeah. So they’ll be doing stuff from race registration to handing out metals to marking the route to sweeping the route to, for running on the mornings. So, you know, before the runners run out, they’ll run the route to make sure that the markers are still there two hours before you guys start. Yeah. It’s just people doing things all over on that weekend, which it’s almost too difficult to thank everybody because there’s just so many. But yeah, there ultimately are the lifeblood of the event and they do it because there’s, I guess there’s a collective spirit and an energy that they understand that these things can’t exist without, that community helping. And so, you know, we always say to people who’s like with UTct either you’re running, you’re supporting, or you’re crewing Sure. You know, you are volunteering, supporting crewing. So it’s just this network of people that, that love the sports, that love giving, you know, of their time and they realize that it’s, yeah, it’s gonna be hard work, but if you, if each person does their, but it keeps the whole thing moving. So Yeah, it’s amazing.

Eitan Stern (13:57):

It really, really is amazing. So how did you go about doing that? I mean, was there,

Stuart McConnachie (14:01):

The events as it’s grown is obviously, um, the sport has grown, but Tuesday Trails was a big connector. Yeah. You make friends with people. You, you, you know who they are. They know who you are. So when you’re in a, in a bind, you, you can ask them to do something and they, and they’ll respond.

Eitan Stern (14:17):

And, and is that the same, I mean, you mentioned the Epic, is that the same model that a, that a cycle race has? Is it also is are are like endurance or distance sporting events always based on networks of volunteers?

Stuart McConnachie (14:28):

Yeah, look, I think so. Um, I, I, I dunno, you know, how the epic or what their, their structure is. I remember they had a lot of students who would help at the events and I guess Ironman would be something volunteer based as well. But trail running is certainly unique in that you’ve got so many different roles and places and, and, and positions that you need to fill in order to make, make the event successful or operate really not even a success. Just operate.

Eitan Stern (14:55):

Yeah. So, okay. So that’s like the early years you’ve gone through 2000 15, 16, 17 and started to grow some momentum. Um, and I look at UTct it looks like a global event. I mean, you have some of the world’s best runners coming down here last year, Wormsley here, and you know, running with local runners and I know it’s a, it’s a UTMB qualifier this year or maybe it’s always been, um, I mean I’d just love to hear more about that. Like, like was that of, of putting this South African event on a world stage and making sure it wasn’t just a local event. Was that always an aim for you? Yeah, um, percent. And how did you go about achieving that?

Stuart McConnachie (15:33):

Uh, yeah. So firstly a hundred percent it was always the aim to make it global. You know, like pretty much, obviously we had the Epic around the corner and we watched how that developed. So we knew that was, you know, where we wanted to go. Yeah. Locally, the market is also not big enough almost to support or sustain that kind of space.

Eitan Stern (15:53):

Wait, wait, what do you mean it’s not big enough to support the space? It’s like this vision that you have of, of the race that you wanna run, that the market here, that’s just not enough run.

Stuart McConnachie (16:02):

Yeah. Like, I mean if you look at our Hundred Mile left, for instance, this year it’s the biggest a hundred mile in South Africa. Yeah. First, and it’s the first year for us. Yeah.

Eitan Stern (16:10):

How many, how many people was that?

Stuart McConnachie (16:12):

155 entries.

Eitan Stern (16:13):

Sounds like a fortune of people.

Stuart McConnachie (16:14):

Sounds like a lot.

Eitan Stern (16:16):

What does Western States get?

Stuart McConnachie (16:17):

Well, Western State has 360. Okay. There, but that’s their cap. But they take lotteries of I think upward of 15,000 runners. Oh wow.

Eitan Stern (16:28):

<laugh>.

Stuart McConnachie (16:28):

Okay.

Eitan Stern (16:29):

So globally it’s a big market. So

Stuart McConnachie (16:30):

Globally it’s a big market, UTMB, which is obviously the biggest race, they have 2,500 runners. Okay. Again, lottery points, all sorts of stuff to qualify. So, you know, we know Cape Town is an international destination. Yeah. It’s an easy flight, half an hour trip to your hotel.

Eitan Stern (16:48):

This is part of your strategy. You want the world to come and see this. Yeah,

Stuart McConnachie (16:51):

Absolutely.

Eitan Stern (16:51):

And why is it, is it a business thing? Is it a commercial thing or is it a South African thing? What’s your, what’s your

Stuart McConnachie (16:57):

Reason for this? Yeah, I think for me, I guess, and, and for a lot of us, it’s so much pride in seeing people come to Cape Town and run the trails and enjoy the community. I think the connection to community, seeing our trails and, you know, just, it is something when you see an international poster, a picture of Lion’s Head and they go, wow, this place is amazing. It just makes you realize how good it is. Totally. Um, and I think you can seek out races all over the world and they’re all wonderful, but, you know, so it helps you appreciate home.

Eitan Stern (17:28):

Totally. Yeah. It’s like, I’ve always thought if you’re living in Cape Town, but you, but you’re not a runner or a surfer, it’s like, it’s kind of a bit of a wasted city to some extent. It’s like not many cities in the world, lots of cities have mountains and water, but very few of them have them before you’re home from work. Yeah. Like you can have a surfer beyond the mountain on the way home. And that, that is quite unique still. What’s it like running an event like this in South Africa? Like South Africa’s got challenges, business challenges, like, you know, I can tell you with, that’s like loadshedding used to now we used to, it kind of used to cause havoc. Like what’s it like for you to run an event like this in South Africa?

Stuart McConnachie (18:02):

Yeah, look, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve definitely had our challenges. The park has, has been, you know, our greatest ally. But a very tricky one because we have to convince them of this thing that seems so simple to us. You know, because if you look globally, it’s happening all over the place and, you know, why can’t we kind of situation, but there’s nothing I guess you can do about it other than put your head down and keep going.

Eitan Stern (18:26):

Why could they wanna protect the mountain at the same time as like, like why would, why would the, why would the park be difficult?

Stuart McConnachie (18:33):

Yeah. I guess, you know, they weren’t necessarily trying to be difficult, but they were looking after what their job is to be nature conservationists and they’re in a unique situation in Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park and that it’s, it’s an, an open park in a city of 3 million people. Yeah. So it’s very difficult for them to control things, but at the same time, we need to obviously respect where we go and how we use the park. And I think over the years we’ve proven that we take their concerns very seriously and hence why we’ve been able to take the event further each time.

Eitan Stern (19:05):

Just as you’re coming here, we’re talking about this other peak and, uh, heart Bay. Maybe you can just tell us a little bit about what you were

Stuart McConnachie (19:11):

Signature. Yeah, I mean they, for instance, you know, that’s through the friends of Table Mountain and, and, and the honorary ranges, uh, the, um, sand park’s, honorary ranges. We’ve been able to get funds from, uh, our title sponsor around Merchant Bank and then fixed trails. And then this started before with Veteran mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we wanted to fix Devil’s Peak because the trails were not being maintained, I guess. Sure. And it’s difficult for the park because I guess they’re a huge source of revenue, but that revenue goes to Pretoria and from there pretoria distributes, so they’re not always getting what they’re earning for sure. And there’s, there’s a frustration in, in, in Cape Town around, around that.

Eitan Stern (19:51):

So kind of like through bringing attention or to bringing people to the Table Mountain Park, you’ve actually been able to kind of restore trails and, and bring safety back to some areas of the mountain.

Stuart McConnachie (19:59):

I mean that’s absolutely, yeah. So peak is a big one. I mean, five years ago nobody would’ve gone over there. Now you’ve got people heading over there all weekend, so, for sure.

Eitan Stern (20:08):

And, and local brands, I mean, I imagine you the, the race is supported by the brands. That must be a big source of revenue for you. What’s it like working with, with local brands? I mean, the sponsors that you have look fantastic from the outside, like what’s that experience like?

Stuart McConnachie (20:20):

Yeah, it’s great. You know, and then a lot of them are what we always wanted to view was kind of quintessentially cape on and take on brands that represented that as much as we could. You know, Jack Black’s an example of that, A small brewery, craft brewery that has grown almost and it’s, it’s older than UTct but it’s grown with the event. Um, and especially in the trail space. So as they’ve grown, they’ve been able to support, support us more. Salamon is, you know, an international brand, but it it it’s a local subsidiary of that. So they’ve supported us. And I guess with Salamon, a lot of that was the international recognition Yeah. That Salamon can bring to to our race. To the race.

Eitan Stern (20:59):

Yeah. And I mean, and do you have any guidelines of that? I mean, if you are take, like, cuz it looks to me you, you know, you, you’re not selling, I don’t know, you’re not selling insurance for a living, you’re running like a business which is very purpose driven and specific. What, do you have guidelines in your mind or maybe they’re explicit in the business around like which brands you work with or, or how you work with

Stuart McConnachie (21:17):

Them? Yeah, definitely. I mean, we were, we were very careful, especially looking for a, a title sponsor. And I think we are very happy to, and fortunate to land Rand Merchant Bank, we always believe that your brand is just as important as the brand. You, you bring on board or you associate with not mentioning any names, but we, we just wanted to make sure that we kept our brand premium for sure. And utct is seen as the premium event, so that attracts other brands onto that because of that feeling. And, uh, I guess, you know, over the years we’ve slowly learned our own pieces, um, become more jack of all trades in a way and understood the landscape better and how to not necessarily get the most out of a sponsor, but but help each other get the most out of the the partnership.

Eitan Stern (22:01):

Yeah. I mean, still focusing on South Africa, like, I I think it is an incredible thing. It’s like there’s a lot of good that you’re doing with this. It’s not just, you know, running an event like you are. Uh, there’s conservation aspects, there’s community, um, something which I’ve noticed being a South African runner and hiker, over the years, the, the mountain space has transformed a hell of a lot. It used to be a, you know, like quite a white space now. You see lots of people of color running in the mountain hiking. And I think that that’s something which has been a notable change over the last decade. Uh, I’m very curious, is that, is that something that you’ve noticed in the space? Like what, how do you view the sport in light of South Africa and, and a and a transforming community?

Stuart McConnachie (22:40):

Yeah, I, I can’t agree with you more. I think the space is definitely very inclusive and because of that feeling, the community is, is is very representative, you know, Cape On is such a, a mixture of cultures and it’s a great example to I guess the rest of the country and the rest of the world almost, that we can all kind of get along and be part of something. For sure. There’s no issues. This space has definitely has changed and, and, and grown with it. I I not only in, uh, in, in racial states, but in gender. When we started Tuesday Trails for instance, it was very hard. You, you never, you very seldom saw a group of girls running on the mountain. Now you have different trail crews, you know, Chicky Trail deep south, you know, there’s a whole bunch of crews that, that kind of get together and run on the mountain. And yes, they, they, they’ll have their crew, but ultimately they always feel like they’re part of the greater community for sure. Um, and that utCT is almost seen as a celebration of that.

Eitan Stern (23:41):

Yeah. Like an umbrella of all, all these trail own communities. So it sounds like, like that’s quite intentional for you, right? Yes. It’s like, it’s, it’s, it’s not a coincidence that, that this is like a very multicultural mixed space that’s race. It’s, it’s fantastic. Is there anything which has like surprised you on this journey? So you running, running like a South African race or like a race Cape Town, anything that you’ve learned along the way, which is like you, you look back on, you really didn’t expect it to, I mean, you’ve said that the race was a lot harder to put together Yeah. But anything else which comes to mind, which, which has been like a surprise to you or something that you’ve learned along the way, which you didn’t imagine you would?

Stuart McConnachie (24:15):

Yeah. You know, even though we, we had all these plans and grand visions and ideas to see it coming together and actually happening and to see the, the joy and the, the feeling of achievement it gives people is something that I, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of. Yeah. It’s amazing to, you know, through our reces you get to know people and you learn their journey and then you see them at the finish line. Yeah. And, and there’s, there’s something special about that. You watch people over the years going from a 23 to a hundred mile. Yeah. And you just think to yourself like, wow, you know, in a, in a way I’ve been involved in that, that growth path. And yeah. I just think it is such a special sport. I often say it’s, it’s, it’s a lifestyle, not a sport. The event is a representation of that and I feel like I’m part of that community

Eitan Stern (25:05):

And that I wanna dig in there. What does that feel for you? I mean, if you think about these scenes of people crossing the finish line in tears, it’s a, it’s an amazing moment in someone’s life to achieve something which they did, you know, which is outside of their reach. And essentially you as a race director, you curate that for a living. Like what, what does that feel like

Stuart McConnachie (25:21):

Having been through those experiences myself and knowing how much value I’ve placed in them? Yeah. Um, I think is part of the reason why we’ve driven so hard to get the race to this position is that it is such a special moment to, um, to, to go through, you know, because in, in the training in the build up to these races, it’s, it’s a representation of your, your life. You know, you gotta go through ups and downs and doubts and fears and all these things yet you can overcome and, and then you get to race day and then it’s another journey and you get to the finish line and it just becomes almost too much for that person. And I’m often, you know, emotional on the finish line too, too because you can’t help it. It’s just, it’s a very powerful place.

Eitan Stern (26:05):

A hundred percent. Yeah. So what, what’s it like running a hundred mile?

Stuart McConnachie (26:10):

I would always say to somebody a hundred miles is, is not a race, it’s a journey. Okay. <laugh>. Um, and uh, it’s a long journey. Yeah. It’s a long journey. Yeah. And there’s 50% physical and 50% mental. Yeah. You’re gonna walk long sections that you’re gonna feel like, you know, this is never gonna end. But it’s about just keeping your head in the game. And, and what we always say is run from aid station to aid station. Never think about the big picture, because if it does, it’s gonna overwhelm you no doubt. And that’s when an ache in the knee becomes catastrophic. Yeah. You know, it’s strange how you can, a lot of the elite talk about going to the pain cave mm-hmm. <affirmative> where you, you just go to this space where yes, it, everything hurts and everything’s difficult, but you just kind of put yourself into the zone and, and try and move within that and just get to the next aid session. And your crew at aid sessions is very important. They kind of, they, they, you just want to be, to be told like, this is the basic information. Get going. Yeah. Get outta the aid session. I

Eitan Stern (27:15):

Mean, I’m sorry to draw this this parallel, but it is so striking for me. It is this, there’s so much, there’s so much similarity between running a business and running an endurance rate. Exactly. Like, just get to that next goal. You need the words of support along the way. You can’t often see the bigger picture. Yeah. Yeah.

Stuart McConnachie (27:30):

I mean, and you’re alone for long periods of time. <laugh> in your own head. It’s like a thousand conversations going on in your own head. For UTMB for instance, I was 28 hours and you run through a whole night and it’s just this like, oh, like what is happening? Why am I here? What am I doing?

Eitan Stern (27:48):

Do you feel like you draw lessons from, from running in your, in your business

Stuart McConnachie (27:51):

Life? Absolutely. I’ve learned so much through especially long distance running where you, there’s so much doubt. Everybody’s got doubt, everyone’s got these fears, but yet you, if you just keep moving left, right, left right. And you get, you get to that next aid station and it’s like kick it tick. Next aid station is there, it’s 10 Ks. That’s all you thinking about. And the next 10 Ks,

Eitan Stern (28:12):

I mean, it sounds like the logistics of putting together an international event as well, <laugh> put, put them in piece by

Stuart McConnachie (28:18):

Piece. No, that’s why it’s good to hire trail runners. They like. Okay, cool. You know,

Eitan Stern (28:23):

Actually just one, one more question on this. Um, I mean, how do you get these international riders to come? Like how do you persuade the Jamal’s Lees of the world to

Stuart McConnachie (28:30):

Well, that, like, it’s kind of almost happened over time because the event’s been watched and, and seen. Um, now when we reach out, they, oh yeah. You know, definitely I know the event and I’m, I’m super keen and what we’ve done is basically from 2014 where there was no elites, obviously just local elites, which are still valuable. We had the world tour was a fee to be on the world tour. Um, so what we did was we just basically keep the fee and use that budget to make sure, like, okay, well we’ve got a hotel partner, so the that’s, there’s room nights for the, for the runners, which is quite a nice thing. You know, come to Cape Town and stay in a nice hotel for a week or 10

Eitan Stern (29:12):

Days. Drink, drink Jack Black beer and

Stuart McConnachie (29:14):

Drink Jack Black beer, run around the mountain

Eitan Stern (29:16):

Around the mountains. Doesn’t sound too, too

Stuart McConnachie (29:18):

Shabby. Doesn’t sound too sha. Yeah. And then obviously with certain ones, we’ll we’ll pay for their flights Okay. And stuff like that. And,

Eitan Stern (29:24):

And for you guys it’s worth it because it’s just,

Stuart McConnachie (29:25):

It’s worth it.

Eitan Stern (29:26):

Instagram posts

Stuart McConnachie (29:28):

Exactly. Puts you guys, it’s marketing 1 0 1. It’s, it’s such a simple and they, you know, they are your, your network into the community, you know, there’s so much trust in them, people follow them, wanna know what they’re doing. Exactly that. And we also invest with a person who looks after the elites here so that they don’t just come and get dropped off at the hotel. And it’s like, we’ll sort yourselves out. Yeah. And we wanna make sure that they have a good experience That makes sense. You know, they get ride to the, to the race.

Eitan Stern (29:55):

Yeah. When the music industry, uh, that’s how I cut my teeth in the music industry kind of doing these, these chaperoning gigs. Yeah. I mean, you know, showing people around make sure, I mean, it’s in the music industry, it’s making sure they’ve got some weed to smoke in the, in the show it’s probably <laugh>, making sure that they’ve got the right tailwind for the day or Sure.

Stuart McConnachie (30:14):

Exactly. Whatever they need. You know, if it’s crew, we can, we can sort the crew out with volunteers if they need to go on a rece run, there’s always a volunteer who’s dead keen to run, you know? Totally. So it’s, it’s that network that I can tap into, you know, and also just assigning someone to look after elites, it’s like, okay, well do you have the time for a week basically to, to run around with elites. And a lot of people are like, hell

Eitan Stern (30:38):

Yeah. Totally, yeah. Yeah. I think trail runners always find an excuse not not to go to the office. Exactly. Yeah. Doesn’t sound like a bad excuse.

Stuart McConnachie (30:45):

<laugh>. I don’t know the music industry too well, but, you know, the persona of a rockstar Yeah. Is definitely not the persona of a, of an elite trail runner.

Eitan Stern (30:53):

They, it’s often like herding cats is

Stuart McConnachie (30:55):

Yeah. Trail runners are

Eitan Stern (30:57):

Like chasing a cat,

Stuart McConnachie (30:57):

<laugh>. They, they just wanna be part of it. And, and, and they, what’s really, really special is when they finish the race and they’re part of the community, obviously they come around Tuesday trails and they’re just normal people. And, and I think as soon as people realize that it’s just, it’s such a, such a cool experience for them because obviously they followed them online. Yeah. So it’s a very special part of the event as well. So Yeah.

Eitan Stern (31:18):

And the year you got some real, real stars

Stuart McConnachie (31:21):

Coming Yeah. That starts, yeah. We get some big, big names, big runners and, and, and the depth of the field every year starts to grow and that’s great. And we’ve also put in through Rand Merchant Bank is prize money because we believe that elite, so people who should earn a living and be rewarded for their efforts. So, you know, we’ve we’ve managed to put in yeah.

Eitan Stern (31:41):

Decent sums of cash that for winning those races. That’s fantastic. I’d say that’s put up by the partners. That’s

Stuart McConnachie (31:47):

Mainly Yeah, exactly. That’s put up by them. Um, and you know, it’s

Eitan Stern (31:51):

A chance you should get a banking partner for this podcast.

Stuart McConnachie (31:53):

Actually. You should. They’re really good <laugh>.

Eitan Stern (31:56):

Cool.

Stuart McConnachie (31:57):

Yeah,

Eitan Stern (31:58):

Zooming out for like, for for a second. It’s like, so I know that that’s in, in like building a business, being surrounded not just with building a community, but being surrounded by a business owner community has certainly benefited me a lot in, in my work. I’m curious for you, it’s like, is there a community of race directors and sporting events, you know, organizers that you are a part of? I mean, if you think if there’s anyone listening to this podcast that, you know, has aspirations of starting their own, you know, running club or utct I mean, what are the networks that you’ve tapped into? Do you have a, a beer group of some of the other race directors around or, or Yeah. Do you have a network

Stuart McConnachie (32:36):

Interestingly enough? No, uh, not really, really per se, but a group started with all the kind of major big race, long, long distance race, uh, directors during Covid because we needed to come together and understand, you know, how we were gonna navigate the space events run on a yearly revenue or perhaps more, uh, if you have a few other events, you help that revenue stream. But ultimately, yeah, we, we came together and discussed all the options and we, we did start a, a South African trail running association per se, which has not really gone on to the next level because it’s still an independent sport in a growing sport. So there’s, you know, in South Africa, the asa

Eitan Stern (33:19):

What’s the asa the

Stuart McConnachie (33:21):

Athletics South Africa. Okay. Who control running per se or athletics. Yeah. Um, you know, they haven’t really got involved in trail running. It’s not something they quite understand or know how to navigate. And we would preferably, you know, like to stay out of the political scene for obvious reasons. And I guess that group, it still maintains a, a bond and, and, and if guys will go, good luck for your event coming up and stuff like that. And we, we rely on each other because we, we talk to each other about we know the event dates, you know, so that you’re not crossing into that with each other. Yeah. So I guess if you, if you are starting something, you would, the first part is where do you place yourself? Yeah. And you know, obviously people are, I guess territorial in a way. Sure. Um, and when we started, we, we kind of seemed to find a space, but you’re always gonna step on somebody’s toes. Yeah. Especially now with the amount of trail running events that are happening all over.

Eitan Stern (34:16):

But you, you’re not turning to the, the founder of the comrades or Cape Epic and being like, cool, you know, struggling with a logistical challenge of toilets on the run. I don’t know. And, you know, how did you guys deal with this? That’s not

Stuart McConnachie (34:27):

No, I mean, we are lucky that, you know, we’ve built up good suppliers and the suppliers often work on other events. Okay. And that kind of, there’s a secret, you know,

Eitan Stern (34:36):

There’s your secret source. Yeah, yeah.

Stuart McConnachie (34:38):

<laugh>. Okay.

Eitan Stern (34:39):

I mean, it’s, it’s so interesting for me it’s like, it’s like there’s so much negativity at the moment and people leaving South Africa and everyone looking outside and I think like, you know, like, wait, like Europe would probably be the, the home of trail running. And, and I think a lot of the, some even some of the local runners are starting to train in Europe and, and kind of what makes sense there. The races are there. Yeah. It’s interesting that in the face of that your method has been, instead of leaving South Africa to rather bring the world to South Africa, I suppose my question is, I mean, was that ever an option for you that, did you ever think to yourself, cool, if I wanna work in trail running or in sport to go to work overseas? Or, or did you always know it’s gonna be here? I

Stuart McConnachie (35:19):

Guess for a part of my journey when I was in America, uh, I lived in Boulder.

Eitan Stern (35:24):

Okay. Wow.

Stuart McConnachie (35:25):

I love Boulder. Um, and I, you know, learned a lot there and I, we actually ran quite a lot of trail there. Even then, it was relatively kind of new in a way, but I knew that, you know, I spent nine months in Boulder and I, by the end of it, I, as much as I wanted to stay, I knew that Cape Town was home and this was where I wanted to, I wanted to start something or be somebody, you know. So for me, um, I’m obviously fiercely proud of being South African, but, um, I also believe that we’ve got a lot to offer and it’s just a case of tapping into that. And, and I, I guess without being too political, it’s just good leadership and, and stuff like that would go a long way towards getting us, um, thing, but we can obviously help each other and do things, you know, like events and all sorts, uh, back each other up. Sure.

Eitan Stern (36:15):

I mean, so to speak, you’ve come back and you’re a big fish in a, in a growing pond, <laugh>, um, kind of last question. I mean, if we zoom out to like, like what is your aim? Like what do, where do you see the future of this race? And if you think about, I think, I mean the Cape Epics kept coming up. I think that was eventually sold to an international group. I think Ironman is an international group. I mean, even things like the ufc, which are, you know, these sporting brands which are big, big assets. Yeah. Like, is that sort of your vision for this race? So where do you see, if we think, you know, what you started in 2014, we were almost the 10 years. What does it look like in 2034?

Stuart McConnachie (36:52):

Yeah. Um, 2034 is too far.

Eitan Stern (36:54):

I wish people could see you kind of smile up to the sky and, and it

Stuart McConnachie (36:57):

Yeah. You know, it is interesting this, the last couple of years has been very, a lot, a lot is going on in the trail running world. Um, we were part of the Ultra Trail World tour and that stopped at the end of last year. And they’ve started the UTMB World Series, which is co-owned effectively by UTMB and Ironman. So we did have a conversation, um, but ultimately to be part of that, um, series, you needed to sell your event a hundred percent. Okay. Um, and then you would remain on as a race director for three years and then potentially continue. But

Eitan Stern (37:31):

That’s not what you want to do. You used to have legs left in this

Stuart McConnachie (37:33):

Race. Yeah. You know, and there’s so much we wanted to control and, and not that I didn’t think it was an exciting opportunity, it was just that I wanted to work for myself and build something. Um, we’ve actually just purchased another race in the Drakensberg called Ultra Trail Drakensberg. Okay. Which we think is, has a lot of potential. Drakensburg is, you know, I’ve

Eitan Stern (37:55):

Hacked that route. I wouldn’t wanna run

Stuart McConnachie (37:56):

It Yeah. The mountain range other than, other than Table Mountain. And when you think of South Africa, Drakensburg is the next range. So, so

Eitan Stern (38:04):

Oh wow. So that’s not part of the, the same family.

Stuart McConnachie (38:05):

Yeah. So we want to grow our own properties and not be controlled effectively by

Eitan Stern (38:11):

Amazing. So you, and you’re looking at South Africa and you’re still thinking that there’s room to grow. I mean, so what you would change that to Ultra Trail Drakensburg? Or it is a, I mean, you, you would, sorry, you would put it under the same, the same kind of banner or you’d keep, keep them as two distinct brands?

Stuart McConnachie (38:25):

Uh, two distinct brands, definitely. Yeah. Um, you know, spurge is the race director up there, and he’s remained on as a minor shareholder in the, in the race. So we want him to, you know, feel invested in that. Totally. And we basically just bringing our expertise and our team in to help, um, him because he’s at a point where he couldn’t grow the event anymore. So, you know, we, we feel like there’s, it’s a good space, it’s a good area, and there’s potential.

Eitan Stern (38:54):

So Yeah. So more than you guys wanna be bought by the Ironman, you guys wanna be the next Ironman

Stuart McConnachie (38:58):

Essentially <laugh> Potentially, I’d like to grow, grow something my own. Yeah. I’ve amazing. I’ve always been, um, and I think, um, you know, the reason why Nick and I have kind of got to this point is we, um, we not, we are not to say anti-establishment, but there’s always been a case of like, you know, the question is why, you know, like, yes, if it’s beneficial and it works and stuff like that, fair enough. But we also wanna explore these things for ourselves.

Eitan Stern (39:24):

So, so what is that why for you? Like why is, why do you do what you do?

Stuart McConnachie (39:28):

I guess more the question would be like, why would you do something or why would you go that way? Okay. And if it doesn’t speak to, you know, for me a lot of it is this, this event is held and, and I guess so special is because of the community and I was worried, we were worried that, you know, you’re effectively selling out that community. And how would they position you or how would they feel about that? Um, the World Tour was, was something beautiful because it put us on the world platform, but to, to then have to sell a hundred percent of your race to be part of something. And effectively there, there’s a controlling of the sport in, in a way which we didn’t agree with or don’t agree

Eitan Stern (40:08):

With. So maybe it’s still too much in its infancy at this point still to do it because this community is just becoming a quite a vibrant space. Uh, Stu fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m, uh, I’m really hoping to see you at the finish line.

Stuart McConnachie (40:21):

Yeah,

Eitan Stern (40:21):

No doubt. Hopefully I’ll be, uh, still walking and within the time, the allocated time,

Stuart McConnachie (40:26):

I’m sure you will. I’ll see you there. Cool. Thanks a lot.

Eitan Stern (40:29):

This podcast is recorded by Simon Atwell. The intro music is by pHFat. I’m your host Eitan Stern. For more information about legalese, catch us on legalese.co.za Or on the socials.