Running in South Africa

Journey to the Road

©Jacques Marais
Running in Cape Town.
©Roger de la Harpe
You need a good, solid running shoe and light clothes for running.

Running is either a dreadful uphill battle that you simply do not enjoy, or it is a brain-boosting escape from reality that you just cannot go without. Whichever scenario applies to you, South Africa is blessed with an abundance of tar road demarcations, mountain trails, routes through nature and running events that will satisfy the toughest - or even the novice - road runner. 

If you are embarking on a fitness journey down the street or bracing the unknown on a trail through the countryside, there is one thing that you absolutely need: good running shoes! You can find a specific brand and style for any running occasion; for long-distance training, gravel road endurance, beginner’s footwear or even a flexible ‘superhero’ shoe that will carry you up a hill, down a forest, into sand and through water. 

Other basic essentials include a water bottle, light clothing that will breathe and not weigh you down, as well as lots of sunscreen to prevent any lobster situations.

If you plan on trekking long-distance, you’ll need more heavy-duty equipment such as a lightweight jacket for unplanned weather changes, more than one bottle of water, snacks to keep your blood sugar stable and even camping gear if you are planning a multi-day running trip. 

Thus, your equipment needs are determined by your distance and your skill level. A beginner might not want a smartwatch that will monitor their heart rate, temperature and average speed throughout a run, but an expert runner training for a marathon will definitely need such a gadget. 

Running can be a fun challenge for those looking to up their energy and fitness levels while enjoying the fresh air and scenery many routes have to offer. It can also be an endurance test for running specialists wanting to enter marathons or triathlons. It can be done in a group or alone, depending on your comfort zone. But be mindful of your safety, as you do not want to find yourself in a risky situation without back-up.

Guide to Road Running Events

©Roger de la Harpe
The Comrades Marathon in KwaZulu-Natal.
©Jacques Marais
Running in Paarl, Cape Town.

If you are interested in entering one of South Africa’s many running competitions, there are several informative guides and programs that will get you on your way. Almost every city and/or suburb offers weekly, monthly and annual running events on various levels, ranging from charity drives to endurance tests and national competitions. Some of these events are world-famous, with runners from all over the world entering revered competitions in cities like Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban.

One of the most popular weekly events is parkrun, which is a 5 km trail in various suburbs, all the way from Century City in Cape Town to Sandton in Johannesburg. The initiative is run by Discovery Health in South Africa, but it is a worldwide sponsored event. It is free for any runner (or walker) of any age to join - you just have to sign up in your area and off you go!

In Cape Town, The Two Oceans Marathon is the holy grail for avid runners. It covers 56 km  around the cliff-face roads of the Cape Peninsula, and is often called “the world’s most scenic race”. The accompanying half-marathon is 21 km and is quite hilly, but lots of fun. You can visit their website of the same name for more information.

The Comrades Marathon is the world’s biggest ultra-marathon, hosted in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and attracting 12 000 runners on average every year! It is a point-to-point race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, and is undoubtedly the race every serious runner pins onto their calendar. It is a hilly race, and requires a lot of endurance, perseverance and an extreme level of fitness. Visit the Comrades website for more information.

Other popular running events in the country include: the Phobians Pretoria Marathon, which is a 42 km event; the Intercare Classic Road Race in Cape Town that offers a 21 km and 10 km event; the Soweto Marathon in Johannesburg, aimed at highlighting historic landmarks in Gauteng; The Pirates Half-Marathon in Kimberly that is designed for heat-loving runners, and the SPAR Womens’ 10 km Run in Port Elizabeth, an event solely for women runners. 

To find out when and where your nearest running event is, visit the website of Runner’s Guide, which has fixtures for any an all areas of South Africa.

Trail Running in Nature

©Jacques Marais
The Otter Trail Run along the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route.
©Jacques Marais
The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is an iconic desert foot race.

Other than road running events, South Africa has a number of scenic trail runs and marathons scattered across natural landscapes, ranging from forests and bushveld to beaches and mountain routes. These trails take runners over hills, past plantations of trees and through rough ocean waves in order to test their fitness skills, endurance or just enjoy the experience in nature. 

The Western Cape and Eastern Cape have popular coastal running events on a monthly or annual basis. The Knysna Forest Marathon & Half-Marathon on the Southern Cape is part of the annual Oyster Festival, and covers beautiful forest terrain. Although challenging, it’s super scenic. The Otter Trail Run in the Eastern Cape is a multi-day route that offers stunning views of the east coast. 

The Salomon Skyrun is a mountain trail that covers 100 km of hillside routes and mountain ridges in the Eastern Cape. The 4 Peaks Mountain in the Witterberge Mountain area is a challenging 24 km race with hilly upscales and climbing points. The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is an iconic desert foot race that is known as the “Big Daddy” in trail and desert running circles across the world. The terrain includes rocky outcrops, sandy riverbeds and vast outstretched grasslands.

To find out when and where your nearest trail running event is, visit the website of Runner’s Guide, which has fixtures for any an all areas of South Africa.

By Carla Lottering