Welcome to “Top Five Friday” where I share my Top Five anything in running and blogging! Before the pandemic, I travelled at least three or four times a year to South Africa for races. I’ve always loved how organised South African races are – starting at 6am means starting at 6am, and the energy from runners and spectators, is brilliant. But aside from the Addo Elephant Trail Run which I did in March, I haven’t done any others in the last couple of years. So, it’s with a sense of nostalgia that I’m sharing my favourite races in South Africa… in no particular order!
1/ Soweto Half Marathon. Aptly coined ‘The People’s Race’, this is one of my favourite races of all time! It’s not a course you’re likely to PB as it’s extremely hilly and scheduled in the heat of summer. But people are drawn to it for its pulsating township route, positive vibe from 40, 000 runners, upbeat energy from residents, and the epic finish through the tunnel of the famous FNB stadium, “The Calabash”. Nothing quite beats the Spirit of Soweto, and this is why we keep coming back. I first ran the 10 km Route in 2017 and then braved the Half in 2018 and 2019. Soweto is not for the faint-hearted but it’s doable and really worth the whole experience.
2/ Run the Berg. In September 2019, I (together with friends and family from Botswana) took part in Runtheberg – a 2-stage trail race in the magnificent Northern Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Luzibo and I chose the Challenge Race which was 17 km of climbing and running on the first day, followed by 14 km of more forgiving terrain on the second day, both days totalling a net ascent of approx. 1,140 metres. The rest of the Botswana contingent, Ditiro, Elisa and Tapiwa, chose the more gruelling Extreme Race which covered a total of 50km (net ascent of 2,400 metres) and had them canvassing steep slopes, narrow gulleys and water crossings. We were united in our determination to complete the race, but we ran separately, and each came back with individual tales of wild adventure, heroic feats and the experience of a lifetime.
3/ Phobians Pretoria Half Marathon. I ran this in February 2020 and loved the route as it was designed in such a way that gave us the opportunity to see so many attractive and historic buildings in Pretoria. The climb up Klapperkop was tough but the panoramic views at the top made it worth our while. I later learnt that this reserve is home to zebra, blue wildebeest, mongoose, hedgehogs, hares and porcupines and also boasts an abundance of very rich birdlife. So, if you’re lucky, you could spot something! The traditional music bands, both at the top of Klapperkop and at the entry to the High School, were a real treat and a unique touch.
4/ Magalies Adventure Trail Run. To celebrate our wedding anniversary in August 2018, Ditiro and I did this trail run together. It was hosted at African Pride Mount Grace Country House and Spa Hotel which is an awesome venue. We all started together but there were four different distances, 4 km (20 runners), 8 km (14 runners), 16 km (30 runners) and 25 km (13 runners). The route was well marked and aside from a minor glitch at the end when we were led astray by another runner, we never got lost. It was a tough race for me, but I am so glad that I pushed through to the end and finished smiling. Of the 30 who did the 16 km Route, eight did not finish. I am not surprised as it is quite challenging if you are not used to trails. Some of those climbs were intense but the gorgeous views and surroundings kept our spirits high.
5/ Addo Elephant Trail Run. In March 2022, I ran my first Ultra-Trail in the Addo National Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It was the toughest challenge I’ve ever done, one that tested my physical and mental strength, whilst allowing me to witness the grit, determination and resilience of so many other runners, fighting their own battles to finish. As the terrain, landscape and flora transitioned beautifully over the 44km run, I felt extremely privileged to be immersed in such splendour that I often forgot how tough it was or how far I had to go. There were many moments where I just looked around and thought, “I get to do this”.
Although I’ve experienced many races in South Africa, there are several more on my bucket list! If you’re familiar with races in South Africa, what makes up your Top Five? Also, let me know what I should include on my list, both trail and road. For everyone else, what race is a MUST-RUN in your country? Let me know in the Comments!