Taking a break on a gentle trail run recently, I shouted encouragement to a tall, lithe runner going fast, looking serious. “What are you training for?” I hollered. “Nothing! The Knysna is bloody cancelled,” he grunted.
So, too, he could’ve added, are the Two Oceans, the Comrades, the Edenvale Marathon ...
The pandemic has triggered many to ponder health and wellness. For runners, it made us think deeply about why we run. There was a human truth in the film odyssey of Forrest Gump (he of “run Forrest, run!”): while we may not be interlopers to significant events in history, running gives a reassurance, for a while at least, that we can set ourselves apart, we can overcome life’s mundaneness, we can feel alive.
You don’t have to be obsessed to appreciate running, and to experience its endorphin glow and sense of spiritual cleansing. It’s probably true that the extreme distances — in exposing fallibilities, stripping us to the core — forge a sense of absolute self-awareness and new belief. But you can get to a similar meditative plain on a short, sharp run dodging tree roots and skirting rocks through a beautiful woodland like Newlands Forest in the Cape, or an aching climb such as the 2km Cowie’s Hill stretch of the Comrades route. (If you crave hills, keep going beyond Cowie’s to Field’s Hill, which adds 3kms and spikes the gradient to over 6%. Guaranteed you’ll feel your lungs ablaze and your legs atremble.)
There’s euphoria to be had, too, at the seaside. Durban’s Beach Front Golden Mile, Umgeni River and Umhlanga promenades offer gentle routes with challenging add-on distance options, all with gorgeous Indian Ocean views. In Cape Town, the bracing Atlantic coast is brilliant for barefoot beach runs. Noordhoek is an unspoilt 5km stretch of paradise. Or head to Llandudno for a calmer, shorter jog — do some crunches and press-ups to add muscle to your workout while you watch the surfers seek the tubes.
In Joburg, trail run enthusiasts can explore 13kms of trail routes at the Cycle Lab Bike Park in Bryanston. (Yes, the bike park is for runners too.) The Emmarentia Dam and Johannesburg Botanical Gardens are also a gorgeous green space for calming jogs or longer loops of 20kms, or more.
Running, literally and figuratively, is a journey. Ask yourself: where to next?
If you want to stretch your horizons and your capabilities, travelling within Africa may be doable, or certainly easier than to other continents at present. Consider a training sojourn at one of the legendary camps in the Kenyan highlands. Running greats are born there; you can breathe the same rarefied air as marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge. Maybe you’ll discover the phenomenal you at Iten in the Rift Valley.
If you do, the For Rangers 230km ultra marathon in the shadow of Mount Kenya could be the next challenge to line up. It’s already full for this year’s September event — but that gives time to prepare for the 2022 race.
Covid-19 has surely made runners treasure the pursuit even more. Wanted can recommend a further dimension to the pleasure: if we lack for company on a run — or you love beats to keep your running rhythm going — Bose’s range of polaroid audio sunglasses is worth a look. The tiny speakers are powerful, but the shades are still lightweight, and sweat and water resistant. If you’re serious about running and music, the Bose Frames Tempo is highly recommended.
On a serious note, may we also suggest caution during these extraordinary times. Please assess the efficacy of your face covering, or consider the Ciovita sports masks, which are specifically designed for exercising.
AT THE FINISH
I caught up with the tall runner back at the carpark, later. Turns out Christopher Rowland is running for something — an individually-sponsored effort to raise funds for the Chaeli Campaign, a social justice programme that supports disabled children. (The Chaeli Campaign has a sports and recreation club too, and has achieved much to open opportunities for physically challenged runners.) He’s running for good, and for positive change.
For race fiends, “virtual races” have replaced many events on the 2021 calendar. And those still eager to push themselves marathon-style, the virtual Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge is happening on Sunday June 13. Wherever entrants choose to run their distance, they have until midnight to use their smartphone, smartwatch or fitness tracker to upload their time.
That’s the thing about running: whether it’s 5km or 90km, once you’re hooked, there’s always a reason — and a way.