3 half marathons worth heading out of the city for

While Cape Town has its fair share of magnificent half marathons, there are at least three in the surrounding areas that are worth travelling to for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

1. The Safari Half Marathon: This half marathon, first run in 1988, takes you through the little town of Wellington, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and the surrounding farmlands. You spend a fair amount of the race on gravel roads and many of the local farmworkers and their children come out to support you. There is something really special about running through this beautiful part of the Cape when the morning is still fresh and full of promise.

The half marathon is always run on the first of May – a public holiday – and it is late enough in the year that it doesn’t start too early. As the name suggests, the race is sponsored by Safari dried fruit, so the goodie bags come filled with tasty treats.

2. The Vital Winelands Half Marathon: By November the days can get scorching hot in Stellenbosch (a 40-minute drive from the city centre), so this half marathon starts very early, which means that if you are making the trek from Cape Town you should leave home at around 03h30! Thankfully, the beautiful scenery — you spend some time running through farmland – compensates for that early start.

This half marathon was introduced after the Winelands Marathon had been run for 19 years. The two races converge at the 32 kilometre mark in the marathon, and both finish at the Eikestad Primary School. With over 4 000 runners crossing the finish line, there is a festive atmosphere at the end. That said, the support along the way is not spectacular, and there is a fairly long (and hilly!) stretch of the race where you have to run on the shoulder of a busy highway.

3. Knysna Half Marathon: One of the most popular half marathons in South Africa, the Knysna Half Marathon in Knysna, a solid six hour-plus drive up the Garden Route, is the perfect excuse for a weekend away! This hilly half marathon starts in the heart of the Knysna forest. Because it is run in the middle of winter, it can be pretty darn cold, so there is a tradition of runners wearing warm clothes and blankets at the start. These items, which are discarded at the start and along the route, are donated to less fortunate members of the community.

The Knysna half marathon is not easy. It kicks off with a gradual 2.5 kilometre hill, followed by a long stretch of undulating jeep track. Later, as you descend into Knysna, you are faced with a gruelling, quad-killing downhill, but the views are amazing. Because everyone is staying for the weekend, and the half marathon forms part of the Knysna Oyster Festival, everything post-race is one big party.

Two Oceans is a lie…and 3 other marathon myths busted!

It’s not really the Two Oceans…and other myths to remember while running South Africa’s favourite ultra-marathon, the Two Oceans Marathon, in Cape Town.

The Two Oceans Marathon has been described as “the world’s most beautiful ultra-marathon”, and that much is certainly true. The 56-kilometre endurance race winds its way around the dramatic Cape Peninsula, taking in the waters of False Bay before crossing over to Noordhoek on the Atlantic coast. Then it’s a breathtaking jaunt along Chapman’s Peak before the gruelling climb up Constantia Nek and the sweet relief of the downhill towards the finish at University of Cape Town.

But the name of the race itself is a white lie. The marathon derives its name from the popular myth that the Cape Peninsula is where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet. Some Capetonians will even go so far as to cheekily tell you that you can see a line where these two oceans butt up against one another at Cape Point. In fact these two bodies of water only meet 200 kilometres east at Cape Agulhas (sans the line in the sea), but it still makes for a good story. Here are three more ultra-marathon myths you should be aware of before race day.

1. You need to run all the way

Many would-be marathon runners (yes, you) get put off by the idea that you have to run all the way. That’s not true. In fact, unless you’re amongst the top groups it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to run the entire distance. Old hands will tell you that stretches of brisk walking actually help break up the more daunting sections of the run and you can use these walking breaks to make the distance more manageable. Just be sure to make the cut-off times at the demarcated points – 28km halfway on Noordhoek Main Road by 10h00 and 42,2km at Hout Bay Main Road by 11h50.

2. Drink as much as you can

The long-held belief that you need to drink as much as you can, even if you don’t feel thirsty, has been heavily challenged in recent years. Instead, there’s a growing trend in ultra-marathon circles to “drink when you are thirsty”. Over-hydration may in fact decrease performance and even be dangerous, according to Professor Tim Noakes in his book Waterlogged. Instead try a balanced approach, taking into account the heat and humidity of course.

3. You can’t have enough electrolytes

In fact, you can. Electrolytes are essential for balancing fluids in the cells and keeping you hydrated and your muscle function in check. But research has shown that your body can only store and process so much of these vital minerals. After that, your body will either just push them out (think pee and sweat). Or even worse, too many electrolytes can cause cramping, diarrhoea and vomiting. So remember to go easy on the sports drinks.

Why I’ll always return to the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon

Few races show off Cape Town in all its glory better than the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. Not only do you get to see some pretty spectacular views, you also get to experience just how welcoming and supportive locals can be.

At 30 kilometres, around about the time I reached the top of what my mind had construed to be The Longest Hill in the World, my left calf scrunched itself up into an angry little bundle of protest. Every few steps, it would remind me that it was not happy. At 46 kilometres, with another 10 kilometres to go, the nausea hit me. Wave after wave reduced me to a cautious hobble, raising the spectre of Not Finishing.

But I did. Somehow, thanks in part to the amazing support all the way along the route, I managed to cross the finish line of the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. The experience was simultaneously glorious and awful. But you soon forget about the awful. You forget about wanting to swear and cry and quit. You forget about the cramps and the vomiting. But that warm glow that comes with achieving something you once thought impossible persists. Before you know it, you’re training for your next race.

Arguably one of the most beautiful races in the world, the Two Oceans Marathon is the biggest race on the Cape Town running calendar, with the half-marathon attracting 16 000 runners and the ultra marathon another 11 000.  In addition to the 21-kilometre half marathon and the 56-kilometre ultra marathon, runners can also enter trail runs that take place over the same weekend.

While the congestion caused by so many runners can be a little difficult to navigate, the spirit and camaraderie that come with so many participants more than makes up for it. Every year — even in the pouring rain — Cape Town locals do the city proud by coming out to enthusiastically support the runners all the way along the route. When your spirits are flagging, little kids with trays of oranges or energetic brass bands are there to pick them up.

Whether or not you regard yourself as a runner this race, which always takes place over the Easter weekend, should be on your Cape Town to-do list. Entries get snapped up really quickly, so make sure that you keep an eye on entry dates. And be warned: once you’ve done it, you’re going to want to do it again!