3 Cape Town half marathons you just have to run

From September to April you’re likely to find a race in or around Cape Town every weekend. But every runner — even casual weekend warriors — should try these three Cape half marathons at least once.

1. The Two Oceans Half Marathon: Undoubtedly the biggest and most anticipated half marathon in Cape Town, the Two Oceans Half Marathon attracts 16 000 runners each year – and those are just the ones who manage to secure an entry. The half marathon, which has been run since 1998 and always takes place over the Easter weekend, doesn’t actually take runners alongside either ocean;, although you might catch a glimpse of False Bay from the top of Edinburgh Drive.

Southern Cross Drive, which you’ll hit about halfway through the 21.1 kilometre race, is quite tough, but the sheer number of runners means that there’s a limit to how quickly you can plod up the hill anyway. Given the congestion, you’re not likely to run a personal best, but the festive atmosphere and phenomenal support along the way more than makes up for it.

2. The Gun Run: With a field about half the size of that of the Two Oceans, the Gun Run is still festive, but – barring the first couple of kilometres – not as annoyingly congested. The race, which is organised by the Atlantic Athletic Club and was first run in 1992, originally started at 09H30 so that the Noon Gun fired from Signal Hill marked the cut-off. These days, the Cape Field Artillery signals the start and end of the race with the firing of a battlefield gun.

For the most part the Gun Run, which takes place in October, is relatively flat, making it a fun and easy first half marathon. The hill on Kloof Road is fairly taxing, but you are rewarded with stunning views of the ocean and a fairly easy descent into Camps Bay. The last few kilometres, along the Atlantic coastline, are mostly flat and picturesque. Water stations compete for a “best table” prize, so the vibe is always great.

3. The Cape Peninsula Half Marathon: The Cape Peninsula Marathon, which is organised by Celtic Harriers, was first run in 1964 with 19 runners. The full marathon starts in Cape Town and finishes at the Naval Sports Field in Simon’s Town. The half marathon starts in Bergvliet – adjacent to the halfway mark in the marathon – and the two routes quickly merge.

Except for a few hills as you make your way into Simon’s Town, this is a pretty flat route and the fact that you run much of it along the coastal road makes it an enjoyable one. The full marathon usually attracts a big crowd running qualifying races for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, so the mood at the finish is festive. Once you’re done, you can simply catch a train back to the start with the other runners.

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.

Join the world’s biggest running event, every Saturday

Whether you are looking for a regular time trial in Cape Town or simply want to take part in a fun run with family and friends, parkrun — the biggest running event in the world — has you covered, says South African running legend and multiple Comrades Marathon winner Bruce Fordyce.

Serious South African runners do time trials in the build-up to races such as the Comrades Marathon to test how their fitness is going. When a South African called Paul Sinton-Hewitt emigrated to the United Kingdom, he discovered that they didn’t seem to have that concept there, so he started parkrun as a time trial for a few dedicated runners. It bore little resemblance to what it is now.

Paul — who was awarded a CBE by the Queen for his contribution to world health — and I are old mates, so once it started going well I brought it to South Africa. We started with one parkrun in Johannesburg, in Delta Park, in 2011 — and 26 people came along. Four years later, we have 69 parkruns around South Africa each week.

It’s the biggest running event in the world — 100 000 people around the world do parkrun every single Saturday. In South Africa, about 20 000 people run at 69 different venues around the country every Saturday. We put on an event that is bigger than the Comrades Marathon or the Two Oceans Marathon — and they do it once a year. We do it 52 times a year… and it’s free!

I think that the volunteer spirit is the most amazing part of parkrun. We thought it would never happen in South Africa where everyone wants to get paid, but people give up their time to come along and do the marshalling, timing and general jobs that need to be done at a parkrun for no payment whatsoever. There’s a massive volunteer spirit and most runners will, at some stage or another, give up a run and volunteer instead.

We will never charge a fee. That’s the magic of parkrun. Obviously, we are only able to do it for free because of the sponsors and the volunteers. It is about health and wellness, but it i’s also about community spirit and community development. People cannot wait to see each other on a Saturday morning.

In Cape Town we host parkruns in Green Point, Big Bay, Fish Hoek, at Rondebosch Common, Constantia Green Belt and in Stellenbosch. In 2016, we will introduce parkruns in Muizenberg, Khayelitsha, Century City and Paarl.

The only thing we ask people to do is register on the website. Once you’ve registered, you print a little barcode, which is your passport to do a parkrun anywhere in the world. You only have to register once. You can choose your home run, but that doesn’t mean that you have to run at your home run every Saturday. The passport gets scanned as you cross the finish line, and you get sent your results that afternoon or, worst case scenario, the next day. You accumulate parkruns and when you hit certain milestones — say 50 runs — you get a magnificent t-shirt.

Trail running tips for beginners

With trail running increasing in popularity in Cape Town, there’s no shortage of scenic races to be run or great trails to be discovered. Here’s what you need to know if you’re just getting started…

Train right

Even if you’re a seasoned road runner, hitting the trail for the first time can be a challenging experience. If you decide that you want to venture into trail racing, it is a good idea to build up to it by incorporating trail runs into your training schedule. Start off with an easy jeep track and work your way up to a more technical single-track.

Invest in good gear

If you are serious about trail running you’ll want to invest in a pair of trail-running shoes. These generally have a lower profile, which makes rolling your ankles less likely, and more serious tread to accommodate slippery trails. It’s also worth getting a multi-bottle waist belt or hydration pack as you will need to carry your own water with you when you run.

Take it easy (sometimes)

When you first start out, try not to become too despondent about the time it takes you to complete a run or race. Because of the varied terrain and the almost inevitable climbs, it might take you twice as long as usual to complete a distance. Remember that it is also perfectly acceptable to walk from time to time… especially up steep hills!

Keep eyes peeled

When you are out in nature, it can be tempting to check out the views, but if you decide to do so it’s best to stop or walk. Trails are full of roots and rocks and other surprises, so it’s a good idea to focus on the trail in front of you while you’re running so that you know where you’re going to step for the next few strides. Don’t veer off the trail, and yield to other trail users.

Play it safe

Trail running can also be dangerous, so if you are going for a training run, try to run with friends or dogs and be sure to let someone know when and where you’ll be running. There are a number of trail running groups that you can join in Cape Town. Check out the Cape Runners Against Gravity, K-Way VOB Running Club, which has a trail group that runs on weekends, and Celtic Harriers, which offers trail runs on Thursdays.  Most trail races require you to carry water and safety items such as a windbreaker, cellphone and first aid items. If you are heading out onto the mountain for a trail run, it’s a good idea to be similarly prepared.

Why do you see people running in red socks in Cape Town every Friday?

You may have seen them – runners sporting knee-high red socks and a big smile – and wondered what was up with this fashion quirk. Here’s what you need to know about Cape Town’s Red Sock revolution…

In 2007 John McInroy, the founder of the Unogwaja Challenge, was forced to part ways with a close friend. Inspired by the story of a World War Two veteran who always wore red socks to an annual Remembrance Day ceremony as a symbol of friendship, courage, and hope, McInroy and his friend decided that they would wear red socks every Friday, regardless of what they were doing.

The Red Sock Friday movement, which is all about being inspired, positive and making a difference, caught on quickly. In fact, there are now people in over 70 countries who don red socks on Fridays to express the sentiment that we are all united in our humanity.

So, what does any of this have to do with running?

There are a number of free Friday morning runs organised by enthusiastic Red Sockers around Cape Town. The runs are not particularly serious and vary from one week to the next in terms of distance and pace. These runs, which kick off bright and early, are usually followed by a quick cup of coffee before everyone heads off to shower before work.

You don’t have to be a particularly proficient runner to join in the fun. All you need are running shoes, a pair of red socks – which can be bought from the organisers of the run – and the ShoOops! spirit. It’s a Red Sockers’ thing; you’ll be saying it in no time.

Regular Red Sock runs are held in Mouille Point, Claremont and Stellenbosch. If there isn’t already a Red Sock run in your area, you can always start your own!