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.

My favourite running trails in and around Cape Town

Long-distance trail runner Andre Gie has won — and set records for — some of the toughest trail races Cape Town has to offer. He lets you in on a few of his favourite places to run.

The unique thing about Cape Town is that you have this big mountain in the middle of the city. The mountain has a special feel to it, with rock formations and vegetation like no where else. You can start running in the city and in a couple of minutes be in a wild environment without anyone else in sight. And you can run from Table Mountain to the beach to the city — all in one morning!

If we expand the parameters outside of Cape Town just a bit, two of my favourite places on earth are the Garden Route and the Cederberg, so it’s not surprising that trails there make it into my selection.

Robberg Peninsula near Plettenberg Bay (a six to seven-hour drive from Cape Town) must be one of the most beautiful seven-kilometre runs on the planet. It is the perfect combination of rocky trails, running along the beach and along cliff-tops above the ocean. You often run along the cliffs above massive great white sharks as they cruise next to the peninsula! There isn’t a boring step on this run and it’s a must-do for any trail runner.

In Cape Town itself, the loop around Lion’s Head should not be missed.

In terms of a medium distance, there is a combination of trails that link together to create a loop around Table Mountain. Start at the cableway and run the contour paths to Kirstenbosch. Then climb up Skeleton Gorge — which looks and feels like Jurassic Park — to the top of Table Mountain. Run past the dams and down Kasteelspoort to the pipetrack and back to your car. This great run gives you the opportunity to see both sides of the mountain, some awesome trails, and a lot of variety.

If you are looking to do a longer distance, anything in the Cederberg (around three hour’s drive from Cape Town) will do. My current favourite is to run from Algeria up Uitkyk Pass, around the back of Sneeuberg, then through the Duiwelsgat ravine, past the Maltese Cross to Sanddrif. It is beautiful and remote running in some big mountains. The bonus is that you end up at Cederberg Wines, which is a great wine farm with fantastic red wines and beer, and a cold river to jump in at the Sanddrif campsite!

My top tips on preparing for an endurance race

Cape Town hosts various thrilling long-distance trail races, Rosie Carey, female record holder of the 108 kilometre Outeniqua Quest, shares her tips on getting set.

I think that the biggest challenge of an endurance race is the mental challenge. You can go into an ultra trail run a little physically underprepared — and that’s sometimes better than being over-trained — but if your mind isn’t properly prepared, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. I really believe that anything over 50 kilometres is a battle of willpower; a mind game far more than just a running race.

It becomes a case of your mind willing your body to keep going, to push beyond the ache in your legs and the burning in your lungs. You need to train your mind to ignore the negative thoughts. Replace them with positives. It helps to have memorised a few simple, punchy motivational phrases to throw at any negative thoughts.

I use a strategy of breaking the race down into smaller, doable pieces. It’s far less daunting to think of doing 10 sets of 10-kilometre stretches than one set of 100 kilometres. At the beginning, I divide the race up into 10 kilometre segments. Towards the end of the race, when I’m becoming more tired, I count down smaller distances: five kilometres and then eventually one-kilometre intervals.

One of the best pieces of advice I got for pacing myself in long races was to divide the race into three segments. For the first half of the race, run well within yourself. If you are feeling good at the half-way point, increase your pace a bit for the third quarter of the race. If you hit three quarters of the way through and you’re still feeling good, give everything you’ve got to the last quarter. That works for me.

People tend to think that training for an ultra is just about doing endless miles of running. It’s so much more than that. It’s about getting your race nutrition and hydration strategy right long before race day; it’s about testing and retesting all your gear in different conditions, and finding the gear that works for you; and it’s about learning to love spending hours in your own company. It’s about never — not even for a moment — entertaining the thought that it’s not possible.

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.

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 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!

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!