Did you know?
South African trail runner Ryan Sandes is the first person to have won all four of the six- to seven-day 250km-long 4 Deserts races – through the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Gobi Desert in China, the Sahara Desert in Egypt, and in Antarctica.
South Africa's scenic trail runs will take you places few people ever go. They will test your limits and help you set new ones. They will capture your imagination with their promise of beauty and adventure. They'll make you work harder than you thought you could. And they will fill you with joy and pride as you complete each one.
As a sport, trail running in South Africa is becoming increasingly popular. 'Runners have been running on trails all their lives but it's only recently become an "official" sport,' says Heidi Carter-Brown, trail runner and event organiser. She believes many runners have become involved in trail running because it's safer than running out on the road, and also because it's about 'breaking away into nature to unwind, rejuvenate and fill your senses'.
Trail runners come from all walks of life, and they all love the freedom and diversity that comes with trail running. As well as navigating rocks, grass and streams, they get to venture into unexplored areas that are only accessible on foot.
There are many trails and races to choose from, 'usually at least one or two somewhere in South Africa on every weekend throughout the year', confirms Carter-Brown. These cater for everyone, from beginners right up to the most serious athletes.
'Trail runs can differ hugely in how technical they are, so be sure to do your homework,' cautions Carter-Brown. There’s currently no official grading system in place, so the best way to determine whether a race is hard or not is to read the route information provided, look at route profiles, and contact the event organisers to find out the level of difficulty. Trail Runner's Guide, a book by Jacques Marais, has its own grading system and information on most established trails, making it a good resource if you’re serious about your running.
For beginners, shorter races like the Featherbed Trail Run in Knysna are good ones to start with. If you like crowds you may enjoy the larger events like the Two Oceans Trail Run. If you want to break away from everything and everyone, then the smaller, exclusive races like the Golden Gate Challenge will work for you, while competitive athletes will love the Otter, PUFfeR, the SkyRun, 4Peaks and Mont-Aux-Sources, which are technical, challenging trails.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Wildlands Conservation Trust
Tel: +27 (0)33 343 6380
Best time to visit
Trail runs take place throughout the year.
Around the area
Trail runs often take place in areas of immense scenic beauty, so when the run is over you will find range of things to do and places to visit, depending on where in South Africa you are.
Tours to do
If you like to run for a good cause, the exclusive trail runs organised by the Wildlands Conservation Trust raise funds for critically endangered species. They include the Three Cranes Challenge, the Somkhanda Challenge, the Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge and the Golden Gate Challenge.
To find out what trail runs are taking place, there are a number of websites and magazines that list fixtures, while many events and festivals offer trail runs as part of their planned activities.