Do you have what it takes? South Africa’s toughest endurance events.
South Africa offers a fantastic list of top endurance events that offer fitness enthusiasts from across the globe an array of choices for their bucket lists. From the Comrades Marathon to the Cape Epic Cycling experiences, we have a list that will top the best in the world. From just pure team spirit to ignite you to the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine.
The natural elements present are unpredictable and varies from year to year, making it an test of endurance for many. And as many amateur athletes prepare for months in advance to tackle these events, the most difficult part is usually going back to their anonymous lives afterward pretending that they are the same people.
There are events listed here for runners, cyclists, swimmers, canoers and triathletes. So whatever your bucket list looks like, there is sure to be one here to top it off with.
Running Endurance Events in South Africa
The Comrades Marathon is an ultramarathon of approximately 89 km which is run annually in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race.
Two Oceans Marathon
Washi Hundred Miler
The Washie 100 Miler is a grueling 160km running race held each year in the Eastern Cape, and is seen as one of South Africa’s toughest long distance events. The race is run from Port Alfred to East London over a 161km distance and only allows about 100 entrants (83 ran in 2017).
The Salomon Skyrun is an ultra-distance, high-altitude endurance run over an unmarked 100-odd kilometre route through the highlands of the north-Eastern Cape. Athletes have to pass through nine checkpoints on their foot journey from Lady Grey, along the remote Herschel/Lesotho border fence to the finish at Wartrail Country Club. They need to be totally self-sufficient, navigate by map, compass and GPS unit. Most will take over 27 hours to complete the race.
“In order to finish Skyrun, runners need to overcome so many personal perceptions and boundaries,” remarks race director, Adrian Saffy. This isn’t some marketing schpiel. Adrian is the sweeper on the race (he brings home the last group) and has lost count of how many he’s completed (he knows the number is in double figures).
“You have to draw on character and mental strength much more than physical fitness and ability,” he says.
A certain Ryan Sandes holds the record of 12hrs36min.
Game? Enter here.
This prestigious 50km trail run takes place in the Royal Natal Park, part of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site and home to the endangered Bearded Vulture. The Bearded Vulture once roamed freely from the Cape of Good Hope, along the eastern mountain spine of Africa, and into northwest Africa. Now it is thought that the only population left in the Southern Hemisphere resides in our isolated and rugged Maluti-Drakensberg highlands, and that there are less than 100 pairs left.
Make no mistake, the Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge is a toughie, but it’s definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears, and will certainly be an experience of a lifetime. Expect to run through some of our country’s most rugged and beautiful scenery. Your route will take you through the Mahai Valley and up towards the escarpment where you will have to tackle the chain ladders and then scramble down the Gully. This race is a spectacular adventure, and worth every ache you will suffer afterwards!
Cycling Endurance Events in South Africa
The Absa Cape Epic has become the stage race all others are measured by. Carrying Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) accreditation and churning out a massive amount of media (it is broadcast to 175 countries, not to mention print and digital output) it is a goal race for the world’s top marathon racing teams.
But this eight-day stage race over a total about 700 kilometres isn’t about the pros, it’s about the midfield and back markers, the Joe Street amateurs who put their lives on hold for four to six months to train just to finish.
Entries are limited to 600 teams of two. Teams have to ride together for the entire distance of the race, nursing each other up big climbs, down treacherous descends and the emotional peaks and valleys that come with an ultra endurance event. Throw in rugged mountain terrain and the Western Cape’s unpredictable weather (the race takes place in March, every year).
More info here.
94.7 Cycle Challenge
The Telkom 94.7 cycle challenge is the world’s second-largest timed cycle race, after the Cape Argus Cycle Race. It is held annually on cycle challenge Sunday, the third Sunday of November in the city of Johannesburg.
Join thousands of fellow cyclists on a tough but exhilarating 94.7km ride around one of Africa’s busiest cities. The route will be tough but the camaraderie from other riders, as well as the support from the Joburgers who line the street make this an unmissable and iconic event! Enjoy full road closure to enjoy a very special day out and test your personal bests.
More info here.
Cape Town Cycle Tour
The Cape Town Cycle Tour was established in 1978 and is currently the world’s largest timed cycling event. In recent years the race has usually followed a scenic 109 km (68 mi) circular route from Cape Town down the Cape Peninsula and back.
It’s arguably the highlight of the road cycling calendar and many enthusiastic riders are eager to take to the Mother City’s scenic roads on an annual basis. The Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly known as the Cape Argus Cycle Tour) sees cyclists from all over the globe take to the starting line on Hertzog Boulevard each year.
Multisport Endurance Events in South Africa
Standard Bank Ironman
The Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa takes place in East London (Buffalo City) and Durban in South Africa.
The big daddy Ironman is the full shebang – 3.8km swim, 180.2km bike and 42.2km full marathon and 17 hours in which to finish. The world record is held by Marino Vanhoenacker, set in Austria in 2011 and he did the full 226km in 7h45m58s.
Probably the most emotional part of the race is the Heroes Hour – the final hour of the race, watching those who have been out there longest try beat the cut-off gun – impossible to explain, you have to be there to feel it.
Enter the race here.
MiWay Ultra series
The MiWay Ultra series takes place in Durban, Sun City, Midlands and Cape Town, spread over different times annually.
At each fixture, the ULTRA event comprises a 1.9 kilometre swim, a 90 kilometre road cycle and a 21 kilometre run. It is complemented by a second Sprint category, consisting of a 600 metre swim, 20 kilometre cycle and 5 kilometre run which provides an option for beginners and also for friends and family members, to choose a more accessible event and be part of the action. Competitors can participate individually or in relay teams at each event.
Read more here.
Led Lenser Wartrail
The Wartrail challenge is an off-road multi-sport event consisting of a 65 kilometre mountain wilderness run, a 130 kilometre mountain bike leg and a 65 kilometre paddle.
Athletes may enter a single leg only or tackle the full event as a three-member relay. However, the full solo event is the ultimate challenge. It may seem like a near-impossible off-road ironman of sorts, but with one discipline per day it is essentially a stage race. It is a self-supported event, so each athlete or team need to provide their own back-up, with vehicle, logistics and seconding crew.
The 2014 solo race was won by Wojtek Orzechowski, novice Wartrail racer who finished third on the run, second on the bike and convincingly won the paddle. “It was unexpected,” he says. “This was a completely new experience, so my objective was to race the course and have huge respect for where I was at all times, to quote Mike (de Haast) during the race briefing, ‘high altitude; low attitude’…”
Canoe Endurance Events South Africa
Dusi Canoe Marathon
Classed as a canoe race, the infamous three-day Dusi, really is a multisport event. Aside from daily marathon distance paddles, the numerous tricky (and often long) portages around rapids and weirs to finish requires superior running fitness, and, you have to carry your canoe with you. “Most of these portages are through thick bush on steep and undulating terrain, and several of them are around 4km in length,” reads the race manual.
To add to the extreme nature of the challenge (and to take advantage of the summer rainfalls), the race is held in mid-February every year, this means temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius in the valleys.
Founded in 1951, the race is synonymous with Graeme Pope-Ellis, a man known as the Dusi King. Pope-Ellis won it an astonishing 15 times between 1972 and 1990, placing second on three occasions. Paddling royalty such as Hank McGregor, Martin Dreyer and Ant Stott adorn the winners plaque, but in recent years a young man named Andrew Birkett has risen to dominance. He and partner Sbonelo Zondi did 770 kilometres of running training and 1600 kilometres of paddling to win the 2014 event.
We are not affiliated to the products or services mentioned in this article, in any way. It is mentioned as a result of our own experiences and research on public domains.
We endeavour to check all information for accuracy upon writing the article. If this information is outdated or wrong, please let us know and we will gladly amend it where need be.
For more things to do, see and experience in Southern Africa why not go to the following pages to get inspired: