South Africa is famous for having the biggest and best ultra marathons on the planet: There are less than ten ultra marathons worldwide with more than 1,000 finishers and over half of them are in South Africa.
However, we’ve also got some brilliant small field ultras that are worth working into your running plans. For those that like the personal touch, here’s a list of ten awesome low-key ultras that will be happy to take your money, show you a good time and will still respect you in the morning. With the prospect of a relatively normal year ahead (let’s hope!) why not plan an ultra running road trip or two?
Note: The races are listed in probable 2022 running order.
Uniwisp Fast 50k
Where Mbombela, Mpumalanga / When 26 March 2022 / 2020 Entry Fee R310 / 2020 Finishers 510
This is the fastest and easiest ultra marathon on the calendar. Make sure you stock up on ice to treat your quads afterwards though! A point to point, downhill quadkiller that starts on the R37 towards Sabie and finishes at the Mbombela Stadium. Take time to admire the views as you descend from the highveld to the lowveld – and enjoy the scents and colours of the local foliage and fauna.
Detailed Race Report: Uniwisp Fast 50 (The Fastest Ultra in Africa)
Real Gijimas Ultra 50k
Where Zwelitsha to Mdantsane, East London, Eastern Cape / When Usually late March / 2020 Entry Fee R150 / 2019 Finishers 358
Having run every 50k race in South Africa, I can confirm that this is the toughest. The Real Gijimas Ultra is a unique and superb running experience through Eastern Cape townships – highly recommended for those that want something a little different and don’t mind having the occasional ‘i’ undotted and ‘t’ uncrossed. Look out for the razor-sharp series of uphills over the last 11 kilometres!
The Real Gijimas club was formed in Mdantsane township (the second largest in South Africa after Soweto) as a sporting outlet during the political turmoil of the 1980s. As such they are the oldest township running club in the country and organise an impressive array of races – including the Bridle Drift Half Marathon (the toughest of its kind in the province) – priding themselves on putting the interest of the runners first.
Detailed Race Report: Real Gijimas Ultra (Every village needs an idiot)
Arthur Creswell Memorial 52k
Where Bergville to Ladysmith, KwaZulu Natal / When Usually early April / 2020 Entry Fee R250 / 2019 Finishers 497
Colloquially known as “Bergville”, this is one of the oldest ultra marathons in South Africa (the race is approaching its 60th running) and offers 52 countryside kilometres through northern Kwazulu Natal with enthusiastic support tables organised by the local community. Enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee before the icy start in Bergville – but you’ll need suntan lotion as soon as the sun comes up.
Those who enjoy a challenge (and a good view) will appreciate the stretch from 12 to 18 kilometres up Child’s Hill – the highest point on the route. Luckily the organisers exclude the rest of this hill’s family from the race as you drop and undulate all the way home. To keep you on your toes, there is a tricky dirt road section towards the end of the route.
[Unfortunately no detailed race report as I ran this race before starting the blog.]
African Wildlife Artistry Bruintjieshoogte 50k
Where Somerset East, Eastern Cape / When 14 May / 2020 Entry Fee R180 / 2019 Finishers 156
This is a quality 50km race surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Eastern Cape interior. One of the real hidden gems on the race calendar, an absolute pleasure to run and a race all runners should make the effort to run at least once.
The oldest ultra in the Eastern Cape provides a 25km climb out of Somerset East to the top of the Bruintjieshoogte and then back again. Top tip: Take some time to unwind afterwards in the awesome Addo Elephant National Park – and practice your game spotting skills along the route keeping a lookout for kudu, gemsbok and the majestic sable antelope.
Detailed Race Report: Marathon Addict? Guilty As Charged! (My 100th Unique Marathon At Bruintjieshoogte)
South Coast Ultra 48k
Where South Coast, KwaZulu Natal / When Usually late April / 2020 Entry Fee R250 / 2019 Finishers 307
This race gives you a five-course feast that covers the diversity of the South Coast. From the Ugu Sports and Leisure Centre you start with a series of demanding but beautiful rolling hills through rural Kwazulu Natal, after which you head into the bustling township of Gamalakhe and drop down to the coast at Uvongo. The exquisite coastal road to Margate is the easiest section of the route (and the year I ran it there was a whale basking in the bay). After soaking up sea-level serenity, you head back inland over several steep climbs that consume most of the second half of the course. The race is usually held on Freedom Day and is a great excuse for a long weekend on the South Coast.
[Unfortunately, no detailed race report as I ran this before starting the blog.]
Amobia Bay Ultra 50k
Where Pollok Beach, Summerstrand, Gqeberha, Eastern Cape / When Previously February, planned for July 2022 / 2020 Entry Fee R180 / 2020 Finishers 360
See a magnificent sunrise over the Indian Ocean whilst exploring Gqeberha, the adventure capital of South Africa. This was one of my favourite races from 2018 – a lovely 50km route with plenty of climbing over the first half before you drop back to sea level and a 20km Marine Drive finish along pristine Eastern Cape coastline. Running in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) is always a treat – you’ll definitely get to experience the ‘Friendly City’ – but hopefully you’ll get a gentle sea-breeze and avoid experiencing the ‘Windy City’.
Detailed Race Report: Bay Ultra (See the Lighthouse at the End of an Ultra)
Memel Ultra 51.2k
Where Memel, Free State to Newcastle, KwaZulu Natal / When August (Women’s Day) / 2019 Entry Fee R150 / 2019 Finishers 84
A lowkey 51.2km race from Memel (officially the coldest town in the Free State) to Newcastle in Kwazulu Natal. The race, originally a walk but they allow runners to join in these days, is run along the along the historic Battlefields Route and provides breath-taking views once the early morning fog lifts. Expect great support tables and plenty of small-town hospitality along the way. Although the race starts over 1,700m above sea level and finishes around 1,200m, there is by no means an ‘easy ultra’. There are plenty of climbs along the way – and you’ll warm up quickly from your sub-zero start with a 17km climb to Botha’s Pass (1,805m) before dropping into Kwazulu Natal.
Detailed Race Report: Blood Buddy Ultra (The Legacy of a Schoolboy Dare)
Laingsburg Ultra 80k
Where Laingsburg, Western Cape / When Usually mid-September / 2019 Entry Fee R100 / 2019 Finishers 51
Run an awesome 80km in the heart of the Great Karoo. A one of kind race with 15km of tar and the rest on quiet gravel farm roads while you enjoy the peace, beauty and serenity of the Karoo Desert. The route starts at an altitude of 642m and slowly climbs to 922m at the 44km mark – the good news is that “it’s all downhill from there”. If you’re lucky, the natural phenomenon of the spring wild flowers will be in full bloom during your run. On 2019 entry fees, this was the best value for money race in the country at R1.25 per kilometre.
Detailed Race Report: Karoo 80k Ultra (Flood Levelling-Up in Laingsburg)
Prince Mangosuthu Ultra 52k
Where Nqutu to Dundee, KwaZulu Natal / When Usually early October / 2019 Entry Fee R130 / 2019 Finishers 116
Your race entry fee includes a taxi ride to the township of Nqutu and you’ll begin your journey back to Dundee at sunrise. The first 18 kilometres are an easy downhill that drops one from around 1,400m to below 1,100m at the bottom of the Buffalo River Valley. From that point onward it’s hard work, with plenty of climbing as you bob up and down all the way to Dundee. Although this small field ultra can involve plenty of lonely running, the charming views of rural KwaZulu Natal are a constant companion along the way.
The race is named after Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthulezi, who is best known as the former leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (which he founded in 1975). He is something of an endurance athlete himself, holding the Guinness World Record for the longest ever legislative speech (the speech was delivered over 11 days to the KwaZulu legislative assembly in 1993).
Detailed Race Report: Prince Mangosuthu Ultra (The Dundee double)
Run 4 Cancer Ultra
Where Somewhere on the R71 to Polokwane, Limpopo / When Usually late October / 2019 Entry Fee R320 / 2019 Finishers 301
The route is a simple one – you start 48 kilometres due east of Polokwane on the R71, quite literally ‘in the middle of nowhere’, and head straight back to Polokwane along the same road. Those who struggle to stay on the straight and narrow will be pleased to note that this race provides an opportunity to stay on the straight and wide with runners enjoying the comfort of full road closures all the way back to the finish at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
The route is hot and dusty with little aesthetic appeal but it is the last ultra of the year and is run for a good cause with proceeds used to create awareness and support those suffering with and affected by Cancer.
Detailed Race Report: Run4Cancer Ultra (Sex, Politics & Religion in Limpopo)Follow Running Mann: