Off-the-beaten-path ultra marathon events in Africa

Posted on 12 August 2021

Gone are the days when saying you’d just completed the Cape Town Cycle Tour or Comrades Marathon would fill people with awe. Mass events are so last year. Fortunately, we’ve found a few lesser-known trail running events that’ll reward you with unforgettable experiences and impress your colleagues. If you survive them, that is.

1. Salt Pans Ultra Marathon, Botswana

The Salt Pans Ultra Trail Marathon is a three-day 100km trail run on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans of Botswana.

This event was still in its infancy when Covid came along, but there are some rave reviews. If you’re keen on challenging yourself, and looking for value for money, this may be one for your list.

The race is unmarked so a GPS watch is vital and you’ll need to be mentally tough because “endless nothing” can play with the mind. As one runner said: ‘This race must be about as close to running on the moon as you can get’. At least there are water points every 10km to look forward to.

2. For Rangers, Kenya

Credit: Chris Murphy

This race in Kenya – in support of the 2 500 rangers, many of whom fight poachers – takes runners through the African savannah and under the shadow of Mount Kenya. The race covers 230km across five wildlife conservancies, providing ample opportunity to spot some of East Africa’s unique wildlife. The trails through the grasslands will be baking and the terrain through the rocky hills and riverbeds will be rough.  Undulating between 1 500m and 2 000m above sea level, the habitat and conditions vary hour by hour.

You’ll spend each night under canvas at our base camps under a sky full of more stars than you’ve ever seen before.

This is a self-supported race, requiring competitors to carry all kit and equipment, the ultimate alternative to a “regular” safari.

If that wasn’t enough, they’ve even had the fastest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, at the finish line handing out medals in previous races.

3. The Munga, South Africa

The website greets you with the words: A word of warning: this is not your average Sunday morning jog. And right they are, the Munga cycling event was started several years ago to basically test how far humans can be pushed, how much we can handle. The Munga run is like that too: 400km in five days (120 hours) at an altitude between 1 000–2 000m and with nearly 10 000m elevation gain. That’s brutal. How brutal? Well remember the Comrades? Imagine running close to that for five days in a row.

The race starts near Belfast in Mpumalanga and follows the escarpment until its end near the Blyde River Canyon. It is semi-supported with five race villages along the route to stock-up on food. Runners decide how far they’ll go each day and when to rest which brings tactics into play: run when your rivals are sleeping but don’t risk running your engine dry.

4. Kilimanjaro Stage Run, Tanzania

Increasing land use could turn Mount Kilimanjaro into an ecological island

Although not a race, the Kilimanjaro Stage Run combines authentic ‘off-the-beaten-path’ travel and exploration with organised supported running, and the goal of a complete circumnavigation of Mount Kilimanjaro in beautiful Tanzania, East Africa.

For those looking for a running holiday with a bit of adventure included, this event – 11 days long with eight of them featuring running – will see you head off on a 260km anti-clockwise lap of Africa’s tallest peak.

If you’re looking to visit a unique and incredible part of the world, but without the competitive edge, look no further. You’ll get to meet some of the locals and chat along the way, too.


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