By Thamar Houliston
WH’S resident runner and travel junkie, Thamar Houliston, rounds up the world’s best race-cations…start saving those leave days now!
ULTRA TRAIL RAIDLIGHT BEACHCOMBER, MAURITIUS
WHY RUN IT: It’s the ultimate way to have an active island holiday and see Mauritius in all its natural splendour. An ideal honeymoon for fit couples; a treat for anyone who likes a bit of luxury with their running.
ROUTE INFO: Designed by one of the leading French trail running specialists, the UTRB takes runners through the most breathtaking regions of the island – from mountains and forests to cliff edges and pristine beaches. The 10km race, Trail Du Souffleur, is relatively flat and follows the coast along unspoilt beaches, past blue lagoons and rugged cliffs. You’ll get a hero’s welcome at the finish at the five-star Shandrani Resort & Spa, where you can opt to stay. The Trail De La Perruche – the 47km course – connects the lush central mountainous region to the wild beaches in the South, passing tea plantations and sugar-cane fields. The big daddy – the Seven Colors Trail – is named after the seven variations of red, ochre and purple dunes you pass along the 120km route. While conquering the island’s wildest peaks, you’ll climb 9 000m!
THE OYSTERCATCHER, MOSSEL BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
WHY RUN IT: This is perfect for those wanting to get into stage racing, without being intimidated. It’s the ideal opportunity for a weekend away, running in areas you wouldn’t normally be allowed access.
ROUTE INFO: This multiday trail run meanders along the East Coast of SA, following the Oystercatcher trail
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Oystercatcher takes place from 23 September 2016. The weather should be mild but you’ll probably need some warm and wet-weather gear. Early-bird entries up to 1 June are R1 750 for the three days. After 1 June the cost is R1 950 per person. Trisport.co.za from Gourikwa Nature Reserve to Mossel Bay over three days. On day one you run from the reserve to Gourits River mouth on jeep track and coastal hiking paths. Day two takes you to Boggoms Bay on the coastal trail. The last day winds from Dana Bay to the finish via the St Blaize hiking trail, where dolphins are regularly sighted.
GREAT WALL MARATHON, CHINA
WHY RUN IT: If you’ve ever wanted to see one of the New7Wonders of the World in its original state, this is the best way. The views and photo ops are stop-in-your tracks breathtaking.
ROUTE INFO: The race covers an authentic, less touristy section of The Great Wall and surrounding villages, just a few hours’ drive from Beijing. Both the marathon and half marathon start at Yin and Yang square before venturing out to the Changcheng Highway where you run on road. You’ll then be introduced to the seemingly endless steps of this historic landmark, before heading south to the villages. At the 13km mark, the half marathon route splits from the marathon. While 21km runners head to the finish, marathon runners face the Great Wall a second time! All runners who don’t reach the steps leading to the wall (34km) within six hours aren’t allowed to continue. If you’re a marathoner you’ll tackle a few more ascents before the final downhill to the finish, where you can revel in the fact you conquered 5 164 ancient steps!
THE NITTY GRITTY: The next race takes place on 21 May 2016. The weather is hot and humid with temperatures reaching 30°C, so make sure you wear light clothing, sunblock and take a cap! There are water stations every four kilometres. Choose between a six-day package (about R21 550) or seven-day package (about R25 085), which both include daily tours of Beijing, accommodation and food. Great-wall-marathon.com
WHY RUN IT: This race is great for first timers and the course is known as one of the fastest marathons in the world, so aim for a PB! Also, if you’re into Rollerblading, you can compete with 8000 others on the same course a week before the run.
ROUTE INFO: The Berlin Marathon, established in 1974, is one of the World Marathon Majors – along with Tokyo, Boston, Chicago, London and New York. The most marathon records for men and women have been set at this event, as it’s a very flat, low-altitude course. On 30 September 1990, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, athletes were able to run through the Brandenburg Gate (a symbolic selfie spot, above) for the first time and celebrated running through both halves of a newly unified city. Landmarks include Potsdamer Platz, Reichstag and the Berlin Cathedral. An emotional race for many – expect tears.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Date 25 September 2016. The weather is usually very mild, being autumn. Plus it’s worth staying on for Oktoberfest! Bmw-berlin-marathon.com
PETRA DESERT MARATHON, JORDAN
WHY RUN IT: If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones and ancient history, this is the best tour you’ll get!
ROUTE INFO: Starting in the ancient city of Petra, this Arabian adventure takes runners through arid desert and lunar-like mountain landscapes. It’s pretty hilly – the marathon ascends 1 200m and descends 1 100m. Soon after the start, you’ll be navigating tombs, caves and monasteries carved into the mountainside. After passing the Petra Archaeological Park, it’s time to hit the desert. Half marathoners take a direct route through the riverbed of Siq Al Bard, while marathoners loop around the hilltop before heading back to tar. The bonus: while 21km runners go straight through the village, the 42km passes mystic rock formations that few tourists get to see. It doesn’t get easier though – there’s another five-kay climb – but the views make it worthwhile.
NITTY GRITTY: This year’s race is on 3 September. It’s pretty damn hot and the route offers little shade, so lightweight, light-coloured clothing, high- SPF sunscreen and a cap are essential. There are also no clothing restrictions – women are allowed to wear shorts and tank tops. You can purchase a five-day, five-star tour package, which includes your race entry, for around R14 900. Petra-desert-marathon.com
PATAGONIAN INTERNATIONAL MARATHON, CHILE
WHY RUN IT: This is about as far off the beaten track as you can get. If you want to have a real adventure and witness the stark natural beauty of Patagonia, this is your race!
ROUTE: You’ll run through the mystical Torres del Paine National Park, which is home to mammoth electric-blue glaciers and the jagged, snowcapped granite peaks of the Paine mountain range. While the marathon is run on roads, it’s not exactly a road race – the “roads” are rough gravel jeep tracks and some sections have stony terrain. It’s not hilly by most trail runners’ standards, but definitely challenging for those who spend most of their time on tarmac. The half marathon starts at Pudeto and the full at Porteria Serrano, but they both finish at Porteria (entrance) Laguna Amarga.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Race day is 24 September (TBC). Because it’s not peak season, you won’t have to fight it out with tons of tourists; however, the weather tends to be unpredictable and the wind can roar, so be prepared with the right kit and mental agility for these conditions. The cost for both the 21km and the 42km is about R1 900 but dates, course and entry are still TBC. Patagonianinternationalmarathon.com