The Johannesburg (Group DCR) Runaround

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

After a 10 hour flight from London to South Africa, I found myself presenting and meeting 90 minutes later for nearly 9 hours.  By the time I finished up I was most definitely ready to run.  Except, in some places in the world you have to be a bit careful about that.  Though that’s no different than other big cities.

Lacking a clear (and safe) running route at sunset, I simply hit up the hotel gym for a mixed set between the stationary bike and the treadmill.  I was excited that the stationary bike did include wattage.  Sometimes you luck out.  In case you’re curious, I was streaming the Alpha optical HR watch to the Wahoo app via ANT+.  Simple and clean for a treadmill.

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As enjoyable as the empty gym might have been, I really wanted to get out and run a bit.  So I devised a complex plan to determine a safe running route:

I tweeted asking for someone to run with me.

It was like an eHarmony.com moment, but for desperate lonely runners in Africa.  Sure enough, a handful of folks were available and responded.  And, they actually were still up for the run once I casually dropped the pre-6AM starting condition (see, I’m sneaky like that).

A flurry of e-mails later, and we were ready to meet at 5:45AM at my hotel.  Though, Wednesday morning at 5:45AM came a bit earlier than I anticipated.  Actually, I think earlier than all of us anticipated.

Luckily, a few of the guys knew the area and had put together a quick route for the morning that took us through some nice parks.  So after we collectively ensured we all had satellite coverage off we went.

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The sidewalks in this area of town were mixed between off-roading, mixed roading, and normal paved pieces of glory.

The real trick came from being aware of the gigantic potholes.  And by potholes, I mean places were manholes used to be present, but were removed to improve the economic situation of the person removing them.  Apparently metals are fairly valuable here.

One wrong step, and you’re instantly a few feet shorter.  Thankfully, no wrong steps occurred today.

We wandered our way downhill towards the Zoo and Zoo Lake – which is a relatively calm and peaceful area to run.  Though, at no point in the run was there any non-calm or non-peaceful portion.  It was all quite normal.

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Along the way I was fairly surprised by the number of cyclists out there.  And not commuters actually, but roadies out for a workout of sorts.  The below was likely a commuter – but I saw at least a dozen folks during our run, often in pairs, out for an early morning workout.

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Once we arrived at the Zoo Lake park, it was quite nice actually.  Big vast green running space with a lake plopped into the center of it.  You can see it in below GPS track:

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I learned from my hosts that international marathon runner Hendrick Ramaala uses the Zoo Lake park for virtually all of his training runs.  Apparently he’ll do loops of the park in the morning, and then more loops at night.  Each loop is 3.5K long.  Sometimes folks (try to) join in behind him.

Inside the park, there was also a bit of a outdoor dining place.  Apparently, as part of his route, he always cuts through and across the middle of the restaurant on a specific path (mid-run).  You can see the path worn into the place as you wind through it (though not well in the photos below).

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As we made our way around, we saw plenty of other runners.  The lake itself has an actual 1KM running path on its perimeter, though we were winding around off-road on the outer edge of the path.  Here’s a random runner:

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Of course, being Africa, we had to be wary of wild animals.  Obviously South Africa is full of them – lions, no tigers, no bears, but cheetahs.  No cheetahs in Kansas.

Here in the park, there were plenty of these animals lurking in the trees behind us…albeit, in a zoo.  Within our running path, we were mostly concerned with dodging oddly large birds.  I’m not quite clear how these birds got as big as they were, but they were substantial.  Like turkey dinner substantial.  Little mini chicks not included.

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Next up was a pass by of the zoo.  When I arrived on Monday morning via taxi I drove past the zoo and even saw some Zebras – so I was optimistic I’d see some more animals.

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Regrettably, all must have been in hiding or something.  Perhaps they had a wild night on the town and were still hung-over.

Instead, the only thing I saw was a sign for a French language center.  Perhaps as a sign I need to practice my French.

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Continuing on we headed past the National Museum of Military history.

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As we ran past the fence I could see all sorts of military stuff through the cranks in the rock fence.  Like a little flashing picture show between the cracks at pace.

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Holding my camera up above the fence I spotted an entire plane back there!  You could launch a small invasion with all the stuff behind those walls.

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With our militia ambitions behind us, we took a turn towards home (the hotel) up a fairly nice fancy street – complete with little lollipop trees.

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All in our run lasted about an hour and covered some good ground.  It was great chatting with the guys and hearing about their upcoming race plans.  From Ironman’s to fast 10K’s – and everything in between.  Cool stuff.

This is to the best of my knowledge the first DCR-specific group run/bike I’ve done.  I’ve occasionally met up with a single person during my travels – but not a group of folks.

Thanks to Fabian, Caspar, and Jacov for the run – I appreciate it!

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With that, I’m back on the plane currently over the border of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, en route to London.  Then it’s back home to Paris, where I’ll be for a short 24 hour stint.

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Next up – Barcelona… Thanks for reading!

19 Comments

  1. 5:45 is actually quite late for a run in Jozie, we are normally out at 5 and where we run the streets are filled with runners at that time.

    I was wondering whether you would have time to join one of the clubs for their weekly time trial as this is very much part of the club run/Comrades running culture in SA. These are normally run on Tuesdays or Wednesdays evenings. Next time you're here try to fit one in.

    Reply
    • Grant replied

      Hi Madelein,

      I'm in Johannesburg next week and am interested in joining a time trial if possible. I'm staying in Rosebank not far from Zoo Lake. Can you point me in the direction of where to find information and potentially join one?

      Many thanks!
      Grant

      Reply
  2. I definitely might. I may be back down in a couple weeks - so you never know. Apparently, later on last night (Weds night) there was actually a 5K time trial at the zoo. I missed it, on a plane. :(

    As for the time, I suspect that for the others, compounding it was that some of them drove upwards of an hour to get there - which I greatly appreciate!

    Reply
  3. Nice. Grew up and spend my twenties in Jozie, and ran around Zoo Lake often. I have lived in California for the the past 17 years. It was somewhat surreal to get a blast from the past via one of my favorite tri blogs.

    Reply
  4. So I reading the blog and looking at the pictures, and see the one of the back of one of the guys you are running with... Jacov, yes (end picture) Small world, I'm sitting in cape town reading an American who now lives in France's blog and he's running with a friend of mine in Jo'burg!!!

    Reply
  5. So cool that you were here (Jhb), sorry I missed you, would've loved to run with you, but I font really follow twitter :(
    Maybe next time.

    Reply
  6. CPT_Rab

    Pity you didnt get to go to Cape Town, then you would have been really spoilt running around the peninsula, so many great views and tons of runners and cyclists out in the mornings.

    Reply
  7. Brad

    Which watch are you wearing?

    Reply
  8. Any plans for DCR run group in Barcelona? I will definitely join!

    Reply
  9. @Adrian, I suggested to go to the "Carretera de les Aigues", I think the views of the city are quite amazing!

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Any advice on rollers?

    Reply
  11. contact info for Rollers Question

    Reply
  12. Those do not look like your regular NB running shoes...

    Reply
  13. Caz

    Nice run, did not realise we were making DCR first-run history :)

    Reply
  14. Awesome... in the picture of the Alliance Francaise there is a blue Nissan 'bakkie' (pick up truck). I learnt to drive in mum's custard-yellow one. Ah the memories!

    Did you try some of the local specialities? Biltong/droëwors/etc?

    Reply
  15. Ray, if you are ever in Hickory NC instead of the exotic locales you tend to visit, i hope you will do the same!

    Reply
  16. I grew up in South Africa outside of Johannesburg, living in Virginia now. I hadn't thought about that museum in forever, but your post reminds me of a story.
    We used to call it the "war Museum". My Dad was taking me and my brother one Saturday and my Mom told us to take a sweater because it would be cold. My brother got all 7YO attitude and said to my Mom:
    Why do I need a sweater?! It's the "warm" museum!

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Hey Ray, the next time you head to Joburg, with a bit of Pre-warning we could set up a bike ride. Bring your shoes, let me know your approx bike size and pedal,type and ill sort a bike for you. Some really lovely rides around the city including a high likelihood of spotting some wildlife.

    @DawieO

    Reply
  18. Hi All!

    Thanks for the comments! Glad I could offer so many blasts from the pasts!

    As a few of you noted, you'd love to see me down in Capetown - and rest assured, I love it there as well. I've been to both JNB and CPT a bunch of times, and love the cycling offered in CPT, you may remember this post from before:

    link to dcrainmaker.com

    As for the shoes, yup, these are my trail running shoes. That's not to say that I expected trail running. Rather, they just take up less room in my bag, and more importantly at the time - they were cleaner than my road shoes. ;)

    Next time I'm in JoBurg (if I have more time), I'll definitely make note to see if we can get a ride in.

    As for a Barcelona run - I'm thinking potentially on Sunday, still sorting out my meeting schedule a bit to be honest (it's an offsite).

    Hi Efraim-
    On rollers, I don't have too much experiance there. In general, they offer great balance practice for cyclists. But at the same time, they can often take away from the required intensity of a (harder) workout due to folks being too timid. I'm not saying don't do rollers, but focus first on the quality of the workout, then escalate from there.

    Have a great weekend all!

    Reply

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