Table Mountain Activity Guide

It is hardly surprising that the scenic Cape Peninsula, with its imposing mountain, is home to some world recognised sporting events.

Words by Fiona McIntosh Photographs by Shaen Adey

Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:
Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.

It is hardly surprising that the scenic Cape Peninsula, with its imposing mountain, is home to some world recognised sporting events. The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon and the Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour start in the city centre, in the shadow of Table Mountain, before taking participants out along its slopes and over its passes.

Crowds line the route, cheering both the serious contenders and those who are there to enjoy the carnival atmosphere and absorb the magnificent vistas of the challenging courses. But there are also some wacky events that few but the initiated know of: the Three Peaks Race where the 'first finisher' receives not a cent and the outlandish Freestyle Flying Festival held in the skies around Lion's Head.

Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, Easter Saturday

When it was first mooted in 1970, the 35-mile (56km) race around the Cape Peninsula was intended as a training run to help prepare Cape Town runners for the Comrades Marathon. On 2 May 1970, 24 runners lined up for the first Celtic Harriers 35-mile road race and 15 finished the course in the (then) six-hour cut-off time. The race was won by Dirkie Steyn, running barefoot, in 3 hours 55 minutes and 50 seconds.Don Hartley, a well-known rock climber (see p118) and founder of the Three Peaks Race, took top honours in 1972 (3 hours 25 minutes and 12 seconds), the year the race was officially named the Two Oceans Marathon. The year 1974 saw the first unofficial female entrant, 40-year-old Theresa Stadler, who completed the race in 7 hours and 33 minutes. Although this was outside the cut-off time, it inspired other women to follow in her footsteps and in 1975 Ulla Paul became the first woman to break the six hour barrier.At that time she was also the first, and only, female finisher. In 1976, Gabashane Vincent Rakabaele became the first black runner to win the marathon. On 2 April 1988, Thompson Magawana broke two world records and established a course record for the Two Oceans that has yet to be equalled or bettered. In doing so, he not only improved on his 1987 winning time by 1 minute 47 seconds, but also bettered the world best times for the 30-mile (50-kilometre) distances.Thompson's remarkable record of 3 hours 3 minutes 44 seconds still stands. His achievement is all the more remarkable because it's possible that even then he was already infected with the HIV that would eventually lead to his early death. A year later the women's record was smashed by Frith van der Merwe in a time of 3 hours 30 minutes 36 seconds. Her record still stands.


Cut-off time: 7 hours
Course record for men (on the old course via Chapman's Peak Drive): Thompson Magawana, (1988) 3:03:44
Course record for women (on the old course via Chapman's Peak Drive): Frith Van Der Merwe (1989) 3:40:36

Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour, Second Sunday in March

In 1977 Bill Mylrea and John Stegmann organised the Big Ride-In to draw attention to the need for cycle paths in Cape Town. It was a great success and attracted hundreds of cyclists, including the Mayor of Cape Town. The cyclists met on the Grand Parade and rode down Adderley Street to the Foreshore. Out of this, the idea of holding a long-distance ride, to be known as the Peninsula Marathon, was born.The inaugural 104km 'Argus Cycle Tour' around the Peninsula from the Castle of Good Hope to Camps Bay was held on 28 October 1978 and attracted 525 entrants, 446 of whom finished. The Giro del Capo was introduced in 1992 - a four-stage race for professional and leading registered riders, culminating in the Argus Cycle Tour. Andrew McLean, the first victor, went on to win four times, the most recent being in 1997.

The Argus had to be rerouted between 2001 and 2003 when Chapman's Peak Drive was closed and the finish moved to Green Point. The course returned to the old Chappies route in 2004, but the new finish in Green Point adds an extra four kilometres (2.48 miles) to the route.

Entrants are permitted to ride any self-propelled, two or three-wheeled machine as long as it is roadworthy. Bicycles and tandems with fairings or attachments to improve airflow, supine recumbent bicycles, extended bicycles and tricycles are required to enter the unconventional category.


Cut-off time: 7 hours
Course record for men (on conventional bikes on the old course via Chapman's Peak Drive): Michael Andersson (1995) 2:22:56
Course record for women (on conventional bikes on the old course via Chapman's Peak Drive): René Scott (1991) 2:44:04

The Three Peaks Challenge, First Saturday in November

The challenge originated in 1897 when Carl Wilhelm Schneeberger ran from the old Johannesburg Hotel in Long Street, up Devil's Peak, Table Mountain (by way of Platteklip Gorge to Maclear's Beacon) and Lion's Head in one day, returning to the hotel for a short refreshment break between each peak. The timekeeper was obviously in a generous mood, for Schneeberger's time is recorded as 9 hours and 5 minutes, not counting rests!The Challenge was revived in 1997, when 13 runners took part in the commemorative centenary run, which goes from 108 Long Street, (the site of the old hotel) up Devil's Peak, via the Saddle, up Platteklip Gorge to Maclear's Beacon, finishing with an ascent of Lion's Head. The runners descend to Greenmarket Square in the city centre between each of the three peaks.


Cut-off time: none (entry is limited to 100 runners)
Course record for men: Chad Ulansky (2001) 5:27:00
Course record for women: Nicola le Marquand (2003) 7:07:21

The Bat Run, Late February or early March

This is basically the Three Peaks Challenge by night, with the exception that after each peak runners do not return to Greenmarket Square. The first event - more an outing than a race - was organised by Cape Runners Against Gravity (CRAG) in 2002 when it started and finished at the V&A Waterfront. In 2003 the organisers decided to make the Kloof Nek parking area the start and finish to make it a little easier for participants who only wanted to do a peak or two.The race is run under full moon conditions, but don't forget head torches. Proof of mountain knowledge, trail experience and running ability are essential requirements and novices are required to team up, and remain with, experienced runners. Successful applicants will also be subject to a final inspection and clearance just prior to the start of the run to ensure that they have all the necessary gear.


Course record (from Kloof Nek): Jointly held by Derrick Baard, Glen Castle and Barry Whitmill (2002) 5:42:00

The Puffer, Second half of August

This 80km (50 mile) ultra marathon, first run in 1994, follows the spine of the Peninsula mountains from the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park to the V&A Waterfront. The route is largely through nature reserves, taking the runners through beautiful scenery and fynbos. Masochists can challenge themselves further by attempting the Tuffer Puffer - the 'there and back' race that starts at the V&A on the night before the Puffer.


Cut-off time: Runners must reach Constantia Nek by 13:00 to be allowed to complete the final mountain stage. Entry is limited to 125 runners.
Puffer - Course record for men: Bruce Arnett, (2000) 7:24:38
Course record for women: Sylvie Harris, (2003) 9:05:59
Tuffer Puffer - Course record for men: Willie Kotze, (2003) 23:51:01
Course record for women: Heather Graz, (2003) 25:43:00

Freestyle Flying Festival, Late January

This flying extravaganza gets more bizarre by the year. It is basically a festival in which solo and tandem paragliders, hang-gliders and sky divers show off their skills - and fancy-dress outfits. Launching is from Lion's Head and displays include base jumping from tandem paragliders, motorised paragliding and even fighter jets to entertain the crowds on Camps Bay Beach.

Simon's Town Endurance Ride, Mid February

This annual horseback endurance ride, registered with the Endurance Race Association of South Africa since 1996, takes place in the Red Hill area. Riders can compete over 30, 60 and 80km distances (19, 37 and 50 miles). This friendly event involves a fair bit of uphill and downhill riding - and there is plenty of socialising to be done before and after.


The Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour

  • Cell: 083-910-6551
  • Tel: 021-685-6551

The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon

  • Tel: 021-671-9407
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