For The Run of It

What, running’s cool now? The rise of urban running signals a resounding yes

Words: Hakim Malema | Photography: Warren Papier, Lore Claessens and Sam Wright

“Running, one might say, is basically an absurd pastime upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: Life.” Bill Bowerman, Nike founder and track coach.

For years people have been taking to the enigmatic words of the Swoosh master and with the advent of fitness culture taking over the internet, running is as popular as ever. Having noticed all the different running content popping up on my Instagram feed, I decided to explore. 

Whether professional, recreational or strictly for fun, this trend tells a story of how more people are finding the need for wellness in their daily lives. And while there’s no denying that we’re seeing more meditation groups, yoga enthusiasts, vegan diets and wacky gym programmes, it’s this new take on running that I find most interesting: it’s got one foot in a running shoe and the other one planted firmly in fashion. 

“We started way before brands were involved. We're about community and family, and Puma gets that, so together we rise.”

Boyz n Bucks member uSanele is one of the people responsible for reinvigorating the running community in inner city Joburg by pioneering the Nike Braamfie Runners program. Nike’s Gallery on 4th was a big component in enticing people to start caring about what gear and equipment they use, offering tier zero product for the first time in South Africa. The Braamfie Runners brought a new angle to running in the city – which hadn't previously existed, especially in an area like Braamfontein – which has subsequently helped to push the area as a culture capital in Johannesburg. 

Similarly The Nine Four, who are powered by Puma and based in Cape Town, have successfully converged hypebeast culture with fitness culture culminating in a space, The Burrow, that caters to those who love aesthetics and want to gather with like-minded people in a space that's not a bar. 

Paul Ward, The Nine Four’s founder, stresses how they aren’t actually a running club but a crew, and are self-started and self-run.

“We started way before brands were involved," says Paul. "We're about community and family, and Puma gets that, so together we rise.”

The club is made up of well-known personalities and has travelled to Europe to connect with other like-minded running enthusiasts, which include the Berlin Braves and the Patta Running Club in the Netherlands.

Having initially got into running with the Braamfie Runners, Lebogang Rasethaba decided to join another crew after the original members he started running with all went on to became rappers. 

“The people I run with now are predominantly Shelflife peeps,” says Lebo. “Just a bunch of really unfit, unhealthy sneakerheads who want to live longer so we can wear sneakers for longer.”

RUNSL meets every Wednesday in their Shelflife dripper tees “that look badass and official” and plan to one day have a logo and proper running uniform. With crews in Johannesburg and Cape Town, they’ve been running together for the last six months and recently ran their first official 10k together.

“We actually started with the idea that each person would progress at their own rate," says Shelflife's Nick Herbert. "We didn't want to be a run crew that says 'you have to run four times a week' or 'you have to run these times', we don't want to take the fun out of running and instead want to keep it open to everyone. So we meet once a week to keep the group official and active and then use a run app and a hashtag to track our runs and build the community.”

“Just a bunch of really unfit, unhealthy sneakerheads who want to live longer so we can wear sneakers for longer.”

Thesis the brainchild of Wandile Zondo, a lifestyle brand in the heart of Soweto taking lifestyle sports to the townships and beyond. The store, which is a short drive from the famous Vilakazi Street, is a sanctuary of fashion and sports in the community and is not only home to Thesis Apparel, which is all produced locally, but is also home to a cycling team and of course a crazy group of runners, whose love for style and fitness is unparalleled.

These clubs are more than just cool photo opportunities for the members' social platforms, and represent the will of the human spirit, the spirit of camaraderie and a group motivation that helps individuals go that much further than what they'd be able to cover alone. 

And having spent time with such cults, even though I don't belong to any one particular team, I often find myself longing for a like-minded pack to run against the wind with in search of faster times and chasing the unknown towards exhaustion.

Even though last month’s Old Mutual 2017 Music Run had no official adjudicators, I still believe I ran the 5km race in the best time, a personal best of 23min 11sec. My Nike+ app can verify that for me, despite not being audible above the sound permeating from Riversands Farm Village.

Instead of a race siren, Khuto Tseledi signalled us onto the track and I took some time to relish the moment, which saw over 3000 people 'test the limits of the human heart', to paraphrase another one of Bill Bowerman's famous quotes. And with more people intent on having a good time rather than running a good time, together we made our way around a track that was divided up into classic rock, new wave pop, old school jams, hip-hop and dance zones - our soundtrack to the day. After the event we worked up a sweat again as we took in the bands, with everyone that I spoke to afterwards agreeing that this had to be one of the more innovative exercise experiences out there.

There are some mad new ways that people are exercising nowadays, where the crazier your routine the cooler you look and the more double taps you get on the 'gram. Fitspiration some might call it. Running hasn’t changed much since the days we did it to catch food or avoid becoming food, and with such a low barrier to entry and an excuse to buy fresh kicks, well, it makes sense to sprint into this new wellness trend that has updated an old pastime for a new generation of runners. See you on the streets.