In long-distance running circles, the SPAR Knysna Forest Marathon is revered as one of the most scenic races in the world.
Runners of both the 42.2km and 21.2km events compete under huge canopies of greenery while being offered spectacular views of the town as they near the finish.
That it occurs in the domain of the legendary Knysna elephants is just another part of its charm.
While no runner has ever caught sight of the elusive pachyderms, dung found along the route from time-to-time points to their presence.
So enchanting is the marathon that some athletes have taken on the challenge well over 20 times.
It takes place in what is South Africa’s largest forest complex, which consists of the Farleigh, Goudveld, Gouna, Diepwalle and Tsitsikamma areas.
Both races were very undulating, race organiser Baily Neill said ahead of the July 8 event, the 38th since its inception.
“In the marathon you are completely in the middle of the forest, so you are surrounded by wildlife and vegetation. The first few kilometres are pretty much uphill and then you come into a nice downhill.”
The half-marathon, which traverses several plantations, presents the Knysna mountains in all their glory.
Elite athletes in the full marathon finished anywhere between two-and-a-half and three hours but beginners would find the going tough given the “severity of the hills”, Neill said.
Depending on recent rains, runners have to be cautious as conditions could be slippery underfoot. The upside is that the dirt roads are not as heavy on the knees.
When the weather gods choose not to do anything out of the ordinary, the coolness of the forest makes running extremely pleasant. However, last year they decided to have a bit of fun with the athletes.
“It was about 29 degrees because of a berg wind. We had people saying we lied that it’s a winter race,” Neill recalled.
“Normally it’s a nice, cool day. That’s why we encourage people to wear their old winter clothes which we then donate to charity.”
If there is not too much wind, organisers have fireplaces going at the start and runners can enjoy tea and coffee with rusks to warm up.
As ever, participants are taken by taxi into the pristine forest, adding yet another unique element to this very special event.
Of course, the SPAR Knysna Forest Marathon boasts numerous activities off the route as well.
While the ever-popular expo is usually the main focus on registration day (July 7), exhibitors will open for race day as well in 2023.
The marathon market will also be open both days, so runners will have every opportunity to enjoy the beer tent, food stalls, drink stands and sweet treats.
SPAR, a popular retailer in Knysna, is backing the marathon as it speaks to its ethos of healthy living and enjoying the outdoors.
Visit www.knysnaforestmarathon.co.za for general and entry information.