Friday, September 19, 2014

Running in Johannesburg, South Africa: Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton

When I visit a foreign country or city, I make sure to check on the web what the local running community is recommending in terms of routes, or any other tip posted by other runners who have visited before. Conversely, I hope others find my "Running in..." labeled posts (see the "Running in..." labels in the right column) with more than 50 reviews from around the world!

When it comes to South Africa, and especially Johannesburg, getting local tips is particularly essential as there is so much insecurity caused by the extreme gap between wealthy and poor populations cohabiting in this city. One of the most common advice is "don't even think of running on your own outside!" In retrospective, and as I was told by colleagues afterwards at the office, the run I did upon arrival down to the Botanic Garden was slightly on the risky edge although I didn't feel threaten at any time even when passing groups of homeless in the underpasses (oops, put this way, that doesn't sound so safe!).

For the exclusive and privileged Sandton area, some people advised to pay for a pass at the Radisson Blu fitness center which has an indoor track. I don't know how long it is but I doubt this would have fitted my desire to run at least 10K. Besides, if it is about avoiding the treadmill, rather be outside (any takers among hotel owners and managers to install treadmills outside?). Here is the imposing Radisson Blu:
The next hint was from seeing a large green area on Google maps, the Innesfree Park. However, I learned later in the week that the nearby area on the other side of the highway is extremely dangerous and unsecured, so a clear no go (I think we drove by and it's also an open area with many people hanging out).

The last tip I found was for a rather small local park called Mushroom Farm Park and renovated in 2009. Along with mine, here is an enthusiastic blog post about this green patch in Sandton: I'm in love with a park. Indeed, it is the best compromise for a safe run outside. It is opened from 6 am (at least) to 6 pm, has at least 3 guards on duty patrolling the park, has high fences all around, only one opened entrance (the parking one which is ok to use for pedestrians although the signs say otherwise). It is very accessible and close to the major hotels in Sandton, which is the default area for business travelers (Hilton, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Courtyard). For locals, or those brave enough to drive a rental car on the left side of the road, it has a free and rather spacious parking.

It has a nice pathway, albeit quite narrow when there is other users, especially the bridges.
But, for such a small area and short loop, a great variety with a winding trail, 2 bridges over a small creek and a couple of hills.

From a practical standpoint, the park has restrooms, which I didn't visit and I brought my own water so I didn't test/taste if the water is drinkable (but tap water is throughout the city, including at the Botanic Garden as I was told and experienced).
Quite conveniently, for those interested in cross-training, it has an original outdoor gym:
Also a playground for kids to have their own fun:
Here is the sign which will please the bird watchers (and, yes Steve, I did spot a few ducks and pigeons! ;-):
Last, but not least, the park attraction is a balloon which Hyundai sponsors, offering aerial views over Sandton for RSA75 (about $8):
Note that the balloon can be seen from miles away so that's an easy landmark to spot Sandton from anywhere in Johannesburg.

Since I got my GPS stolen from my suitcase at the airport, I could tell for sure the length of the loop. One of our consultants whom I ran with on Thursday said 700 meters. The first day, I clocked 3:25-3:40 loops without going in the red zone. On Thursday, I was in my 16 th lap, having ran all the previous ones between 3:15 and 3:20 when I passed 2 runners only to find them picking up the pace to follow me. It was enough to get my engine (or ego... ;-) started and here we were, running the next lap in 2:56, phew! I did another one under 3 minutes, still "pushed" by them and they finally stopped so I slowed don a few seconds for the last 2 laps to make it 20. Great speed work out, which I hadn't really planned for as I was rather meant to taper, one week before the US 24-hour Nationals in Cleveland, OH. Yes, tomorrow...! Anyway, with these times, it must indeed bit slightly shorter than half a mile.

Again, a perfect option and compromise between outdoor running and security, a definitve "must run" if you are staying in or nearby Sandton (which is actually quite some distance from downtown, but has a large train station).

Run happy AND safe in South Africa!

1 comment:

Peter Hidvegi said...

Hi Jean,
I found your blog while searching for safe running tracks outside in Joburg, while I am on a business trip. Tried the Mushroom Farm Park after reading your review and it was excellent. Not a long track, but safe and green. I really enjoyed it.
Peter Hidvegi (from the same IT company as you....)