12 Hill Running Tips from Cape Town's Trail Runners

Cape Town is known internationally for its beaches, swells, and sharks. But for runners, it's all about the hills. Nestled below Table Mountain, which juts 3,558 feet above the sea, the city’s rugged terrain makes for runs that are, quite literally, breathtaking.

For many athletes from flatter cities, hills are an obstacle to overcome. To this city's runners, they're part of the fun.

"Hills are not just good for your training," says Ryan Short, founder of Cape Running Co., a Facebook group dedicated to getting more South Africans onto the mountain trails. "They're good for your soul."

We set out to capture Cape Town’s majestic mountains and the intrepid runners who embrace them. Bonus: Steal their tips for uphill and downhill travel.

south africa, cape town, nicholas rupanga, running, trail, mountain, hill running, fitness, tips, advice
(Emily Jan)


Currently sponsored by Asics, Nicholas Rupanga, 39, is one of the biggest names in elite South African trail running with a win at the grueling two-day Mountain Warrior Challenge, (back-to-back 38K and 25K races), and consistent podium finishes in the Cape Trail series.

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Rupanga's Tips

Uphill: Lean into the hill
 "By bending forward, you are putting less weight on your knees and on your legs."

Downhill: Keep your strides short
"If you get tripped and you are doing long strides, your chances of falling are so high."

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Hildy Hopking, 36, a runner and triathlete, coaches for Embark, a Cape Town company offering triathlon training.

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Hopking's Tips

Uphill: Find your rhythm
"Count your foot strikes.  Either count one leg or count both. Count them quite rhythmically, so in other words “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand.” I normally count to eight, and then I start from one again."

Downhill: Plan ahead
"Focus on the terrain and where you are going to go. The faster downhill the run, the further forward you have to focus and look and anticipate what’s coming."

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Rifqah Toyer, 33, is run captain for the Penguins, a beginner's running group of the Atlantic Athletic Club.

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Toyer's Tips

Uphill: Don't look up
"A lot of people find that looking down instead of looking at the entire hill helps them."

Downhill: Run on your midfoot
"The reason we were taught to do that is that if you run on your heel, you’re going to end up running too fast, and you’re going to put strain on your shins and your knees."

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


An avid trail runner and running blogger, 28-year-old Ryan Short is the founder of local running community Cape Running Co.

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Short's Tips

Uphill: Pace yourself
"You kind of want to reach the top and be able to go straight from there, and attack towards your downhill."

Downhill: Don't fight gravity
"I’m not pushing myself hard, I’m free-falling, letting gravity pull me down, and just controlling the placement of my legs and how my body’s moving in that space and on that kind of plane."

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


A year after starting to run regularly, Kylie Janse van Vuuren, 22, qualified for the Lionheart, a prestigious 2.3-mile sprint up and down Cape Town’s Lion's Head.

cape town, south africa, nicholas rupanga, uphill running, downhill running, mountain running, trail running, fitness
(Emily Jan)


Van Vuuren's Tips

Uphill: Tread softly
"Try to be light on your feet. Don’t be heavy."

Downhill: Use your arms for balance
"A lot of people think running has to be a stationary, arms-at-your-side movement, but I mean, I look like I’m flying sometimes because my arms are everywhere."

south africa, cape town, nicholas rupanga, running, trail, mountain, hill running, fitness, tips, advice
(Emily Jan)


Ghaleed Nortje, 41, is the creator of Running the Cape, an events and apparel company connecting local trail runners.

south africa, cape town, nicholas rupanga, running, trail, mountain, hill running, fitness, tips, advice
(Emily Jan)


Nortje's Tips

Uphill: Breathe steadily
 "Focus on your breath. Just keep it consistent. If you know your breath, you’ll be able to run up any hill."

Downhill: Have fun
"It’s basically a dance. Some people call it a tap dance. I feel like running is sort of an art form."

south africa, cape town, nicholas rupanga, running, trail, mountain, hill running, fitness, tips, advice
(Emily Jan)

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