Now before I begin, there is a very important distinction I need to address immediately. The below article is about a very Durban tradition. It is not necessarily about our beautiful promenade as such but rather about what enterprising locals tend to do on it.
See, there is so much crap to do on the promenade. I mean it. The contents of said crap will definitely be covered in what I hope will be a long and exhaustively researched missive further down the line. However, this article is about that very specifically Durban tradition of going for a run on the promenade when you have run enough near your house/gym/80’s gladiatorial combat arena.
Jesse Ventura would be proud.
This ladies and gentlemen is the Promenade Run.
Not the promenade run.
The Promenade Run.
The promenade has become an attraction among the 20+ crowd in Durban. As much for locals as it is for tourists, it is a regular venue for exercise among many of Durban’s denizens. In my experience, the calmly undulating stretch of broad shouldered, car-free walkway is arguably one of the nicest running areas in Durban. The appeal is huge – why run in the narrow roads of your suburb when you can completely switch off to any rule of traffic?
I think there is also an aspect to running on the promenade which tickles me particularly: it is always entertaining. While on my most recent trip, my companion pointed out that the rules by the sea are somehow different. People pull their pants up only after having left the bathroom stall in the beach-side public restroom. I understand that. For some reason the laws of decency and propriety are bent when people visit the seaside. The promenade is a great place for this concept to be explored. When I run, I often feel like a diver in a reef after dark when all the weird, googly eyed fish appear. Eighty-year-old woman on roller skates and neoprene pants? Check. Morbidly obese man on low riding tricycle? Hell yes. Street vendor shouting non-stop at a guy selling candy-floss? You bet.
Then my favorite: the old sunburnt man in a speedo and nothing else. He is his own class of fish. His skin has long since been destroyed by years standing three feet from the sun. The speedo is as elasticated as Meatloaf’s sleeves. His back has a mullet and his head is as hairless as Johnny Sins. He is almost always wearing wrap around glasses. Swim on brother. Swim on.
There is also the not too inconsiderable issue of safety. You are so safe on the promenade. It is the most publicly public place to public in. The last time you were that safe you were in the womb. When running on the promenade, there are seeds in Norway that are at more risk than you. You have a better chance of being offended by an episode of the Joy of Painting.
Police patrol the area regularly (sometimes on horseback if you are lucky) and during the evenings the entire stretch is well lit and welcoming. The feeling seems to be that the promenade is some kind of sacred ground where your car might get sprayed with beer, but nothing bad will happen to you.
The promenade, in its entirety, stretches from Blue Lagoon all the way to uShaka Marine world. However, for most runners, cars are parked either outside Bike and Bean or the Durban Lifesaving Club. Once out of your car you are faced with two choices; turn left or right. That is it. No stop-streets to navigate. No cars to dodge. Nothing. The only things sharing the promenade with you are other pedestrians, the odd food cart and of course the famous Rickshaws of Durban. It is not uncommon to see people on bicycles or other self-propelled forms of transport (skating is on the rise in popularity here). The fact is you are energized by the company around you whether it is an elderly couple walking their dog, a troupe of Hari Krishna’s or Chad Jacobs – Triathlon Man.
And that is the thing which makes me appreciate the promenade the most. South Africa is still a long way off from being the inclusive country it likes telling everyone it is. Yet when you put on your shoes and head down to Durban’s beautiful beachfront – that is precisely what it is. Life is there, both walking and running. When you visit the promenade, there is not a solitary aspect of the confused cultural blend of South Africa that is not represented. A family will be walking eight abreast with one tiny dog on a leash. A group of vivacious girls will be jogging between stops for selfies. Chad Jacobs – Triathlon Man would be pushing one of his 2.5 children in an artisanal Austrian pram. Street performers, lifeguards, the old, the young, the hip and me. It is an all too real representation of what harmony between people can be. Just a bunch of folks, getting some exercise by the sea.