Running for Queen and Country
You must cross the railway line to run in Johannesburg’s inner city. It is difficult to say which side is the wrong side. The idiom suggests that the wrong side is the part of town considered poor and dangerous. Anywhere near the inner city is poor and dangerous, no matter what side of the railway line you are on.
However, running with a bunch of crazies from the Tyrone Harriers means we move quickly and disappear into the darkness before anyone notices us. Our biggest danger is falling down a manhole or getting taken out by a taxi. Mostly, the taxis stop and make way for us, even when the robot is green in their direction. I am regularly surprised by that. Of course, there is always the exception and having high expectations that a taxi will stop is a sure death sentence.
Several options exist for crossing the railway in or out of the city.
On the city’s west side, Subway Street will take you under the railway. This route is generally pothole-free, smooth tar and downhill. A very pleasant option. Less than half a kilometre east of the Smit and Subway intersection is a narrow passage leading to the pedestrian bridge where you can cross the railway and look out over all the train carriages parked at the Braamfontein station.
The M1 highway could be considered an entry into the city, but that is not a route that we runners choose to take. Although we often run underneath the highway while making our way through the Newtown district. One of our regular routes that pass this way is the Sci Bono route. Named after the science centre on Miriam Makeba Street.
Heading further East, you find the main thoroughfare into the city, the Nelson Mandela bridge. This is a favoured running route because the bridge has wide pedestrian walkways making the bridge one of the safest ways to avoid early morning traffic.
Then there is Queen Elisabeth Bridge. We generally avoid this one. Not because it represents colonial oppression but because it is a death trap for pedestrians and runners. However, in the interests of running all the dodgy parts of the town, the Sci Bono route leaves the city in a northerly direction over the Queen Elisabeth Bridge.
You take your life in your hands when you run the seven-hundred-meter gauntlet. The pace is flat out, and getting around the bend without being squashed against the concrete barrier is considered a win. Don’t think for a moment that running outside the barrier on the inside bend is an option. You are more likely to be castrated by broken railings or slip on human faeces.
It is appropriate that today, given the sad news of the Queen’s passing, we ran over “her” bridge and recognised the colonial contribution to our city. After all, how would we have ever emerged from the dark ages without the colonisers and their railways and bridges?