Let me tell you about that time I ran to the top of Ponte City.

Looking up at Ponte City
Looking up at Ponte City, the tallest residential building in Africa (at least for now).

Every few months Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours co-host the Ponte Challenge, which invites people to gather at the bottom of Ponte City at a very early hour and run or walk 54 storeys to the top. Last month I finally made the event and I (mostly) ran to the top. It really wasn’t that bad.

Running Up Ponte City

Here’s how it worked. I arrived at Ponte just before 7:00 on a Sunday morning, parked in the garage, and went up to the Dlala Nje headquarters on the ground floor to register for the race. The race costs R150, or about $10. (Dlala Nje is a Ponte-based nonprofit organization that runs tours of the surrounding area and community activities for kids.)

I should mention, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that Ponte City is 100% safe. Yes, it was once a notoriously crime-ridden building but that was 20 years ago. Today Ponte is legally occupied and a joy to visit. Search my blog for other posts about Ponte — I have several.

View of Berea looking down from the Ponte City parking lot.
View of Berea looking down from the Ponte City parking lot.

There were 30 or 40 of us there, laughing nervously and wondering (both aloud and inside our heads) if we could actually do it. Once everyone had arrived we gathered in a grassy area outside the building to limber up. Then the guides called for groups of ten people at a time to start the race. A new group left every five minutes or so.

We started all the way at the bottom, in the core of the building.

Inside the Ponte core
Ponte City is hollow on the inside.
George Khosi of the Hillbrow Boxing Club in the Ponte core.
Coach George Khosi of the Hillbrow Boxing Club, ready to run the stairs.

Going in, I knew the record time for running Ponte’s 54 flights is about five-and-a-half minutes. I could not even imagine how this was possible. I figured it would take me at least 30 minutes and I’d have to walk most of it.

But although the race was indeed exhausting, it was nowhere near as difficult as I thought. Here’s a short, amateurish video documenting my trip to the top.

I am reasonably (but not insanely) fit and I ran the steps in about 12-and-a-half minutes. I think I can definitely run it faster next time. George, who has pretty bad knees, did it in 14 minutes. I think everyone who participated — including some people who walked the whole way and even one family with a toddler — finished under half an hour.

Ponte’s stairwells are relatively spacious and clean so the run was pleasant overall. It was funny watching the reactions of people who live in the building as I ran past, panting and spluttering. Dlala Nje guides were posted every 20 floors or so to monitor our progress and there was even paramedic on hand. (He wasn’t needed.)

Best of all, at the end of the race we were invited to have a light breakfast in Dlala Nje’s event space on the 51st floor.

Selfies on the 51st floor of Ponte City.
Selfie time.
Heather and George at the top of Ponte City
My boxing fist pose always looks stupid compared to George’s.
View from the 51st floor of Ponte.
The view.

The Ponte Challenge was an excellent way to start a Sunday. A nice burst of exercise, great views, and I was back home by 9:30 a.m.

Follow Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours on Facebook for announcements about future Ponte Challenges.

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