A health-conscious mindset has grown rapidly among South African middle-class consumers. This can be seen
by their embrace of sports watches, reward-based programmes, and participation in organised leisure activities
such as cycling and running. Within this context, trail running is becoming increasingly popular; however,
research on the nature of trail running in South Africa is limited. A theoretical understanding of the relationship
that participants have with trail running, specifically the applicability of the serious leisure framework, could
provide valuable insights into this emerging market. This study incorporated an exploratory case-study design.
Quantitative data was collected using purposive sampling and an online survey to determine if trail runners
undertook the activity as leisure careerists or not. The level of seriousness of respondents was measured using
the six characteristics of serious leisure as defined in the Serious Leisure Inventory Measure (SLIM). The main
findings were that many trail runners meet all six of the characteristics of serious leisure. ‘Perseverance’ and
‘Career’ followed by ‘Effort’ and ‘Identity’ were the most important factors to the trail runners. Motives of ‘Fun’
and ‘Sense of achievement’ were more important than ‘Fitness’ or ‘Social factors’, however. ‘Sense of
achievement’ and ‘Social’ correlated the most strongly with respondents’ overall level of seriousness in the sport.
Income impacted on motivations, however, with wealthier people more likely to report that they participated for
Fun. In terms of gender, women were more likely to report that trail running boosted their self-image. In addition,
trail running forms part of the serious leisure economy, as participants are prepared to spend substantial sums of
money on related equipment and participation in events. This study provides valuable insights for marketing and
design of trail-running events and contributes to the gap in the literature on serious leisure in South Africa.