The Addo Elephant Trail Run is held in the third-largest* national park in South Africa, the 1,640 km2 Addo Elephant National Park. The popular race became the first triple ultra-distance trail running event in South Africa. (An ultra is any run over 42km.) Addo offers a 44km, 76km and 100 miler (160km). The 100 miler was first run in 2005, making it the country’s oldest. It fell away for a few years, but was revived with a totally new and challenging course in 2016.
*The two largest are Kruger National Park (19,485 km2) and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (38,000 km2, although only one quarter of that is in South Africa, the rest is in Botswana).
The Other Side of Addo 100 mile
We realised that the 2018 run was going to be very different to Addo Elephant Trail Run 2017 on our way to our checkpoint. Slipping and sliding along the dirt road past the farmlands, we commented on how the runners would enjoy the cool conditions, but underfoot, the slush was going to be an additional challenge.
Our task was to set up radio communications at our checkpoint to link up with the venue operations centre (VOC) situated at Zuurberg Inn. And then assist in the safe return of all runners to the finish line. We were joined at the checkpoint (CP) by a group of volunteers who would ensure that each runner was checked in and provided with food and water.
As with all these types of events there is a bit of multiskilling. We radio guys assist at the CP when things get a bit busy. We were the last CP on all the routes, so all the runners came past us.
The leading 160km runner, Frenchman Antoine Guillon of the Raidlight international team, came in just after 8am on Saturday. He looked like he had just got up and gone for an early morning jog. He had a brief chat, a bit of food and water, and off he went on the last section of his run as if he had just started.
The rest of the runners came through the checkpoint in the following hours. The vast majority of them were very chirpy and full of smiles. Runners come in all shapes and sizes, some of them finding the run more challenging than others. I found that some runners push themselves quite hard in trying to beat last year’s time and others take it easy and pace themselves through. All runners appeared to be very prepared for the event.
It may sound obvious but the effect of atmospheric conditions makes an enormous difference. At this event a runner won’t come into the checkpoint complaining about the cold, but they do have a lot to say about the heat (as with the very hot 2017 event). And I think this also has a big influence on the mental aspect of running.
We did have a few runners who were ready to give up. But after a bit of discussion about how far they had run, and how relatively little distance was left, and how ample the time left to complete was, they all decided that they would get to the finish line.
I believe that these endurance events provide fantastic personal growth for the runners. There are those who strive for a podium finish, or top 10. The vast majority are competing against themselves, trying to do better than last year. Or simply wanting to finish. And competing against yourself is one of the greatest opportunities for personal growth in any aspect of life.
Our final communication wrap for the event was the back and forth communication with VOC as to who was still out there and reporting the last runners passing through the checkpoint. Finally, at 2am on Sunday we got the good news that all runners were accounted for. Our work was done!
Addo Elephant Trail Run 2018 was a challenging event for the runners. Cool conditions helped, but mud underfoot didn’t. Well done all runners.
To all the people on the other side of the event – checkpoint volunteers, medics, radio operators and the organising team – we had our challenges but we grabbed them and sorted them out. Congratulations and appreciations on a job well done. See you all next year.
I did not know René Vollgraaff before the race, but I did recognise her name on the list of athletes. When I saw a woman on the startline wearing a Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) Buff, I knew it must be her. We soon introduced ourselves and got chatting about friends from KAEM. She had done KAEM twice and I’ve done it once. Although we’d run in different years, we had met a lot of the same crowd.
So we set off for the Addo 100 mile side by side at 2pm and continued our chat. By sunset we were still chatting away and keeping the same pace, so we agreed that we would continue into the night together, unless one of us had a sudden urge to speed up or slow down. So through the night and the mud (lots and lots of mud!) and deep river crossings we went. We dodged giant earthworms (they were huge, some spanning the width of the gravel road and as thick as a finger!) and the hours and kilometres and climbs ticked by in good company. The checkpoints were amazing and lifted our spirits and energy levels with their cheering, TLC, and a wide variety of food. I had so many peanut butter sandwiches!
We reached the drop-bag checkpoint at 100km by sunrise. We spent a good 45 minutes there, nursing our wet and weary feet and enjoying a good morning coffee and yet another peanut butter sandwich. We had a friendly laugh at Damien Hewitt, who produced at least 2kg of nuts from his race pack. He carried them all the way but never got to eat them because the checkpoints were so well stocked!
The next stretch after a quick medical check at the following checkpoint was a looong slow trudge through the Valley of Tears. Just knowing that we were not suffering alone provided some comfort. René motored up each hill and I had to give my all to keep up, while I sped up again on the downhills, with René battling to keep up. Then my knees decided they’d had more than enough at 130km. Every step downhill became an exercise in pain management. I had never yearned for climbs and despised downhills as much. I’m not sure how I would have managed without trekking poles! I felt like a proper old granny putting all my weight on the trekking poles, groaning with each agonising descent. One small highlight of this challenging valley was seeing a lioness* slinking off behind a bush (with, slightly disconcertingly, a route marker attached to the same bush meaning we had to head towards the bush!)
* The organisers confirm that it might have been a caracal or less likely, a leopard. Or an hallucination! Lions are not found in the sections of the Park that the race traverses. There are huge sturdy lion and elephant-proof fences to keep them out of these corridors.
Finally we reached the next checkpoint (the famous Ellie’s Tavern) where we were treated to a five minute rub-down by the amazing physio crew. I also had very welcome medical attention to see to some nasty chafing issues on my back.
From there we were ready to tackle the final two extremely challenging climbs. Fortunately the sun had dried up most of the mud that had us slipping and sliding downhill the day before, and we were able to make forward progress, even if slowly.
From 130km both René and I became very quiet. I suspect we were both feeling quite ready to finish our race. We were finding it more and more difficult to cope with the pain associated with attempts at running. We had to encourage each other to at least attempt short distances of running where possible and keep up a good power-hiking speed when not running.
The last 8km was a soul-destroying meander through the forest with small river crossings every 10 minutes, which had me feeling that we were running in circles! There is a word in Afrikaans that is very apt for my emotional state at this stage, although it is not an appropriate word to use in any other scenario. (Die moer in? -Ed) I was actually relieved when we started the final climb as I knew this was the last challenge before reaching the end (from my 44km experience two years ago).
Somewhere along this last stretch we discussed how we would handle the finish. A sprint finish did not seem like a smart option. Neither of us were feeling capable of managing more than a power walk. As we had stayed together throughout the whole race, side by side, we agreed that it would be fitting to end the race side by side as well.
I usually run alone and have never really minded tackling the physical and mental challenges of ultras on my own. Running this grueling distance and terrain, however, was definitely made much more pleasant with such awesome company! I am sure I would have felt a lot more sorry for myself and probably would have had a good cry somewhere along the way had it not been for René suffering along with me.
Sundown to Sunrise at Addo Elephant Trail Run
By Andy Wesson
rIt’s a beautiful space, to connect physically and spiritually with Nature. To journey under the skin and find courage to push past pain, to watch day turn to night, and then see the dawn colour the horizon again.
Everyone should run from sundown to sunrise at least once in their life.
It’s a beautiful place. A place to find yourself, with time on your hands and a journey ahead. The magic of 100 miles.
Driving the finishers’ bus meant I was guaranteed to be among the last to cross the finish line, as in previous years.
It’s hard to explain the reward. I don’t spout that Giving something to the sport piety. You don’t run 100 miles for the publicity.
So why do it? I find great reward in helping another human realising a goal, respecting their struggle and determination, knowing a word of encouragement or just a positive presence can make the difference.
In a world that ever more lacks compassion; we can be purposeful in helping one another. Even in this small way. That’s why people volunteer at races.
No More Running!
By Nico Loubser
After a gruelling 76km trail run in the Addo Elephant National Park, I think I may stop running.
So many hills! Up and down. One would think down is a blessing after the up, but it isn’t. Over 20 streams to cross. Mud and clay due to the rain the previous day. One woman slipped, broke her hip, and was quickly airlifted to safety.
I had adventures of my own! I started in the dark and finished in the dark. The last gruelling climb took ages to complete, on never-ending stairs. I took a wrong turn and had to turn back to find the right marker.
I got lost three times, which added 40 minutes to my race. I got water blisters and walked like a 56-year-old man. (You all know I’m 36!)
After the race, hypothermia set in. It took me nearly an hour to get back to normal. I’ve never experienced or expected this. Apparently it’s not unusual at ultra races.
Addo Elephant Trail Run podium results 2018
Records were smashed in all three ultra races!
The men’s 100 mile race victory was claimed by French athlete Antoine Guillon in a fast 19:48:09 (previous 20:33:08)
In the 76km race, Nicolette Griffioen (third overall) broke the women’s record in 08:07:18 (previous 09:13:13)
Port Elizabeth’s Mvuyisi Gcogco broke the 44km record he’s been chasing for three years with a blitzy 3:44:02 (previous 3:52:33).
- Mvuyisi Gcogco 3:44:02 (RSA) new record
- Melikhaya Msizi 3:54:44 (RSA)
- Jacques Mouton 4:16:48 (RSA)
- Melissa van Rensburg 4:28:34 (RSA)
- Carine Gagiano 4:43:10 (RSA)
- Mia Uys 4:56:33 (RSA)
- Stewart Chaperon 7:33:40 (RSA)
- Christophe Le Saux 7:57:19 (FRA)
- Amadeus Witzeman 8:18:17 (AUT)
- Nicolette Griffioen 8:07:18 (RSA) new record, third overall
- Naomi Brand 8:23:18 (RSA)
- Annalise Scholtz 8:24:32 (RSA)
Addo 100 mile men
- Antoine Guillon 19:48:09 (FRA) new record
- Bradley Hyman 24:58:46 (RSA)
- Eduan Adams 25:45:33 (RSA)
Addo 100 mile women
- Sandra le Roux 32:15:39 (RSA)
- Rene Vollgraaff 32:15:39 (RSA)
- Marie Ayton 33:33:14 (RSA)