29 March 2019

Addo 100 - Race Report #RunAMUK for #RazeABar

A week after completing the Washie 100 miler I started training for my 2nd miler... I couldn't walk, but in my head it started. It was a kind of running “I am because we are” (loose translation of an African philosophical idea labeled “uBuntu”). Truth be told, it probably started when I ran my first official 5km run or parkrun many moons before that!

uBuntu philosophy leads to other African proverbs like, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with friends”. Race medals need friends, too, right? From a road 100 miler I needed to add a bush 100… and of course there are many around the world as one of the faster growing sports. The more 100 milers the better, right…? And of course me going far at Washie meant a great team of unicorn support on that road, and many miles training with mates leading up to Addo! Go together…

There were a lot of lessons I needed to learn at Washie. Teamwork, nutrition, hydration, training the right amount (not too much is as damaging as too little), and keeping your head and heart in the moment are all important. My unicorns (Charles, Derek, Niki, and Robyn) all contributed to my finish at Washie and I am eternally humbled by their hearts… you should read that blog now if you haven’t already.

I grew up in bush or close to it with a great love of being outdoors on the rocks, grass and rivers of home. I’d played with snakes, crickets, frogs and other critters. Deer, caracal, rhino, and others had all been hunted on foot; or maybe I was just lucky to walk around the right corner at the right time to see some magnificent creatures up close and (sometimes a little too) personal. Those rhino were less than 50 meters and marking me... 

And of course I live in Nelson Mandela Bay, 200 miles from the Washie 100 and 50 miles from Addo… They are two of the iconic 100 milers in the world… No, that is not an exaggeration. The Washie, heading into its 43rd consecutive edition, is the oldest running miler in the world; history. AddoElephant Trail Run takes place in a pristine wilderness area testing the body and mind both; whether it is a hot or cold year it has areas of aloneness that you will not experience. There are no pacers or seconds allowed. I am privileged.

From 110+km per week to 75, from supplied nutrition to carried, from soup and water to Tailwind… so many things changed between July 2018 and March 2019. From “perfect training” leading into Washie I struggled with an injury leading into Addo… and am forever grateful. It meant I got professional help to learn just how to run properly again. And of course this build up included a mental challenge from Dr Chris van der Walt and Bradley Mackenzie to build a run streak that culminated on day 100 24 hours before Addo started… would it finish me?

Addo started at 2pm on Friday 15 March. There was a group of experienced led by Tobie Reynecke who would become South Africa’s leading 100 mile finisher by completing his 53rd miler not long before the 37 hour cut off on Sunday 17th, and Annalise Scholtz who would take the women’s course record and finish second overall. I was hoping to have finished just before midnight on Saturday… after all, who wants to run 3 days in a row without a sleep?

#LancasterLight, just off of 4 years old wanted to run with me… He was on his leash to be handed over as a cross critter to his grandfather about 50 meters after the start. It was probably the slowest start I’ve ever had to a race, and the most enjoyable being led by an excited toddler!

We got the weather we expected: humid and warm. It meant one HAD to take it easy the first day and night in order to not blow properly the second day (and night). It also meant your feet had to be well taken care of… Part of my team are my Balega Enduro socks* (read my sock-specific review here). These worked very well with the Altra Lone Peak 4’s I’d chosen. The cushioning and stone guards on the shoes really did what they were designed to do well and my feet finished very comfortably.

The gun goes, the runners amble off. Leading out of the Addo Elephant National Park we traipsed, some a little too hard for the heat. There was a reported 37% DNF rate this year, the highest ever. From the start you head down the main road and left onto a jeep track. Around the corner and you cross the main road to some cheering onto a local “gravel road” half way up a pass before heading into single track. Those first 11km to = checkpoint (CP) 1 were a great introduction to what was to come.

On the local gravel road leading into the bottom of the pass I’d spent a little time around Tobie; first behind him learning his “100-mile shuffle”, and then next to him swapping some Washie stories, and lastly in front of him as my legs are longer than his! I was moving easily and well. Tobie espouses uBuntu, and his sharing of knowledge and passion carried me often over the next hours. It is amazing what you can learn in just a few seconds if you listen hard!

Moving now upward toward Camp Figtree I thought of some of the training partners I’d run with. Dawn, Renee, Errol, Beth and Grant all lined the road after the start; Allister, Chris and Gary had been there to see us off. I’d been left by Dane and Ronald at the start, and Pamela, Craig, Letitia, Johan and others were behind me. It was windless in that jungle. And hot. I looked for the first time at my shirt sleeves. On my right were my work logos, companies that support great causes; thank you Cellucity! And on my left were those great causes. Christmas Cheer, One Land Love It, Rainbows and Smiles and Community Veterinary Clinics. Was it a good thing that I needed to look down at my sleeves so early in the game?

After not letting my seconds go at Washie because I was afraid of where my mind would wander, was having to be by myself this Friday night going to be a problem? Who would motivate me if I used my shirt mojo so early? Fight or flight?

I smiled… and looked again at my sleeves realizing that I was in a position to do way more than any of the beneficiaries… "perspective". It was the word gifted on my “Tag It” from Pamela of SA Medal Hangers. Perspective. That would keep me going all night long… and all of the next day; well, most of it.

Arriving on the ridge I ran in the afternoon sun as it slowly withered to a gloaming over pink heathered mountains to the East and the North… the Zuurberg were showing off… or maybe just inviting us to give up right then and enjoy her without exploring her depths.

From what I could tell, I was the last to turn on my headlamp… I LOVE running dark. And if it had been a full moon out from behind the clouds I would have continued into the dark night. As it was there was cloud cover that kept radiated heat on the Earth’s surface and proved a boon for me: it helped keep my core temperature up and me moving easily (lesson from Washie affirmed… don’t forget this, Steven!)

After the ridge running… then down. Of all the disciplines, down hill is not my favorite, especially in the dark. Before Addo I had assumed I would most value my trekking poles on the uphill grinds, but it was these steep down hills that I came to really value the upper body’s role in running “light” on your feet, especially with poles.

There is a Crowded House song that I love (I like “deep stuff”): Always take the weather with you. I refer that line to my attitude. I hadn’t worried about running in the dark, running alone, or running with people… and it didn’t bother me. Possibly the most disappointing aspect of Addo 100 for me was the lack of animals I saw, and that Pamela saw a leopard just meters from her makes me so jealous (fortunately I only found out later), but I did force myself to remain of sunny disposition.

Ellies Tavern: the early years!
My first real planned stop was at Ellies Tavern, CP 5 at 43km. I wanted to reassess my strapping (bio – prescribed) and check that all my muscle systems were working properly (they were). So I got stretched out and fed up, treated to Ellie’s world famous Millionaire’s Shortbread, and got on my way. It was a slightly longer CP for me… one of three (the medical check and back at Ellie’s later). A quick in-and-out of check points really worked well. “Just don’t stop” was a mantra I’d used at Washie that I adapted for Addo! Live, and learn; I’m glad I did!

The stars were intermittently bright, and the moon faded. There were 3 strategies I had lined up to get me through… and each played their part.
  1. Perspective is a wonderful thing: concentrate for 10 minutes in turn on a beneficiary of #RazeABar. Nothing like knowing your alive, healthy and able to partake to get your mind in order. This is what I referred to above.
  2. Pick a Christmas Carol and practice it for an impromptu performance on entering CP 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11… I may have missed a few, but it was a classic way to get comments, give energy and receive cheers! Nobody joined in… so I’m not sure if I was that good, or that bad!
  3. The details of point 3 are a secret… Suffice I say that I thought of my happy places with friends and family. Again, a form of perspective.
The night wore on. And I was reminded in short order of a game the Lancaster males play; my father Howard, brother Peter and I. My brother, the accountant, has won once… we go for coffee at a local; we size up the clientele, and tally who we know (excluding staff). At 82km, just before crossing the Sunday’s river, at 1am on Saturday morning, I get asked: “Are you Howard’s son?” Bloody hell. The middle of the night, the middle of the race, the middle of nowhere I’m doing MY thing and here comes the pre-ghost of my famous father; and I didn’t recognize Clive Gibson! Dad 1, me 0. Father Lancaster is a wonderful man with a significant contribution to our society and to be associated with him (even at that time) was kudos to him… and pride for me. Love you, pops. I had 2 crossings of the Sundays to get through and 16km to the drop bags… Leaving Mr Gibson behind, I had to focus. And I did.

Most of the night was warm, uneventful and wind-less. It left me thinking I was glad I didn’t need to manage my core temperature even after river crossings. I did put my buff over my nose and practiced breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. If I run colder races this year I may need a beard… A friend keeps saying every “good” trail runner has a wild beard to match their wild eyes! I don’t know what Ryan Sandes says…? He was about to start the 76km race and win. Obviously. Beast!

Once again I caught the Ultra Running SA legends, Dane and Ronald, at CP 11. We were all well inside cut off and on course for a decent finish. I was starting to think of finish times now… if I could get fueled, and out of this CP quickly… and manage a little niggle in my left ITB. Then I could go quickly through the Valley of Tears to Ellies Tavern and get some treatment with a professional strapping job and finish inside this wild ride inside 30 hours easily. An unnecessary change of socks, a necessary refueling of the body and restocking of GNLD bars along with Tailwind nutrition ensued… it was still a quick turnaround, under 10 minutes.

As I went between CP 11 to 13 I mused on my nutrition/hydration strategy and how well it was working. No dips. Andy Wesson once said that if you feel down, eat. Tired, eat. I added if you feel water sloshing directly onto stomach lining: eat. I remained strong and focused all the way through CP 15.

However, my first “blip” came at CP 13… where I followed the markers & GPS route into the Valley of Tears… and missed the medical check that was a couple of hundred meters up the road. Unfortunately the person based there to show me the way needed a little break and it was my misfortune to hit that gap! An extra 3km total. The weather entering the valley for my first sojourn there was warm, humid, and overcast. On the other hand, seeing the doc and thanking him for his role in getting me through Washie was great! And of course he has a sound sense of humorous sanity and the ability to measure insanity in ultra runners that stands us crazies in good stead…

By the time I entered the valley for my 2nd time the sun had just burned off the clouds… I knew what was coming. I had hiked these mountains in summers before. I was grateful I had turned back to hydrate and fill my pack with water. That decision stood my mood in good stead, although I did use my annoyance at the extra kilometres to my advantage as I powered up the hills. Huff, puff, FSH… (yes, FSH is actually earlier in the race where people traditionally have to utter expletives in the direction of the race director to enjoy a good 2nd half… I didn't follow tradition, so I got some bad luck in the 2nd half! haha)

The Valley of Tears is tear-inducing. If you’re there in the dark, navigating won’t be easy; if you’re there in the heat… you may be too parched to cry; but if you have your wits about you, there is no other place on the course that matches its raw, remote beauty. The silence and stretching views of skies, mountain sides and valleys is breathtaking, and if I was ever going to cry at Africa's Wildest Ultra: it would have been at this beauty.

Of course I was still struggling with ITB and had expected to power through the second half of the valley going down the watershed. It wasn’t to be; I had to take it easy… again the poles were an asset.

Running the last 500m into Ellies Tavern at CP 14 I booked the next spot on the physio’s table… Nicky Roodt’s treatments are legendary. It was hot and humid and the checkpoint was beginning to look a little like the fallout in a warzone with athletes being treated for heat stroke and dehydration, as well as other things. Allister Marran, the bloke that introduced me to long distance running arrived shortly after I did. He had, rightly, made the decision to tackle the awesomely challenging 76km run. Beforehand we’d joked about it being the Addo parkrun… and the 44km event the “nappy dash”. Let me clear up that any ultra run, but especially those in tough conditions and treacherous terrain take a level of training and guts to enter, let alone complete. Kudos to all participants! (And if you haven't already, give his Addo blog a squizz, too).

Allister told me he was struggling… I was a little surprised. He’d been bok the day before with missing the 100 miler (he is also a Washie 100 graduate). While I was getting treated, strapped and refueled, he made sure to get enough food and liquid for the assault on the little mountain out of Ellies onto the escarpment. It is a tough little 6km piece of the course… down or up. We'd come down it the previous night, now it was up. It is relentless and exposed. I boldly said I’d catch him (thinking I didn’t have a hope… he was still “fresh”). But running long distance is a funny thing.

There was another Washie runner from Fat Cats that arrived and left Ellies Tavern in the course of my stay and I quickly caught her and her two friends. We would yo-yo regularly all the way to the finish. About 1km up Ellie’s hill I passed her one companion sitting under a tree… I told him to get up and keep going. Keep looking at the view… just don’t stop. He CAN do this thing and RazeABar… raze his bar. Credit to him, he did.

3km up the hill, there sat Allister. I had marked him well ahead of me as we crested the steepest section of the climb. I was surprised to see him sitting there. Saying he was finished he told me he was just enjoying the view. I told him, “You know the rule.” I think he may have wanted to hit me… but he smiled and said effectively that the beauty of the view was worth the pain of the climb.
The rule is that you never quit, you can get pulled, but you don’t stop. He didn’t stop (apparently he also got some advice from his wife… and that is always important advice). The advice #LancasterLovely gave me was that if I came home broken, she’d put me in a wheelchair at the top of our (steep) driveway and let go… If I survived our gate at the bottom, she’d still wheel me out onto the verge… I guess I had to finish strong, then!

I then muttered to Allister again… I’ll see you when you pass me later. To his credit… he did, and I never saw him until the end. Stubborn bastard wasn’t going to let me catch him a 2nd time!

My second blip, it came up at the top of that climb. I was planning on “scout’s pace” of running 50 paces and walking 50 paces along the ridge, possibly even running more depending on how I felt. However, sleep was starting to catch up to me and a general lethargy. I looked at my shirt sleeves. I looked at the heather on the hills. I looked at the fynbos flowers and smelt the mountain air. I cheered runners as they came past or I passed them. And then I woke up… I took a caffeine shot! Clever boy. After 8km of “low” I started to wake up and be able to walk run again.

Cresting the end of the ridge after CP 16 it was gradually downhill to CP 17, the last CP. People manning that point included Jeff Ferreria, a longstanding hiking buddy, James de Scande and Colin Shroder. They are all involved in hiking, scouts, radio and various other outdoor activities. Perfect checkpoint “staff” to have on an event like Addo. Colin had pledged R100 to #RazeABar in the build up to the race… and told me I had to get to him to get it! Well, when I got there he had raised the bar to R800! What a champion lift to the spirits. Of course they had more coffee there… also known as “Hapoor se Pis”; Hapoor was one of the legendary elephants of Addo who earned his reputation as a stubborn survivor, and pis is… well, use your imagination. I’m going with the extra donation that powered me to the end.

At this stage 100 miles in 30 hours was possible...with some intentional movement. I might even make it to the end in 30 hours 30 if I could run all the way. But I knew that was a pipe dream; and razing bars is made of dreams! After getting my torch ready with fresh batteries, stashing the cash donation safely and fueling for the last 11km I ran out of CP17, down the hill and into the sunset. Thinking that if I hadn’t wasted 3km I could easily have finished sub 30… that is enough for me.

Addo has a sting in the tale: a beautiful finish, but to get there you run down to a stream, cross it on wobbly rocks numerous times, and climb a cliff face in the dark. It really is a beautiful mount to summit, but on old legs it can be a little daunting. Fortunately I had a precious donation to take care of, a goal of 100 miles inside 30 hours, and a solid finish. I did all 3… nearly taking out the race director Sheena at the finish as I jumped across the line happy and healthy. Sheens… I hope you’ve recovered as well as I have ;)  

And the cherry on top? That the Malkoppies (Bianca & Chris, pictured right) were able to finish their dream Addo as an engaged couple having raised great awareness for #RazeABar and in spite of the hurdles of equipment failure on their feet! Congrats guys… you are SUPERhumans! Mal… the best kind!

Thank you to Sian and Sheena for a world class event. Thank you to my family for allowing me the freedom to follow dreams. Thank you to all the charities for partnering with me on this journey, and especially to One Land Love It (Wayne, Nikki, Laura and Melissa) where were there at the start and at the end… they are part of the honorary rangers for Addo Elephant National Park and had arranged to be on duty so they could support! Thank you to my training partners and fellow enablers who sweep Thursday’s Achilles trail. Thank you to my mentors known and not (Andy Wesson, Sean Nakamura, Kim, Peej, Hylton Dunn, and a million more). Thank you to my biokineticist, Ilona Hearne. Thank you to the CP staff… mainly honorary rangers; you guys do a sterling job on the event and all year around at poacher’s moon! And thank you to you, reading this. Also a little thanks to new friends… Deon Braun, Andrew Booth, Cindy Mills, Malcolm the Squirrel, Ayla, and more… your guys stories are awesome! Keep talking… I’m listening J

PS: Cindy, Malcolm... I realize I also need to apply SNB like I do deodorant... under my arms! That is a new lesson... :D 

So... what's next? I'm going to run amuk... or rather, #RunAMUK. UTD, here I come ;)

*I am a Balega Impi for 2019, but if you haven’t, please read my review because I would be in these socks regardless.

PS: Thank you to the brands that got me through... not sponsored by any of these, but hey... if you're from them and want a piece of me, get in touch ;)
Altra Running (aka Flat bois) Lone Peak 4, Nike Trail Running (clothes of course), First Ascent pack and poles, Tailwind nutrition, Squirrels Nut Butter, Sony (my phone... 78% battery left after 31 hours on airplane mode operating the GPS), and Garmin FR35 (a few charges, but solid performance)


  1. What an interesting, informative and inspirational blog.

    1. Thank you so much! Your flattering feedback earns you my likes! :D


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