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When I ran Comrades in 2011, I got talking to the local runners about the races that they respected. They were saying things like “Comrades is a fine event, and so is Two Oceans, but why don’t more overseas runners want to do the Addo Elephant Trail?” They then told me stories about this amazing trail race around the Addo Game Reserve, where runners go up close and personal with the local wildlife. The Addo Game Reserve is the wildest game park in South Africa, being one of the few where the land has never been used for agricultural purposes. It is home to the big five (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo), and even overlooks a coast where Southern Right Whales and Great White sharks can be sighted. The event has traditionally included 44k and 76k distances, and a 100 mile race which was discontinued many years ago. Last year the race came under new management, who were determined to resurrect the 100 mile event. Having a bit of a passion for 100 milers, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.
Travel and Accommodation
The nearest airport to the Addo Game Reserve is Port Elizabeth, and it is about an hour’s drive to get there. It is desirable to spend a couple of days in Port Elizabeth before the race, to get rid of the jet lag, and let your legs loosen up. Port Elizabeth is a popular tourist destination, so there is plenty to occupy you there, both before and after the race. Overseas runners usually rent a car, and drive themselves to Addo. In my case the race organiser’s even sent a car to collect me from the airport, and drive me to the Addo Game Reserve. Once at Addo you can rent a room in the safari lodge be warned that it occasionally gets raided by Vervet Monkeys), or book a site to pitch a tent on. There is a very good restaurant on site called the Cattle Barron. It is a straightforward enough matter to book a game tour, either before or after the race.
A fence is kept between the competitors and most of the more dangerous animals of the Addo Game Reserve, but there are none the less animal dangers to be prepared for. Top of the list are hippopotamuses which are very territorial, and respond aggressively if you get between them and the water at night. We were advised at the race brief that if we encountered a hippopotamus at night, we should switch off our head torch, and lie face down on the ground until it passes. The other concern is snakes, because the Addo Game Reserve is home to a few poisonous varieties. Leopards can also be encountered on parts of the course, but they are shy animals, and will seek to avoid encounters with runners.
Even if you set the wildlife to one side, this is one of the more interesting 100 mile races that I have crossed swords with. The course consisted of a mixture of rough dirt tracks, rocky paths, and jeep tracks. The views were spectacular. It is not an event to be taken lightly. It has 5500 metres of ascent in total, but it punches well above its weight, due to the technical nature of parts of the course. The event that it reminded me of the most was the Wasatch Front 100, which had a similarly varied and interesting course. Participants are allowed 37 hours to complete the course, and it is advisable to reach the half-way point in 15 hours or less, in order to stay within the cut-offs.
Temperatures in the Addo Game Reserve are severe. The thermometer had climbed to 46 Celsius in the week before my visit, but it had mercifully fallen to an unseasonably cool level by the time of my visit. Even so, the heat made this an extremely challenging event, and it took me to the edge of disaster at least once.