Merciless Washie 100 pushes runners to extreme

BETWEEN Port Alfred and East London lies a road that some would describe as the road to hell.

However, according to Washie 100 Miler course manager, Clyde Mountfort, “It will also be the finest road to hell you have ever been on.”

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: A mix of excitement and nervousness set among the runners in the final moments before the start of the gruelling Washie 100 Miler from Port Alfred to East London Picture: LOUISE CARTER

Johan van der Merwe won the race in a time of 15 hours, five minutes and 42 seconds – a much slower time than he is accustomed to.

Race favourite Wandisile Nongodlwana, who ran an excellent Comrades, had his debut Washie 100 Miler, and finished in a highly creditable second place overall, in a good time of 16:08:16.

Max Msane finished in third place, with a time of 17:10:00.

When the Washie 100 Miler started 41 years ago it was known then as the Cambit Washie and had 29 entrants of which only 12 crossed the finish line.

On Friday, 83 entrants from all over South Africa and neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe travelled to Port Alfred to take part in what is considered the ultimate ultra-distance course, designed for those who want to test their physical and mental strengths to the limit. The youngest was 21 and the oldest 64.

Two days before full moon, Washie entrants gathered at the start line near the entrance of the Halyards Hotel eagerly awaiting the sound of the starter gun. A sense of nervousness mixed with excitement lay heavily on the group ready to accept the challenge. Some athletes were returning runners, some were novices and several adopted a cause as part of their “Miler” journey. Then there were some who pushed the limits even further by running a “double Washie” – heading back to Port Alfred after completing the Washie.

Tobie Reyneke from Pretoria finished this year’s Washie in his personal best time of 21:49:47 and then turned around and ran back to Port Alfred with an overall time of 60:25:32.

Double Washie no mean ‘feet’

Among this year’s group, most runners were Washie returnees while several were novice participants. Due to strict time check points, 17 runners did not make it to the end, most of whom withdrew from the race after the 123km check point and others at the 80km check point. In most cases the runners would not have met the cut off lines and therefore withdrew, and in other cases due to injury and exertion.

For those in the know, the 161km Washie course is more than a race, it’s a mental and physical fight that requires one to push the body through extremes. Runners complete a 16km loop in Port Alfred stretching along the Kowie River and down West Beach Drive before they return to town and off onto the R72 to East London.

“On top of Chalumna Cuttings, take caution as funny things happen there so don’t be stressed if you see strange things,” said race one of the race organisers.

The runners were also cautioned against the early moon rise, and warned that it would be very dark around 4.30am and to make sure all their torches were in proper working order.

Runners ran right through the night, taking on coastal furrows that include the descents and climbs of three river valleys, the notorious Chalumna cuttings and lots of road before finally entering East London and hauling to the finish line at Buff’s Club.

The cut off time was at 7pm on Saturday evening, 26 hours from the start.

Last in on Saturday evening was Vuyisa Mfinci, completing his first Washie, from the Vutha Athletic Club. He crossed the line just before cut-off time coming in at 25 hours and 54 minutes.

Several runners represented charities and causes that they drew attention to by running the Washie, including the family members of 22-year-old Riaan Botes from Pretoria who is in a level four coma after a freak accident. Family members, Fanie Naude and Magda Vermaak took part in the Washie 100 to help raise funds for his medical costs. Visit “back a buddy- Riaan Botes” to learn more about the cause and to donate money to help the family.

Washie 100 Miler, a grueling test in endurance and strength

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