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This year's Addo Elephant Trail Run was dramatic and dangerous

Triathlete turned trail runner, Gabriel Kriel, was the one athlete who appeared to flourish in the toughest conditions in the history of the race. Photo: Stephen Granger

Triathlete turned trail runner, Gabriel Kriel, was the one athlete who appeared to flourish in the toughest conditions in the history of the race. Photo: Stephen Granger

Published Mar 9, 2020


This year’s Addo Elephant Trail Run 100 miler, presented by Hoka, last weekend provided one of the most dramatic outcomes in trail running in South Africa, with a high attrition rate caused by some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in South Africa.

Organisers of the event, Sian and Sheena O’Keefe, are still in recovery mode following the completion of the hottest race in South African trail running.  Almost 60 % of those who started the race never made it to the finish line, but possibly more remarkable is that 35 of the 82 starters for the 162 km adventure did.

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The Valley of Tears is one of the most desolate wilderness areas in South Africa and one of the hottest. Runners entered the valley 111 km into the race at Check Point 13 and exited almost 20 km later.  After measuring a temperature reading of 55 degrees celsius in the shade in the valley at 12h30 on Saturday, the race doctor issued an ultimatum to the organisers. Stop the race immediately or put it on hold for three hours to allow runners to rehydrate and recover.

The organisers chose the latter route and the race was halted around 1pm, which had the desired effect. “Almost all the runners we spoke to said they would never have finished the race if not for the break,” admitted Sheena, “although they also attested to the difficulty of getting running again!”

To cap it all, just as we were recovering from the heat around 5.30pm, there was a sudden build-up of clouds and a sharp lightning storm hit with a sudden downpour!” continued Sian. “Some runners spoke of lightning strikes close at hand, which was as scary as the heat!”

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Triathlete turned trail runner, Gabriel Kriel, was the one athlete who appeared to flourish in the toughest conditions in the history of the race, claiming victory in 23 hrs 05 min 33 sec – remarkably in almost the same time as Hylton Dunn’s winning effort last year in cooler climes. Kriel finished just over an hour ahead of early leader, Martin Malherbe, with Dunn finishing third.

One of the “strong men” of trail running, Kriel only decided to upgrade his entry for the 76 km event to the 100 miler a week before the race, but after taking the lead after 120km, there was no stopping him.

Gabriel ran an amazing race,” said Sheena. “And even more impressive was that after a few hours sleep, he sat at the finish line through the night to greet each of the runners as they finished, right up to the last runner, Altie Clark, who beat the 6 am cut-off by just four minutes!”

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Kate Birkett, winner of last year’s Cederberg 100km, held third place overall for much of the race, eventually finishing 6th overall to claim victory in the women’s competition in 29:43:25 – nearly an hour ahead of last year’s winner Sandra le Roux. 

It proved a perfect weekend for 25-year old Matt Healy, who took line honours in the 76km race, after a pillar to post victory.  The former Sharks Academy scrum-half and winner of last year’s Bastille Day 50 km, was delighted with his win coming on top of the Sharks’ win over the Jaguares.  

It was super-hot out there, but I’m really pleased with the run,” Healy admitted. “The organisation was the absolute best and to experience running with wild animals was something unique.  I went out hard from the start to make the most of the cooler conditions before sunrise and was surprised to come across a kudu 3 km into the race!  I think it was disorientated with my headlight and we ran side by side for a while until it found a place to turn off the road.

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Then I almost run onto a massive puff-adder and came across large numbers of jackals and baboons.  But the heat was something else - measuring over 50 degrees in the so-called ‘Valley of Tears” – one of the most isolated and wild areas of the Park. It was like a war-zone out there!  I came across some of the front-runners in the 100 miler and many were suffering badly.

“I had hoped to run close to 7 hours (Ryan Sandes’ record is 6hr 56 min) but the heat made that impossible. I’m pleased with the outcome and look forward to the rest of the season.”

Top mountain runner, AJ Calitz, went ‘walkabout’ mid-way through the 76 km race due to a navigational error, adding several additional kilometres to the already challenging route, dropping back to 4th, before fighting back strongly to claim second, just over an hour in arrears. 

Cape Town’s Karonline Hanks won the women’s 76 km title with local SANParks Addo Park ranger, Sanuse Mbaneli, and Juliet Estivalet claiming respective victories in the 44 km race.

Results Addo Elephant Trail Run 100 miler

Men:  1 Gabriel Kriel 23:05:33; 2 Martin Malherbe 25:07:29; 3 Hylton Dunn 27:21:51; 4 Michael Coles 28:23:19; 5 Mdu Zondi 28:41:49

Women: 1 Kate Birkett 29:43:25; 2 Sandra le Roux 30:26:26; 3 Sylvie Scherzinger 32:48:00; 3 Annemarie Cronje 33:19:25; 5 Rene Volgraaff 35:33:25

Results Addo Elephant Trail Run 76km

Men: 1 Matt Healy 7:43:24; 2 AJ Calitz 8:55:10; 3 Tarquin Mezarous 10:01:58

Women: 1 Karoline Hanks 11:08:30; 2 Amanda Cloete 11:47:52; 3 Suzette von Broembsen 12:27:48

Results Addo Elephant Trail Run 44km

Men: 1 Samuse Mbaneli 5:01:07; 2 Thandisile Xhosombo 5:10:56; 3 Mazu Ndandani 5:32:36

Women:  1 Julie Estivalet 5:49:03; 2 Annetjie Botes 6:14:41; 3 Tania Kitching 6:27:36

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