The Inaugural African Centurion Qualifier on Robben Island, South Africa. October 22nd and 23rd. Not long after I joined the Centurion Brotherhood I heard this rumor. “Africa is going to have a Centurion Race”. I had my fingers crossed it was true and that the race fit my calendar. The rumor became reality and it did fit my calendar. I was so excited to race an inaugural Centurion Race.
When I first started walking January 2013 I joined a walking support site. One Member on that site was from South Africa. Dave Ingram. Dave has walked the Famous Comrades Ultra six times. Dave is a speed and endurance walker mix. When I started it was his training and finish times I tried to match. Dave also entered the African Centurion. Now I had a chance to meet Dave and walk a race with him. We were not alone. I was not surprised to see Sandra Brown had signed up. Success in Africa would give Sandra SEVEN World Centurion Badges. The only person in the world with seven. The elite field of Centurion walkers did not stop there. Triple Centurion’s John Kilmartin, Frans Leijtens and Antoine Hunting. Double Centurion’s Robbie Callister, Pete Miller and Janette Morgan. Centurion’s Nour Addine Ayyoub, Suzannah Corkill, Richard Gerrard, James Quirk, Philip Vermeulen, Marco Bloemerts, Remy van den Brand, Vinny Lynch, Kersten Mosig, Werner Alberts and Chris Cale. 19 Centurion’s and 31 elite walkers seeking their first Centurion Badge. A large field of 49 racers. Looking at that list it is not hard to figure out what was about to happen. There was going to be a race for African Centurion C1. A walking race like I had never seen before. Racers walking my best ever Marathon pace for 100 miles. As for me I didn’t care what number I ended up with. I just wanted to finish.
The race setting was Robben Island. Since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used for the isolation of mainly political prisoners. From 1961, Robben Island was used by the South African government as a prison for political prisoners. The former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. To date, three of the former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and current President Jacob Zuma. It is quite likely that the gravel we walked on was hand crushed by these men. Now, Robben Island is a World Heritage Site and museum.
On Saturday morning we caught the ferry over to Robben Island from Cape Town. The wind howled most of the race. The waves were so big a bunch of racers were Turning green. Not the start to a long walking weekend you would want. Being the first time for the African Centurion all of us had many questions about what to expect. Most were answered after two laps. The view of the Atlantic Ocean looking toward Cape Town for 24 hours was not going to get old. When a race organizer tells you there is one small hill on the race course. Check to see how much mountain goat the director has in his family tree. Don’t trust his judgement. Bananas and potatoes are good race foods for endurance events. They are not the only good foods for endurance events. I might not ever eat another potato. The sun down here on Robben island will burn the darkest of skin. It can be the hottest place on earth and the coldest place. You will experience both in this race. Sometimes on the same lap.
When it got dark Saturday night the race changed. The 7km loop around the island spread everyone out. Most of the night you felt like the only person on the island. The only person in the world. There are a few movies that I watch every chance I get. One of those is Gladiator with Russell Crowe. Gladiator was on the plane’s movie list from Amsterdam to Cape Town. I watched it for over the one hundredth time. Two times in the movie the director depicts Crowe as floating between earth and heaven. Both with an equal pull on him. For the whole overnight on Robben island I had the Atlantic Ocean on my right. The high winds were crashing large waves from Antartica against the rocks and old ship wrecks. On the rocks were penguins. Along the road were bleached clam shells that shined bright silver in my headlamp like a pirates treasure. Across the water stood Table mountain. The only clouds were in a circle around the top of the giant. Cape Town’s orange city lights went half way up the mountain. It looked like a lava flow coming down the side. Above to the right in the night sky was the Southern Cross. It was shining like new money. To my left was the islands light house. Sending out its beam of light all night. Just when you thought it could not get better, up rose a large half moon. All night I walked in this beauty. I felt suspended between earth and heaven. I felt so exposed. So vulnerable. I could look into every corner of my soul. I could remember every detail of my life all the way back to my own beginning . It was a peace and euphoria like no other.
Then unfortunately or maybe fortunately the sun began to rise. As the sun climbed I fell back down to earth. I had some problems. My left knee was shot. I have had this problem before. It is from leaning. I was listing to the left. That put pressure on my knee. As my body gives in to fatigue during a one hundred mile race my core breaks down. Looking back now I realize doing two international Centurion races in 11 weeks was not a good idea. I was sure the second toe on my right foot would need amputating. My right butt check also was hurting. Amputation not an option. I had some extra time in the bank from earlier in the race. The way I was feeling I was going to need it. I managed to catch my friends Dave, John and Frans. I can’t start as fast as they do. Rather , I steadily plod along. I would be out of the race if I started as fast as they do. There was no visible clock at the race. I had to race by feel. The advantage of all the Centurion pace work I do. I knew what lap I was on but not the time I walked the lap. This caused me to push more than usual. I had one recurring thought. I did not want to have to do this again. Every Centurion I have done the finish is very special. I have never wanted to finish more than I did at this race. I loved the race. Yes as with any new race they have some bugs to fix. I promise you the 19 new African Centurion’s EARNED their numbers this weekend. Sandra Brown got her 7th Centurion badge. My friend Dave Ingram, well of course he got his Centurion. He lives for this kind of challenge.
I became African Centurion number 11. Finish time 22 hours 36 minutes 3 seconds. The most beautiful hardest race I have ever done.
Love this African Centurion Badge.
Adding up the Miles.
Photo by Vicus van der Merwe.
A great video of some of the African Centurion. A short cameo by me early on.