The Inaugural African Centurion Qualifier

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.

africa11

 

Love this African Centurion Badge.

image

Adding up the Miles.

africa Photo by Vicus van der Merwe.

A great video of some of the African Centurion. A short cameo by me early on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06ZUZvbdW4s

 

40 thoughts on “The Inaugural African Centurion Qualifier

  1. David Walker

    Excellent description of the race, very comprehensive. Thanks for the encouragement when we passed each other. Hope the recovery is going well.
    Dave

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Well Done David. I have to admit when I read your Pre Race Profile I thought you might have just been there for fun. What I saw during the Race was a Very good Racewalker. Congratulations on a Great fast Race. I am going to give that training to the pub and back a try. Rob

      Reply
    2. Dimitri

      All I can say is that I was there. I witnessed Rob doing his thang. O! Wait! Rob you may remember me being on the sideline, shouting out… “Go Mr. America “. You were amazing. Congratulations. Dimitri

      Reply
  2. Gillian

    Hi Rob, I am Dave’s (non-athletic) sister living in Australia, and Liz forwarded this to me. Thank you for such a descriptive account of the race. It is so nice to hear your lovely comments about Dave and Liz too, they are such a wonderful couple.
    Gillian

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank you for the Note Gillian. Dave and Liz are special. I am so pleased I got to share my Robben Island experience with them. Rob

      Reply
  3. Liz Ingram

    Congratulations C 11 Africa! Just read your report while Dave is driving us back to Jhb. His legs are semi-functional again so he is able to drive 🙂 You captured the essence, heart & soul of the event so beautifully and brought back vivid memories of my sunrise and sundown laps with Dave. It was awesome to meet you after hearing so much about you from Dave. Interesting to read that he has inspired you so much, while he says the same about you! True Centurion brothers or ‘bros’ as we in SA say! Dave said he would never have become a Centurion if it wasn’t for you, you converted him 🙂 Sorry we did not have time to chat more but hope to meet you on a walk/run/race again in the not too distant future! All the best with your walking endeavours. Liz

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Liz. So glad to finally meet You & Dave. What a Great Couple. Wishing you both much success in the future. Perhaps we can meet again on You & Dave’s Sacred Turf – Comrades. Rob

      Reply
  4. Albin Hess

    Hi Rob,

    Well done you did a.great.job. Unortunately John wasn’t so lucky. Enjoy the rest of your trip and do something special with your wife, as she supported you on the long journey.

    Fellow Australian walker Albin

    Reply
  5. Daveawalker

    Rob this was the toughest thing I have ever done. Not knowing laps etc frustrated me. I at least had my wife’s team supporting me. They could confirm my laps. I planned to recharge my watch but it froze before I could. When you caught me on my third last lap I was thinking how you warned me the last 20km are tough. I saw as you passed by the lean to the left in you back. Reminded me how sore my back had been just before midnight. It was truly awesome to race with you and to hear you being cheered in as c11 as I started my final lap. You must be super human to do so many of these races. Only 1 for me. May do the relay next year to support a solo.or go for first team? Right now I can’t walk. I am chilling in the karoo. Absolutely awesome report. See you at comrades soon..

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      If it had not been for your blog when I started walking. I would have never known what a person could accomplish with their feet. Your racing and training inspired me. I am so glad we met. So glad we shared a race on Robben Island. I am proud to call you a Freind and a Brother Centurion. Recover well Dave and take good care of Liz. I don’t know if you realize what a leader in the South African walking community and around the world you are. Wishing you much success.

      Comrades – I don’t think I can walk that far that fast in the mountains.

      Reply
      1. dave

        I managed a relaxed 10.3km recovery this morning, amazed how quickly the body recovers… Thanks for everything…
        Enjoy your training!!

        Reply
        1. Rob Robertson Post author

          You are correct Dave. Our bodies are amazing. Built to be used. Happy when they are pushed and taken care of. I am doing one of my favorite recovery activities today. Pushing my mower around my half acre. Planning a eight mile walk tomorrow. Recover well Dave. Rob

          Reply
  6. Nour Addine Ayyoub

    Wow Rob, you couldn’t have described it better including your understanding of South African history. You are a good man. Take care of yourself and hopefully we will see you again next year.

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Nour. I was so pleased to meet you. I LOVED the race. One of those kind of races that changes a persons life. You did a Great Job. Rob

      Reply
  7. Michael George C1032 (British)

    Your words are probably more eloquent than your walking by the sound of it but for both you deserve great credit, though I assume the former, though forged by the latter came far more easily.

    You can be very proud of you achievement in completing such an enormous task.

    Fantastic. Well done!

    Reply
  8. Pete Miller

    Brilliant account of the weekend Rob. Not that I’ll forget it in a hurry what we all witnessed and went through but to have it so vividly written about is special.

    Congratulations on another Centurion pin & hope your recovery will be quick and pain free.

    Pete

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Pete. You walked a brilliant race. Congratulations on your big personal best on without a doubt a tough course. Rob

      Reply
  9. Roy Gunnett

    Absolutely delighted to hear you finished the South African 100 and have gained another World Centurion badge.
    I really enjoyed reading your report of the race – what an experience.
    It was a great to meet you in the race at Redcar, albeit briefly. I hope we can see you back in the UK sometime soon.
    Roy

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Roy. My wife and I are going to return to England in a few years. We did not see everything we wanted to see in August. You can bet our trip will be at the same time as the British Centurion. Rob

      Reply
  10. Marius van Rensburg

    Rob
    I had the privilege to meet you and the other 100 milers on Robben island. Although we only did the 4 in a team relay challenge we still felt part of the whole event. Even after 80+ miles the solo walkers still greeted and let us share in their quest. For me that defined the African Centurion. Participating in such an epic event which was obviously beyond me. I agree with your description of the course. Dark, wind howling and cold just to be replaced with the most serene sunrise, calm seas and no wind. Could also not ask for a more spectacular view of the mountain. Utmost respect for all who completed, and Dave what a race to earn your first centurion pin

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Marius. I very much enjoyed the visit with You, Tienie, Conita and Petro. What a Great Family Team. Wishing all of You much success in the future. Rob

      Reply
  11. Mark Young

    Well done Rob. I know not many will second this, but, you have become one of the great walkers in the US at the present time. You have become my hero. .

    Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  12. Jimmy Millard

    Grëat race report Rob you write with so mutch passion for our sport i could almost feel it .Thanks look for forward to seeing you in Weert.

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank you Jimmy. I already booked my room in Weert. Looking forward to racing behind you again. Rob

      Reply
  13. Dave Jones C987

    Well done Rob. It was a great pleasure to meet you in Redcar, you will be remembered here. I had no doubt that you would finish the inaugural South African 100. A very well written report and a pleasure to read.

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank you Dave. I went to Africa thinking the race would feel as smooth and easy as Redcar felt. They were not similar in any way. Each race I do around the world is as different as the places I visit. When I think about it I would not have it any other way. Each Centurion race around the world is unique. The race you put on in Redcar has been by far the best Centurion I have raced. Rob

      Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank You Joe. It has been so much fun meeting some of the original walking site gang. You, Kevin and now Dave. I still have Dan and Mellody to go. Rob

      Reply
  14. Darryl

    Congratulations, Rob! What an experience it must have been. Your description of the race and sights you encountered provided the perfect picture. I tried several times, on several devices, to view the live stats but I was never able to see anything. Bummer about not having a clock displayed. Sounds like a necessary item for such a long event to me.
    Congrats again. Next stop – Weert June 2017!

    Darryl

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank you Darryl. We all knew going in there maybe some things different at new race. Adapt and overcome. Yes, Weert, Netherlands June 2017. I started to type I was ready. I will be ready in seven months. Rob

      Reply
  15. Monica Parker

    So enjoyed reading this, your words made me feel as if I were there cheering you on!! Congratulations on all of the hard work and continue on. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  16. Jenny Robertson

    Rob you made me feel like I was there with you, you write almost a well as you race walk I have tears in my eyes
    I am so proud of you. Jenny

    Reply
    1. Rob Robertson Post author

      Thank you Jenny. I like to write about a race as quick as I can. While I am still emotionally attached to the event.

      Reply
      1. Tinkie Nortmann

        Rob, I could not have put this report in better words – you only forgot to mention that you bought all the M&M in the shop. It was such a honour meeting you. You were going so strong and it never looked at all if you were struggling – you looked so good from the beginning to the end. Hats off to each and every walker – even if they bailed out during the race. If they asked me after this endurance race (and remember I was only part of the relay race) I would have said “you will not be seeing me next year again”…..if you ask me today “I am saving money to participate 2017 again”. WAARS DIT LEKKER WHOOP WHOOP AFRICAN CENTURION IS LEKKER. Hope to see you again 2017.

        Reply
        1. Rob Robertson Post author

          Thank you Tinkie. Funny you wrote out WHOOP WHOOP. When I read them I could her your voice. Rob

          Reply

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