Walking 100 miles in 24 hours. This is the challenge that faces a hardy group of athletes who will tackle the fourth annual African Centurion at the Coetzenburg Stadium in Stellenbosch on 26 and 27 October.
South Africa is host to the annual African leg of the prestigious international Centurion 100-mile (161 km) endurance race walking series, with a tough group of international and local athletes set to tackle the tough challenge next month.
The Coetzenburg event, which is sponsored by Old Mutual and Standard Bank, starts at 09:00 on Saturday the 26th, and will see the 100-mile hopefuls circulating 54 times around a flat, 3 km course for up to 24 hours, as they attempt to earn a place in the elite club of Centurions.
Joining the individual athletes in their 160 km quest will be teams of two or four athletes, who will attempt to complete the same course, but at least have the chance to take some rest as their teammates share the load.
The African Centurion is the sixth leg of an international series of events that has its roots in 1878, when 34 athletes attempted to complete 161 km in 24 hours in New York City. According to The New York Times, just three people finished that event with JB Gillie earning the honour of forever being known as the original C1 – the first person to complete the 161-km distance.
The Centurion Walk initiative was formalised in 1911, with an event in Britain and, 138 years after Gillie’s victory in New York, the African Centurion became the seventh official 100-Mile Centurion event in 2016.
The other official races are now held annually in Britain, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand, while the Malaysian Centurion has not been held since 2007.
Just one athlete, Briton Sandra Brown, has completed all seven different versions of the Centurion challenge. Remarkably, the time span between her first and seventh 100-mile walk was 34 years.
Brown completed her first 100-miler in 1982 and completed this unique full house in 2016 at the first African Centurion.
The international nature of the event was clearly demonstrated in 2018, with Andy Green of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea won the men’s event in his first stab at the 161-km distance, while Sharon Scholz from Australia claimed the women’s title.
Scholz walked the entire event with her husband, Justin, at her side.
For both it was their sixth different Centurion event, and they have finished them all side by side.
“We are very excited to have brought such a prestigious world event to Africa,” said African Centurion race organiser Nour Addine Ayyoub, who himself finished the 2017 African Centurion walk in 23 hours 44 minutes. “This year’s race will be the fourth time we are holding the African Centurion, and we excited athletes are once again coming from all over the world to take part in the event as well as getting the opportunity to see and experience South Africa.
“There is no doubt the African Centurion is a tough event, even for the four-man teams, but since its inception it has continued to grow and deserves its place alongside other famous South African endurance events like the Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons.
“The local race record is 19 hours 42 minutes and one second set by the African Centurion C1, Richard Garrard, who won the first event in 2016, so we can expect the first finisher to complete the 100 miles in around 20 hours.
“But then there will be other athletes who are battling for the full 24 hours to make the cut off at 09:00 on Sunday.”
The entry fee is R795 per person.
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