Columnists 13.12.2017 08:43 am

Stretching competition into realms of insanity

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

The challenges organisers of endurance sports come up with never cease to amaze me.

Or should I rather say, how there is never a shortage of participants willing to sign up once the gauntlet has been thrown down for something the vast majority of people will find insane. In running for example, you get such a lovely variety of distances.

There are 5km events, 10km races, half-marathons and the standard 42.2km marathons.

But these didn’t present a big enough challenge to everyone and subsequently the term ultra-marathon had to be invented for those venturing beyond the good old Olympic standards.

In this category you get your more subtle distances with a variety of 50km races and the very popular 56km Two Oceans.

You then move on to South Africa’s most iconic road race the Comrades Marathon, where the distance alternates between rough averages of 87km and 89km for the Up and Down runs respectively.

To most people this would already be pushing the outer realms of insanity, but little do they know that people take on even far bigger challenges.

Although the masses who enter Comrades wane considerably the further you move up in distance, there are nonetheless a handful of 100 Milers around in Mzansi that has stood the test of time.

None so than the Washie down in the Eastern Cape, which is run annually from Port Alfred to East London.

There is only one way to describe a 160km road race which starts 5pm on Friday afternoon and allow its runners until 7pm the next night to cross the finish line.

In the words of Tom Cottrell, author of the annual Runners Guide: “Inevitably the inspiration for organising something quite as insane as a 100-mile race came over a few beers.”

And that is not the only seemingly insane endurance challenge where alcohol surely had a prominent hand in.

Four decades ago during the awards ceremony of a relay race in Hawaii, endurance athletes were debating over who were the fitter between runners, swimmers and cyclists.

They settled the debate for once and for all by combining three long-distance events in Hawaii, the Waikiki Roughwater Swim over 3.86km, the Around-Oahu Bike Race over 185.07km and the Honolulu Marathon (42.2km).

Standard length triathlons were born only a few years before in the United States but already people were moving the boundaries by a country mile with the start of Ironman, which remains the pinnacle of long-distances triathlons with dozens of annual races around the globe.

Then last week I saw something that will probably make at least one faint out of a Comrades, Washie or Ironman finisher.

It’s a category in the Dakar Rally called Malle Moto.

Now even if you are one of the rock stars in a leading car with a team of mechanics and an aircon bus to sleep in, the Dakar is a mother of a tough race.

Malle Moto is beyond comprehension. No less than 20 motorcyclists will line up to take on the gruelling 8 276km over two weeks with no assistance whatsoever.

If a stage takes someone 15 hours to complete and the rider needs to replace a broken shock overnight during the five hours he could have utilised for much-needed sleep, so be it.

Somehow I can’t get the catch phrase made famous by Obelix, the animated character Asterix’s loveable sidekick, out of my head.

Indeed, these Romans are crazy.

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