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Trail running champ…

When it comes to road running in SA, the Comrades Marathon is seen as the ultimate challenge. In the trail running world, it’s completing a 100 Miler. Salt Rock’s Andrew Erasmus recently placed second in the popular Karkloof 100 Miler – for the third time!

“It was probably the toughest mental journey I’ve ever been on,” says Andrew about his recent 20-hour endurance run in the Karkloof valley, just outside Howick. “But I have to go back next year. I have to win it,” he laughs.
Andrew, a 39-year-old landscape manager, has become well known in the South African trail and endurance running circles. He almost always finishes on the podium and often wins his races.

He is highly competitive and loves pushing boundaries and trying new routes and challenges. He also loves helping fellow runners achieve their goals.
Growing up in Johannesburg, both Andrew and his twin brother Steven, who he is very close to, were skilled athletes, particularly in running disciplines.
Andrew moved to Cape Town after school and, at the age of 24, joined his brother who was already living in Ballito. “I had stopped doing sports and started partying, probably a little too hard. It was my brother who convinced me to get into mountain biking when I moved here and it completely changed my life. I started enjoying a healthier lifestyle and became a better person.”
Although he competed in a few mountain biking races, Andrew says he always ended up with a puncture – or getting lost! “My brother got me to do some adventure races with him (which includes running, paddling, cycling, swimming and abseiling) and we realised we did really well in the running part. So, we branched off and focussed on running.”
Andrew’s first marathon was the Sani Stagger, which he did in preparation for the Comrades Marathon in 2010.

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He discovered his love for trail running when he and his brother took part in the Mnweni Marathon – a self-navigated trail race in the Drakensberg – in 2012. They placed fifth and vowed they would come back the following year and win it, which they did. After that, Andrew dived into as many races as he could. He s was sponsored by Salomon and says his then fiancée (now wife) Louise, was very patient while he spent almost every weekend running in the mountains!

Amongst his many achievements, Andrew has placed second in the Fish River 100km twice and won in the African X mixed team stage race. In 2018 he came third in the extremely challenging Ultra Trail Drakensberg 100 Miler. He took some time off from races when his daughter was born in 2019 and the 2020 lockdown put things on hold a little longer.
This year, he has managed to achieve a FKT (fastest known time) for the Drakensberg Northern Traverse, as well as for a new project called Sea to Summit, which saw him and a fellow runner being the first to run over 355km from the lowest point in South Africa (Durban) to the highest (the peak of Mafadi Mountain in the Drakensberg) over three days.
“I love long distance runs. You have to plan carefully and really get your training right. You want to have had enough training to be competitive at the start, without being injured. It’s also important that you plan your race and nutrition carefully. Mental strength is hugely important. You can beat people who are faster runners than you if your mind is stronger than theirs. I often jokingly say that distance runners simply have the ability to suffer a little more than others …”

Andrew came second in his first Karkloof 100 Miler in 2017 and had a great race. He finished just three minutes behind the winner. This year was a little different.
“It was probably the worst race of my life,” he admits. “I got really sick about 20km in and couldn’t keep any food down. I was lucky to have my brother and an incredible crew to help push me. Every time I saw them, I got the rush of adrenalin I needed to get me going again. At halfway, I was about five minutes behind the leaders in third and fourth place, but I was completely empty and just wanted to sit down. Steven wouldn’t let me and encouraged me to start chasing the leaders. About 4km later I was finished. I could barely put one foot in front of the other, but he wouldn’t let me lie down. It was one of the darkest places I’ve been to, mentally, and he really helped me through it.”

Despite being ill and running in nearly 40-degree heat, Andrew took second place. “It was a really cool achievement. Pulling myself out of that horrible place mentally was very hard, but I guess that’s why we do races like this – to see how far we can push ourselves. I couldn’t have done it without my fantastic team, though.”

Andrew says the reason he loves the Karkloof 100 is because there are loads of spectators, as well as crew and pacers. “It’s special. There are so many people rooting for you and finishing with a pacer is great because you get to share that moment with someone.”
So, what’s next for the adventure athlete? “Next month a group of us are going to help a friend break the ladies record for the Drakensberg grand traverse, which entails running from one end of the Drakensberg to the other, over all the major peaks! There are a few other races planned, including the Ultra Trail Drakensberg in April and then, of course, I have to go back to Karkloof to hopefully clinch the first place in 2022!”

Text: Leah Shone

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