The Ehunmilak (pronounced Hue-mee-ak) is a 168 kilometre mountain race that starts and finishes in the town square of Beasain, in the Basque country of Spain. With over 11000 metres of ascent and descent it is one of the tougher hundred mile races out there, and it is a lot more technical than Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc. It does not present the altitude issues of many mountain races however, because the course starts close to sea level, and reaches an altitude of just over 1500 metres at the highest point. This means that most of the course is below the tree line. The most challenging feature of the event is the fact that many of the descents are too steep and treacherous to run down. I often found myself reminded of the Bob Graham Round, and my quads really took a beating on the descents. The course is divided into sections of about ten kilometres, and every section that I completed had a technically challenging part somewhere. This event takes no prisoners. Once it puts you down, it keeps you down. My own attempt ended when I was timed out at the 112 kilometre checkpoint.
If the 168 kilometre event is too rich for your blood, then the organisers offer an 88 kilometre event called the G2H, and a trail marathon called the Marimurumend.
All Ehunmilak entrants are given free access to the pasta party, which is held in a 15th century mill close to the start line, on the morning of the race. Here you are free to choose from a wide range of pasta, rice and bread dishes, and there is even beer and wine on tap! The organisers will let you take your plate back and refill it as many times as you want.
The support structure of the race is modelled on that of Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc, and the course marking and checkpoint support is of a comparable standard. The checkpoints have something of a Spanish twist to them, offering tapas and Spanish cheese, along with the usual range of foods. This is unequivocally a world class event, and this is very impressive given that entry can be had on request, without the need to go through a lottery. It also only cost about £80, before the pound crashed in value. The only thing holding the event back is the fact that the local infrastructure is not quite up to supporting it. Chamonix and Davos are major destinations for ski tourists, while Beasain is a quiet town out in the sticks.
The local people are every bit as enthusiastic about this event, as their counterparts in France are about Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc. They come out in the pouring rain to cheer the runners on, but instead of shouting Alez Alez, they shout Animo Animo!
The nearest airport to the town of Beasain is Bilbao, and they are separated by about 85 kilometres. There is a bus service between Bilbao and Beasain which runs twice every day. The fact that the service is infrequent does put you in a difficult position, if something goes wrong. There are however busses every hour between Bilbao and San Antonio, and trains every hour between San Antonio and Beasain. Although this is a circuitous route, it can be used to bail you out if something goes wrong with the bus from Bilbao to Beasain.
I strongly recommend that you book your hotel in Beasain well in advance of the event. Hotels in Beasain sell out long before the event, and the bus service between Beasain and the surrounding towns is sketchy at best. If you book rooms in Beasain then you will not be at the mercy of the local bus service.
Spanish is often spoken as a second language in the Basque country, so having a good grasp of English is rare compared to other part
My advice to anybody wishing to undertake this race would be to carry two litres of water, and to refill their hydration bladder at every checkpoint, whether you think you will need the water or not. I would further advise that you wear some kind of running hat, and have a buff to wear round your neck. You can then soak the buff periodically, and it will cool the blood traveling to your brain.
The organisers of the Addo Elephant Trail 100, aspire to create a 100 mile event to rival the best in Europe and North America, and they are well on their way to doing it. The organisation was immaculate. The real x factor with this race is the wildlife, which can make for a truly magical running experience. During my run I would encounter antelopes of various descriptions, kudu, baboons, jackals, and a lot of dung beetles. Some of the trails used in the race, had been closed off to park staff for fifteen years, so the animals were not afraid to let humans approach them! Finishers in this race receive a rather nice belt buckle, and the race pack includes a t shirt, running cap, and a pair of sleeves. I am glad that I took the risk of traveling out to South Africa, to participate in this race. It was a running experience of a lifetime.
When I ran Comrades in 2011, I got talking to the local runners about the races that they respected. They were saying things like “Comrades is a fine event, and so is Two Oceans, but why don’t more overseas runners want to do the Addo Elephant Trail?” They then told me stories about this amazing trail race around the Addo Game Reserve, where runners go up close and personal with the local wildlife. The Addo Game Reserve is the wildest game park in South Africa, being one of the few where the land has never been used for agricultural purposes. It is home to the big five (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo), and even overlooks a coast where Southern Right Whales and Great White sharks can be sighted. The event has traditionally included 44k and 76k distances, and a 100 mile race which was discontinued many years ago. Last year the race came under new management, who were determined to resurrect the 100 mile event. Having a bit of a passion for 100 milers, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.
Travel and Accommodation
The nearest airport to the Addo Game Reserve is Port Elizabeth, and it is about an hour’s drive to get there. It is desirable to spend a couple of days in Port Elizabeth before the race, to get rid of the jet lag, and let your legs loosen up. Port Elizabeth is a popular tourist destination, so there is plenty to occupy you there, both before and after the race. Overseas runners usually rent a car, and drive themselves to Addo. In my case the race organiser’s even sent a car to collect me from the airport, and drive me to the Addo Game Reserve. Once at Addo you can rent a room in the safari lodge be warned that it occasionally gets raided by Vervet Monkeys), or book a site to pitch a tent on. There is a very good restaurant on site called the Cattle Barron. It is a straightforward enough matter to book a game tour, either before or after the race.
A fence is kept between the competitors and most of the more dangerous animals of the Addo Game Reserve, but there are none the less animal dangers to be prepared for. Top of the list are hippopotamuses which are very territorial, and respond aggressively if you get between them and the water at night. We were advised at the race brief that if we encountered a hippopotamus at night, we should switch off our head torch, and lie face down on the ground until it passes. The other concern is snakes, because the Addo Game Reserve is home to a few poisonous varieties. Leopards can also be encountered on parts of the course, but they are shy animals, and will seek to avoid encounters with runners.
Even if you set the wildlife to one side, this is one of the more interesting 100 mile races that I have crossed swords with. The course consisted of a mixture of rough dirt tracks, rocky paths, and jeep tracks. The views were spectacular. It is not an event to be taken lightly. It has 5500 metres of ascent in total, but it punches well above its weight, due to the technical nature of parts of the course. The event that it reminded me of the most was the Wasatch Front 100, which had a similarly varied and interesting course. Participants are allowed 37 hours to complete the course, and it is advisable to reach the half-way point in 15 hours or less, in order to stay within the cut-offs.
Temperatures in the Addo Game Reserve are severe. The thermometer had climbed to 46 Celsius in the week before my visit, but it had mercifully fallen to an unseasonably cool level by the time of my visit. Even so, the heat made this an extremely challenging event, and it took me to the edge of disaster at least once.