by Marius Van Rensburg
Most people would be happy to complete one 100mile ultra-trail footrace in their lifetime. Maybe even to complete one 100-miler in a year. But in South Africa, the race directors of four of the 100 - mile ultra-trail footraces joined forces and came up with an idea similar to the triple crown of 200- milers in the USA – to complete four 100milers in a calendar year, collectively known as AMUK. To run amok is to run riot or wild; to behave in a frenzied, out-of-control, or unrestrained manner. Amok comes from a Malay word for “frenzied” and was adopted into English, and at first spelled amuck, in the second half of the 1600s.
Addo Elephant Trail Run (Known as Africa’s Wildest Ultra and oldest Ultra) As you run through the Addo Elephant National Park- you might run into or see one of the Big 7 (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Southern Right Whale, and Great White Shark) while you’re out on your race!
- 100 miles (South Africa’s oldest 100 Mile Ultra)
- 5,640m Elevation gain
- 31% DNF
Ultra-Trail Drakensberg. Run through the South African Highlands at over 11,000 ft in elevation in the Drakensberg mountains. You start in the “Mountain Kingdom” of Lesotho before running back into South Africa. Encounter breathtaking views along your journey on epic spots such as Sani Pass.
- 100 Miles (Africa’s highest race)
- 5,638m elevation Gain
- 7,015M elevation descending
MacMac Ultra (Known as Africa’s Freshest Ultra) Starting in the old mining town of Pilgrims Rest, you find your way through some of the most beautiful valleys, over mountains, grasslands, and lush indigenous forests, traverse multiple river crossings (which once was home to the Nile Crocodile) and plantations. The scenery of this race is spectacular.
- 200 Miles
- 15,000m Elevation gain
- 90hr Race Time limit
Karkloof 100mile Trail Endurance Race, as you travel through ancient forests, wetlands, and grasslands. This race will keep the whole family entertained with a flatter and faster route than the three mentioned earlier (but don’t be fooled, it’s still a tough 100miler!). Pacers are allowed from 50miles until the finish line. This is the perfect grand finale of AMUK, with a vibe that gets the adrenaline pumping.
- 100 Miles
- 3,500m elevation gain
- 36hr Race Time limit
Only six people have completed AMUK, and Marius is the first South African to complete the AMUK+.
Physical and Mental Prep
Each race has unique characteristics and challenges, so my physical prep for a race would be adapted depending on the terrain, the elevation and altitude, and the temperatures. For a race like Addo, where the heat is scorching, I would instead train during the hottest time of the day; for Ultra-trail Drakensberg, I would try to train at the highest possible altitude available to me (even though I still have a day job), for MacMac I frequently trained on the route, recce-ing the beautiful area during the months leading up to the race — knowing what to expect during large sections of the race helped with the race planning regarding nutrition. For example, a 5km technical section of trail will require a different nutrition than a runnable 5km
The mental prep for these races slots in with the race research and recce-ing. When I start packing and planning for a race, I envision myself on the route and what time I will arrive at aid stations. Even though I enjoy running ultra-marathons so much, I mentally prepare myself for a suffer-fest out there since things will go wrong. I also remind myself that I am not the only person in this race and that the other people will also experience these same mental and physical lows and highs that I am experiencing. That’s what makes ultra-running such a great sport – the camaraderie during these shared misery experiences has changed my life; I’ve met some of my best friends during these ultras.
Getting into running and ultra-running
It all started in April 2017, when I decided to start jogging to lose 10kg after spending four months in rehab following a knee operation.
Initially, I just ran the regular 5km (3miles) or so, but soon I started challenging myself to go faster and further, so after three months, I ran a 30km (18.5miles) trail. Then, a friend who was emigrating to Australia persuaded me to join him on my first ultra-distance trail as a farewell. It was the 65km (40miles) SkyRun in the Witteberg mountains, Eastern Cape province, South Africa. I completed that race in November 2017 in 16 hours. It was the best experience of my life, and I was hooked.
Longer distances followed, but during the Covid-19 lock down in 2020, I decided that I wanted to run even further, and the idea of the 100mile distance, AMUK, and then the 200mile distance popped into my head.
My introduction to Hammer Nutrition was accidental. During the Karkloof 100miler race in September 2020, my body rejected the bars I was using. I started training on a fruit puree. I approached the race with my nutrition weighing way too much for a 100mile ultra. The evening before the race, our team nutritionist recommended that I use Hammer Perpetuem® as my nutrition. Taking a massive gamble with untested nutrition on race day, my pack was lighter, and I was faster, running a top 10. No gut/GI issues whatsoever, and this was a game changer for me.
Fueling during the MacMac 200 miler victory
During the 200miler, I started with an Endurolytes® Extreme, Endurolytes® Fizz, a Hammer Gel®, and a HEED®, 30 minutes before the race.
During the first 3 hours of the race, I used three portions of HEED®, after which I started alternating every hour to 90 minutes between HEED® and Perpetuem®. Every 2 hours, I would take a Hammer Gel® (the apple cinnamon just melted in my mouth, and I really fell in love with the flavor), and if it were hot, I would take an Endurolytes® Extreme capsule as well. When I got hungry, I would have a Hammer Bar®.
When it was colder and nighttime running, I would rather do 2hr to 4hr bottles of Perpetuem®. 1 serving = 1hr to 1.5hrs, 2 servings = 2hrs to 3hrs, etc.
Even with all this specialized race nutrition, I still had ‘normal food’ like lentil soup, bananas, peanut butter, dry worms (dried sausage), and biltong, a South African delicacy similar to beef jerky. The Hammer Flask worked superbly. I could fill it up with up to 5 Hammer Gels and take a sip of gel when needed, with no empty sachets to discard and no sticky mess in my hydration pack. No mess, no fuss.
Recoverite® helped me consume the correct ratio of carbs, protein, and electrolytes post-race, allowing my body to recover optimally.