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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'100 milers take EVERYTHING out of a person' - Miyelani Vilankulu shares her Washie experience

With the Christmas festivities and New Year's celebrations behind us, many runners are back in their running shoes and working towards their 2024 goals. And while many South Africans will have written a Comrades or Two Oceans Marathon race into their running calendars, only a select few will be aiming to go further than those ultra marathons and take on a 100 mile race. At almost twice the distance of The Ultimate Human Race, a race like the Washie 100 miler demands careful preparation not just in the training phase, but also on race day when personal seconds are needed to help one over the finish line.

"You are guaranteed to give up many times in a 100miler race, and this is where your mental strength will carry you. Always remember WHY you are doing it and trust training.  7km into the Washie I hit a brick wall, I doubted myself and thought I will not make it. I quickly changed my thinking, I visualised the finish line and started breaking down the race into manageable sections," explained Miyelani Vilankulu who earned her first Washie 100 Miler medal last year.

Looking back on her 2023 Washie experience, the Fat Cats runner revealed much to our surprise that she only decided to run the 161km race in East London only four days before it took place. It all started with a phone call from her friend Minè Swart who called her to wish her a happy birthday on the 26th of July. In 2018 Vilankulu had been part of Zanele Matlala's Washie team which they had run as part of a mental health awareness advocacy campaign called #Rise18. It was during that first visit to Cathcart that she had met Swart and their friendship blossomed. Five years earlier, Vilankulu completed the 100 miles but finished after the cut off, so when Swart told her that she would be running her tenth Washie in 2023, she made the decision to run.

"Unfortunately in 2018 I finished the race 30 seconds late. I ran the whole 161km only to learn that I missed the cut off by 30 seconds. I was devastated. I have since gone back to Cathcart/East London every year to support fellow runners on their Washie journey. I knew that I would go back to finish what I started, I just didn’t think the this would be the year that I line up again. In 2018 I had developed a personal relationship with Minè, so when she called me on my birthday and told me that she was lining up for her tenth Washie, I just knew that I had to line up because I wanted to support her, the same way she supported me in 2018. So I called Sheena ( race organiser) and told her that I needed an entry. Fast forward, with no training whatsoever I ran and finished the Washie 100miler 2023," said the woman who has also completed one Karkloof Trail 100 mile race.

Vilankulu poses for a photo with her club mates after completing a trail race. Photo Credit: Fat Cats AC.

25 hours 47 minutes and 56 seconds is what it took for Miyelani to cross the finish line. But in truth it took a lot more than just the time on her feet because she had to call on her well of deep personal reserves to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The woman who has three Comrades Marathon medals to her name says running 100 milers and trail runs where she is more active these days is deeply rewarding because it pushes you to be the best you can be.

"Going into 100mile races takes EVERYTHING out of a person. Once you have made the decision to run a 100mile race, you have to prepare mentally for it. You move into a different zone of thinking. Running is not just an achievement, it’s a daily discipline that has nothing to do with speed, weight, social status etc. It is about the slow and painful process of being the best you can be, That’s why the first step out the door is always so hard – that’s when you choose between settling for average and being a superhero version of yourself."

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