Words: Lisa de Speville | Photo: Ian Corless
K-Way athlete AJ Calitz heads off to Spain this week for the Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia, a 42-kilometre mountain race in the rural Basque Region of Spain. Calitz ran Zegama last year but a bad fall - and gashed shin - took him out of the race with 14 kilometres to go.
Going into this year's race, Calitz has the advantage this time around of knowing what he is in for with regards to the route, competitive runners and the weather conditions.
"Last year I was completely overwhelmed by the route and the other athletes," he says. "This year, I am much better prepared, fitter and stronger; both physically and mentally."
The Zegama route suits Calitz's phenomenal hill climbing abilities. The route crosses the Aratz massif and the Sierra of Aizkorri, which includes the four highest peaks in the area, to accumulate 5,472 metres of elevation gain.
Added to the challenge of the gnarly, technical terrain, steep climbs and slip-and-slide descents is one of the most competitive fields around. Zegama is the who's who of trail running.
"In the words of trail running journalist and photographer Ian Corless: 'If you want to have a World trail running ranking, run Zegama'," Calitz explains.
"I will give my best and aim to get a good result."