Words: Lisa de Speville | Photo: Zoon Cronje
With only three days until the The Otter African Trail Run, K-Way athlete Andre ‘AJ’ Calitz is looking forward to the challenge of both the route and competing against local and international runners.
Back in June Calitz competed in two races abroad.
“The Otter just seems to get bigger every year,” he says. “In France and Spain the overseas runners were talking about it. The media hype around it is mad!”
A top-quality event with a challenging course, The Otter is certain to attract interest. And this year Calitz will be up against Kenyan runners, Jared Omwoyo Nyakoe and Silas Kipchirchir Soy, as well as Great Britain’s Ricky Lightfoot. Lightfoot was crowned the 2013 Trail Running World Champion in July.
“Lightfoot’s obliteration of the rest of the 18-nation field in Wales three months ago sent shockwaves through trail running world,” says the Magnetic South team, organisers of The Otter.
“South Africa’s aspirants will be hoping that the relentlessly technical Otter Run course will test his trail dexterity as much as it will test his endurance.”
Last year Calitz ran neck-and-neck with Iain Don-Wauchope on the West-to-East RETTO course where Don-Wauchope set the course record of 04h23. Calitz came in a few minutes later to take second place on his first running of this race. This year the 42-kilometre course reverts back to its ‘classic’ East-to-West direction – from Storms River to Nature’s Valley. The time-to-beat is 4h40, the record set by Ryan Sandes in 2011.
Over the past two years Calitz has set more course records than he has fingers (and toes) on which to count these achievements. But he doesn’t go into races aiming to set records.
“I take races as they come and if, near the end, I see that I’m target for the record, then I give it a go. As far as Otter is concerned, I won’t go out and try to break the record; if it is on, it is on.”
Calitz is one of a number of strong South African runners with a shot at The Otter podium.
Three weeks ago Calitz ran against marathon-speedster Lucky Miya at the four-day Namaqua Quest. Although Miya won this race, which was run on mostly flat terrain, Calitz’s technical and climbing prowess should keep Miya at bay on The Otter’s rocky trails. Calitz is sure to have South African Trail Running Champion Thabang Madiba hot on his heels as well as Madiba’s national team mates Kane Reilly and Michael Bailey.
But it is Calitz, according to Magnetic South, who was picked by fellow contenders in a confidential poll as the favourite to lead the local charge.
Crossing the line at The Otter last year Calitz commented that he’d taken a bit of a gamble by going out hard and adding, “but I think with my knowledge of the route, I will certainly come back stronger next year.”
So, this time around he’s taking The Otter a lot more seriously – in preparation and strategy. Having turned his passion into a career, no matter how seriously this good-humoured runner takes his training and participation, running is still about places, people and being outdoors.
“Incredible runners and an epic course... it should be goooood fun,” he adds with a smile.
Keep up with Calitz’ adventures by following him on Facebook - @runajcalitz.
The Otter Run – the event for competitive athletes – will be held on Sunday, 22 September 2013. Follow the race on www.theotter.co.za or through Facebook and Twitter @ottertrailrun.