November is a running mixed bag for record-setting trail runner AJ Calitz. With the high-intensity Red Bull LionHeart event only a week before the ultra-distance Salomon SkyRun, he will be changing gears and attempting to stand on the podium at both events. On road, the equivalent would be a 5,000-metre champion aiming for Comrades glory. Can this K-Way athlete do it?
Two years ago Calitz set the pace at the inaugural Red Bull LionHeart, a 4, 4-kilometre duel from the base of Cape Town’s Lion’s Head peak to the top and back down again. Rather than a mass start, the race pits runners against each other in a head-to-head duel. Contenders run again and again, knocking out rivals on their climb up the ranks. Last year Calitz defended his title and beat Thabang Madiba by a mere 11 seconds to claim his second LionHeart title – and setting a new course record (26:46) at the same time.
Calitz has been training on Lion’s Head in preparation for this year’s event, which takes place on Saturday 15 November. When asked how he aims to pull back more seconds from his previous record runs, Calitz replies, “It is always possible to go faster; I am a lot faster on the downs this year”.
He finds the stretch of jeep track to be the hardest section of the course. “Coming down from the top is quite a rush!” he adds.
Calitz is back for the third time. Aside from defending his crown, he is attracted to the race because of its man-on-man heat setup. “Whoever is prepared to hurt the most will win,” he says.
A week later Calitz transitions physically – and mentally – from the fast-paced action of LionHeart to the 100-kilometre mountain race, SkyRun. He has been out in the Witteberg mountains, familiarising himself with the route and the terrain.
“Yes, it helps a lot to be familiar with the course; route knowledge is 60% of the race at this event. To be fair, with racing at altitude and living at sea level I have to manage my expectations.”
Last year the race was cut short due to bad weather. Howling wind, torrential ice-rain and fog brought dangerous conditions to the mountains and Calitz, who was chasing race leader Iain Don-Wauchope, was nearly hypothermic and he withdrew from the race. He learned from this experience.
“Last year was rough,” he says of his first experience at SkyRun. “I learned that I should start slower because it is a long day out. Also, I have to focus on navigation, pacing and nutrition from the start.”
Red Bull LionHeart is on Saturday, 15 November 2014. If you are not able to cheer from the slops of Lion’s Head, the race can be followed online through the Red Bull LionHeart website (www.redbulllionheart.com). The Salomon SkyRun (www.skyrun.co.za) starts before sunrise on Saturday, 22 November 2014 from the town of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. The most up-to-date content during the race will appear on the event organiser’s Facebook page (Pure Adventures).
Also follow K-Way on Facebook (K-Way SA) for images and news of Calitz as he takes on these two gruelling events.