Calitz tames the toughest SkyRun to date

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After six attempts, AJ Calitz, has finally managed to add the 100km SkyRun to the list of his achievements. PHOTO: CRAIG KOLESKY/NIKON

The 2018 K-Way SkyRun in the Witteberg Mountain will go down in history as the toughest to date, due to a last minute route change and searing heat in the region during the event.

The SkyRun has long been regarded as the premium mountain running event in South Africa and even in perfect conditions, it is one of the toughest endurance events in the country. By contrast to this time a year ago when the SkyRun was run largely in the snow, this year it was the total opposite with the runners competing in heat in excess of 40°C. This led to only 121 of the 100-km runners in both men’s and women’s races completing the course. The 65-km SkyRun Lite also delivered its fair share of casualties with only 80 competitors being able to cross the finish-line.

Apart from the heat, the route was changed at the 11th hour by the organisers, Pure Adventures, due to service delivery protests in Lady Grey, and ultimately the safety of the runners was paramount.

All this makes the win by the 2018 champion and K-Way runner, AJ Calitz, even that more special. In his sixth attempt at the SkyRun, Calitz finally managed to get the monkey off of his back after coming so close on numerous occasions. Calitz tamed the route in 15:18:30, which is quite a long way off the record of Iain Don-Wauchope. However, technically speaking, as it was a new route, Calitz, is now also the proud owner of a SkyRun 100-km record.

The women’s race was a collective effort between Tarrin van Niekerk and Tracy Zunckel who crossed the line together to share the spoils in a time of 20:46:04. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and this kind of gesture is typical SkyRun, bringing out the best of mankind.

The route change meant that the competitors all had to tackle the dreaded Wall twice, as opposed to just once, and that in its own right is a challenge that can finish off even the best of athletes.

A delighted Calitz told Bloemfontein Courant that it was without a doubt the toughest SkyRun to date, but when life throws you a lemon, you’ve just got to make lemonade. “The conditions are the same for everyone. It is a decision you make beforehand, you train for months and you incur all the expenses to get there, and once you get there, conditions change. That’s life, unfortunately. Sometimes these things happen and best you can do is to put on a brave face and do your best.

“I remember leaving home and telling my wife that I don’t really care what happens. I am just going to enjoy it and have a smile on my face as much as I can, for as long as I can. Things did change due to the unforeseen circumstances in Lady Grey and we had to the Wall twice. The only thing better than doing the Wall once is doing it twice.

“We had some fun, it was hot and it was difficult out there, but it was an incredible mountain adventure.”

The new champion added that although the new route was interesting, the SkyRun is all about the traditions and the familiar faces, and these are what make a truly special event.

“On the one hand I do think that it was fabulous that they did have a bit of a route change because it does shake things up, but one the other hand, it was really nice being part of the tradition of heading back to Lady Grey, staying with the same people and becoming friends with the people from Wartrail and Lady Grey.

“Ultimately the decision of changing the route is really up to the organisers, but we had some really good fun out there. It was really interesting doing the route in reverse and it was a very-very tough year out there.”

The 65-km SkyRun Lite was won by the farm laborer, Sampie Makoekoe, from Moolmanshoek, in 11:19:51. As the 4Peaks is hosted at Moolmanshoek every year, Makoekoe is a regular top three finisher of that particular race. Ritza Fouché was the first woman to cross the line in 13:11:16.

Grobler Basson and Mpaki Moolmanshoek won the men’s section in the 38-km race in 4:41:44, while Cleo Albertus won the women’s section in 6:09:03. – MORGAN PIEK