A tumble takes Calitz out of Zegama
It was the race of his life. His first opportunity to run against the likes of Kilian Jornet, Luis Alberto Hernando and other ‘big boys’. 34 minutes into the race he was in 4th, with only eight seconds separating first and fifth. And then, with only 14 kilometers to go a bad fall resulted in a deep slice under his knee that even stitches couldn’t hold closed. The race doctor removed K-Way athlete Andre Calitz’s race number. He would not be allowed to continue.
“I crossed the finish line in an ambulance… not quite what I had in mind!” he recalls of his run at Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia, a 42-kilometre mountain race in the rural Basque Region of Spain. This was the first event of the high-profile 2013 Skyrunner® World Series.
Calitz says that the race briefing was packed with trail running’s elite, sponsored athletes and a host of locals, which he says are “better runners than the elites!”.
“Winning a trail run here is like winning a running race in Kenya or Ethopia. They take their running very seriously! A 3D flyover at briefing showed us what we were in for, but nothing can prepare you for it.”
Calitz describes the atmosphere in the town as “electric” and says that the whole region comes to a standstill as all focus is turned to the race and the runners.
“Imagine ten or twenty thousand people crowding the slopes, with barely enough room to run through them and they’re shouting ‘Amigo roja’, meaning ‘Go red!’ Or ‘Sudafrica!’ And that’s just at the start…”
With K-Way as his sponsor, Calitz had a range of performance apparel to choose from for race day. He settled on wearing his K-Way shorts and custom-made K-Way sleeveless run vest, with his K-Way shell – compulsory race equipment – tucked away in case needed later.
“It was three degrees outside and so I warmed up with the guys that my wife and I were staying with, and took to the start line after asking Ian Corless from TalkUltra about kit and who to watch – and in which direction we start! No one speaks English, only Basque and Spanish. And we speak neither,” he explains.
Calitz recalls that the start countdown was on the town clock.
“And then mayhem began!” he says.
The race began with a loop around the town at a brisk three-minutes-per-kilometre pace and after only two minutes they hit the first climb.
“Kilian (Jornet) was on the front immediately with Hernandez and me in tow. We quickly made a gap on the rest and maintained that gap with one or two others until about 14km, where I realised I would have to slow down a bit if I wanted to finish strong.”
“Kilian is very, very impressive,” Calitz says. “The hills are relentless! Nothing we have in South Africa even comes close. There is NO grip and there are NO flat sections. The technical sections look like a moon landscape and the downhills are basically sheer drops, with rocks and mud for grip.”
On top of the mountain Calitz found snow.
“My first-ever snow experience was to rub some on my calves!” he says.
Working up the relentless climb to the highest peak in the race, Aizkorri, Calitz was about three minutes behind the leaders.
“The section between the two highest peaks – Aizkorri and Aitxuri – is like running on a cheese grater. And after Aitxuri there’s a MASSIVE downhill where we descend about 1,000 metres over only a 400-metre distance. Absolutely mad!”
Calitz – and everyone else – spent most of the descent on his bum. “I fell about 20 times,” he says.
“At the bottom of the hill, I was catching a group in front of me and I gave everything to catch up. I slipped at the very last section and came down immensely hard on my knee, cutting a huge gash down to the bone.”
The race doctor escorted Calitz to an ambulance saying that he could continue if she could get stitches in. The wound proved too deep and his skin too thick for stitches so the doctor used staples instead – without anaesthetic!
“She took my race number and told me she could not allow me to carry on. A 90-minute ambulance trip took me across the finish line.”
Although his race ended in disappointment, Calitz is upbeat as his experience at Zegama-Aizkorri brought with it so many positives.
“I ran with Kilian Jornet, led the race, touched snow, scared the European runners and made international trail media – no one had a clue as to who this guy running with Kilian was! During the run I chatted to Kilian and Hernando about their time in South Africa and I was humbled by these runners who grow up in the mountains. I do not exaggerate when I say that I am a complete novice compared to these guys. I have much to learn.
“Running through crowds of people all screaming your name and patting you on the back – just like Tour de France in the old days. This was the most beautiful scenery ever, most technical run ever, hardest and longest climbs ever, most pain ever… They had no anaesthetic for the staples… All in all, AWESOME! Thank you for the support and prayers – it made all the difference! I will be back at Zegama for sure!
Calitz will remain in Europe for the next two weeks. He is scheduled to run the 100-kilometre Verdon Canyon Challenge (www.trailverdon.com) in France on the weekend of 15-16 June 2013.
- Kilian Jornet, 3h54’38” *
- Luis Alberto Hernando, 3h54”50’
- Tadei Pivk, 3h59’07”
* men’s record of 3h54’18” set by Rob Jebb in 2005 still stands
- Emelie Forsberg, 4h48’12” **
- Nuria Picas, 4h49’55”
- Stevie Kremer, 4h49’58”
** women’s record of 4h38’19” set by Emanuela Brizio in 2009 still stands
Event website (English): www.zegama-aizkorri.net/web-en/default.aspx
Race images, athlete interviews and profiles – iancorless.org