After running 100 kilometres, it is heartbreaking to miss setting a new record by little over a kilometre in distance. For this year’s running of the Fish River Canyon Ultra, his only goal was to break the hiking trail route record. Missing it by only eight minutes was heartbreaking for K-Way athlete AJ Calitz.
The 100 kilometre-route of the Fish River Canyon Ultra starts near Hobas and finishes at Ais-Ais. The race course follows the Fish River as winds downstream, creating more than 20 bends and river crossings. The terrain of the valley includes deep sand and long stretches where runners run, walk, leap and balance through challenging boulder fields. Even in winter, temperatures in the valley soar – as they did on race day.
“It was a seriously hot day,” says Calitz after the race. “It must have climbed into the mid-30s in the canyon.”
The route of the Fish River Canyon Ultra incorporates the popular 90-kilometre Fish River Hiking Trail; the race starts with an additional 10-kilometre section to round the total race distance up to 100 kilometres. It’s on the 90-kilometre, measured, hiking-trail route, which is usually completed by hikers in four or five days, that Ryan Sandes established the time-to-beat of 6 hours 57 minutes in August 2012. This is the record that Calitz was aiming to better.
Calitz says that he felt terrible most of the way, hitting a really low patch from 30-kilometres in and until the 60-kilometre mark.
Reaching the causeway, 15 kilometres from the end, Calitz was 25 minutes off the record time. “I gave everything from the causeway to the finish but I was still eight minutes off.”
Although he ran the full race distance in 8 hours 4 minutes, he covered the measured record route distance in 7 hours 4 minutes, only eight minutes off the time set by Sandes.
“To put this into perspective,” he adds, “I averaged about a 6min/km pace thus I missed it by just more than one kilometre, which is heartbreaking. But I did my best in extremely difficult conditions.”
Will Calitz give the record another attempt? “I will be back,” he answers. “But perhaps this time not do the 10km ‘warm-up’ beforehand.”
Later this month Calitz heads to Mauritius for the annual Dodo Trail, a 50-kilometre run that passes through plantations and up-and-over the peaks of the island of Mauritius. The route includes 3,500 metres of vertical climb. The time to beat here is 5 hours 19 minutes set by British athlete Ricky Lightfoot last year. Lightfoot is the current record holder of South Africa’s The Otter Run.
100km Men’s Results
1. AJ Calitz, 8:04:41
2. Andrew Erasmus, 10:58:41
3. Cornel de Jongh, 11:38:07
100km Women’s Results
1. Charmain Salvage, 11:54:14
Event: Fish River Canyon Ultra
Date: Saturday, 4 July 2015
Venue: Fish River Canyon, Namibia. The race starts from top of the canyon near Hobas and finishes at Ais-Ais.
Distance: 100 kilometres
Ultra Race Record (100km): Men: AJ Calitz, 8:04:15 (2014); Women: Linda Doke, 11:50:35 (2014)
Hiking Trail Record (90km): Ryan Sandes, 6:57 (August 2012)
Photo: Frank Smuts