This past weekend the strongest field of trail runners ever seen at a South African event took on The OTTER African Trail Run, a one-day race on the 42-kilometre Otter Trail – a popular multi-day hiking trail. But far from taking five days to complete the scenic route, the fastest runners blitz the course in less than four-and-a-half hours. K-Way athlete AJ Calitz spent the race in the thick of it to take a hard-earned third spot on the podium.
“The race started a lot slower than I expected, with the exception of Ricky, who went off the front immediately,” recalls Calitz. “I decided to run with Iain Don-Wauchope as he is the most experienced and he always sets a good pace.”
Calitz says that Lucky Miya, Kane Reilly and Thabang Madiba went after Lightfoot. He decided to hang back with Don-Wauchope.
“We figured that Ricky would either beat us by a country mile or pop completely and we would catch him.”
For most of the race Calitz ran in a four-man group with Don-Wauchope, Michael Bailey and Stuart Marais. Later, the pair broke away and they were on a sub-4h30 pace, which is what they were aiming for. Last year Don-Wauchope and Calitz were the first runners to break 4h30 at this event on the first running of the East-to-West RETTO route (OTTER in reverse). The RETTO route is said to be harder – by those who have run both; running a faster time on the OTTER course was well within the ability of both runners.
“On top of Andre’s Hut (eight kilometers to go), I had dropped Iain and caught Lucky, Thabang and Kane,” says Calitz, who made good use of his famed ability to run uphill fast.
“Iain recovered supremely well and he caught me again. I just didn’t have the legs on the downs to stay with him.”
Although Calitz caught Don-Wauchope again on another climb, Don-Wauchope pulled away again on another down.
“That proved to be too much for me,” says Calitz. “After the start, we didn’t see Ricky again; it was me and Iain racing for second and third, with Iain coming out on top.”
Back in 2011 Ryan Sandes set an OTTER course record of 4:40:15, taking eight minutes off the previous record. Until last year, when Don-Wauchope and Calitz both ran sub-4:30, it had seemed unlikely that the record could dip much lower.
And then, on Sunday, Great Britain’s Ricky Lightfoot – the recently crowned 2013 Trail Running World Champion – achieved the unthinkable. Blowing sub-4h30 out of the water, he took 25 minutes off Sandes’ record to establish 04:15:27 as the new time to beat. But, it wasn’t just an unbelievably good day out for Lightfoot; the first seven men all beat Sandes’ 2011 record and five of them ran sub-4h30. Don-Wauchope and Calitz clocked 04:24:33 and 04:27:03 respectively.
“This was an incredibly tough day out; I really gave all that I had,” Calitz adds.
Is a sub-4h10 the next holy grail at this race, ‘The Grail of Trail’? Next year, more international runners will join South Africa’s ever-improving best at this marathon-distance challenge. And with course times dropping every year by substantial amounts, it seems that the record is nowhere near the limit of physical ability – yet.
- Ricky Lightfoot (Great Britain), 4:15:27 *
- Iain Don-Wauchope (South Africa), 04:24:33
- Andre Calitz (South Africa), 04:27:03
* Previous course record held by Ryan Sandes, 4:40:15 set in 2011.
- Ruby Muir (New Zealand), 4:55:34 * (new record)
- Landie Greyling (South Africa), 4:58:57
- Nicolette Griffioen (South Africa), 5:24:57
* The previous course record was held by Jeannie Bomford, 5:17:12 set in 2010.