The Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge (JMC) was selected by Athletics South Africa to be the first SA Long Distance Trail Running Championship event. The top runners on the 35-kilometre JMC Extreme route are in contention for a place on the team that will represent South Africa at the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Long Distance World Championship Challenge in Poland later this year. K-Way athlete Andre ‘AJ’ Calitz will be on the start line on Sunday morning.
Although Calitz has not run in this event before, he knows the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve very well. A Stellenbosch local, this wilderness area is literally his back yard.
“In past years I’ve spent a lot of time in Jonkershoek on my mountain bike so I know it fairly well. The last couple of weeks I’ve put in work and time running the trails. It’s a hard route with some proper climbs and hairy descents,” he says.
26 kilometres of the total 35-kilometre distance has runners on technical hiking trails where runners have to focus, conscious of every foot placement. A rugged mountain environment, the route ascends an accumulative 2,064 metres.
But, as always, what goes up must come down.
“The race finishes on a 12km descent,” says Calitz, “so we’ll see if I can keep the speedsters at bay.”
There’s a very strong field in the men’s race. Calitz lists a number of runners who are certain to be at the front of the race and vying for a win.
“There’s Mike Bailey, Ben Brimble, Kane Reilly and Bernie Rakadaz. Bernie won this race last year and he is in super form,” Calitz says. He ran against these four recently at the three-day Pronutro AfricanX Trailrun.
“Thabang Madiba will also be here… and then there’s also Iain Don-Wauchope,” he says. Madiba is from Gauteng so it isn’t often that Calitz runs against him. Don-Wauchope hails from the Drakensberg. He won last year’s The Otter African Trail Run, finishing five minutes ahead of Calitz. They were the first runners to run sub-4h30 at this event.
Calitz has been a full-time runner since the beginning of this year. He’s adapting to life as an athlete.
“Life is quite different now,” he says. “I’m training much harder but there’s always more to be done. My training is up to scratch for the shorter races, but to compete in the serious long stuff I am going to have to take it up a notch.”
The racing that he has been doing demands harder, shorter sessions. “These have some relevance in a 100-miler, but time in the mountains is so much more important. Later in the season I will do longer strength-focused sessions.” He’s running the 100-kilometre Verdon Canyon Challenge in France in mid-June.
Running isn’t just about the physical training. Nutrition also plays a vital role in preparation, racing and recovery.
Calitz’s one goal for this season was been to get his weight down. “This has made a big difference. Also, I’ve met with Dr Ross Tucker from the Sports Science Institute and we are in the process of doing some nutrition trials,” he explains.
For now, Calitz is ready for Sunday’s race.