A Race of Attrition: AJ Calitz comes 2nd at the 2020 Addo Elephant Trail Run March 2020

I decided a week before to give the Addo 2020 race a crack. Despite my coach's protestations, I made the arrangements and ended up en route to the 2020 Addo for my first ultra of the year - the 76km.

Now, 76km is not the longest race I have done, nor is it, by any means, the shortest.  But we all know that a race is about so much more than just the distance but let me not get ahead of myself here.

Like a prudent athlete, I had a look at the weather report for the day and saw 42⁰C. I immediately thought that it must be wrong, so I found another website, which ended up saying the exact same thing.

So, off I went to the nearest Cape Union Mart store to stock up on my ‘anti-sun’ garments. I usually run with a peak-cap because I am ginger, but I decided that 42⁰C warranted something more drastic.

One K-Way Trek Floppy Hat and a pair of K-Way Arm Coolers later and I was ready to go, although severely over-confident and most certainly ‘under-miled’ (I did enough speed and intensity training, but not nearly enough mileage).

I caught a lift to the event with Ockie from Sportraxs, the tracking service provider for Addo, in his wife's Landrover Defender 110. Not the fastest or most comfortable vehicle, but certainly the most vacation-looking car on the road.

A 9-hour road trip followed that started at 05:00 in the morning on the Thursday preceding the race. With no idea where I was staying or the exact details of the race, I was classically unprepared. To those of you that have read my race reviews before, you know that this is the usual for me.

Arriving in the sweltering heat at the Addo main camp, we proceeded to the swimming pool before a short drive to the Zuurberg Hotel for our stay and a wonderful buffet meal. Now, as an athlete, I don't particularly care what I get on my plate, as long as there is a lot of it! I wasn’t disappointed and it was mighty tasty!

A good night’s rest (with no crying kids!!!!)  was followed by a beautiful and cool morning run on the Friday. I thought that if the weather was going to be like this on the day, the race would end up being a breeze! I definitely spoke too soon.

I depended on a good Samaritan for a lift to the registration, where the race would start at 05:30 on the Saturday morning. It was, surprisingly, a little chilly. Again, I prematurely thought that the race would not be as tough as I had initially expected.

The race started fairly quickly. As per my coach's instructions, I took the first 30km's relatively easy and found myself in second place. AND THEN, despite being an experienced athlete and having a Suunto GPS unit, I made a navigational error....

The track was very bushy and fast-paced with a few markings here and there, so I ended up exiting the bush a little off-course before checking my watch. The actual route was a little to my right, so I proceeded back to it and was told that I was back on track. The only problem was that I was ‘back on track’ right to where we first started. The first 30km’s was looped, thereafter you needed to proceed on to a different route. Despite this, I was feeling good and made up time, right on the leader’s tail. I put my head down and went hard for it – unfortunately, in the wrong direction.

After a couple of km's, I began to realise that I should’ve been at the feeding station already. I re-checked my watch and saw that I had been on this route already.... NICE!!!!

I turned back and eventually re-joined the route, only to find that I was now 40min behind and in 4th position, having lost 30 minutes due to my detour.

“I AM NOT COMING 4TH!” I told myself. I went as hard as I could from there on and, sure enough, caught up to third and then eventually second after about 10km. 

It was then that the shade left us, and the sun came out in full force - it was hot. Now, I don't mean hot as in Cape Town mid-summer going up Kloofnek Road hot, I mean like pizza oven hot (not just a regular oven, A PIZZA OVEN). It was UNBELIEVABLE. It came from every direction. I drank often and wet my Hat and Arm Coolers every chance I got (which actually helps much more than you would think). I couldn’t believe that I had never run with a K-Way Floppy Trek Hat and Arm Coolers before - they are MAGIC and really do make a difference!!!!

It then got even hotter as we started the brutal Jeep-track climb up to a plateau, where a warm berg wind was waiting for us, just in case we weren’t already hot enough.

The worst part of the race thus far was that stretch on the plateau. It may have been incredibly beautiful (or so I heard), but I completely lost my sense of humour at this point. I realised that I was not going to catch the leader, having burned the candle at both ends to make up for lost time.

Being very tired, hot and lost was not a good combination - "Just quit, you have every reason to!" - the voices in my head started playing with me.

BUT I DO NOT QUIT RACES - EVER. Even if I finished last, I ALWAYS finished.

So, I resolved to make the best of the situation, consolidate 2nd place and made the most of the experience. My mind suddenly lifted, and the world became rosier, but that may have also been the heat.

Just after the final checkpoint, there were 2 pools where you could swim. These pools were nicknamed ‘Delilah - The Temptress’. “Don’t hang around too long,” they warned, “or else you will never leave!”

I decided to give myself 2 minutes in each pool to drink, refill and revitalize. After the swim, I felt like a new person! Cooling down your core temperature is a miracle cure for fatigue. The trails were also by far the most beautiful in the final 10km - winding, technical and stunning, ending with a brutal "little" climb up to the finish at Zuurberg.

I arrived at the finish about 90 minutes slower than I had planned. What a massive relief! Almost as much as a swim in the pool thereafter! 

If you ask me, the runners who finished should have gotten ‘dog tags’ because Addo 2020 was a war, not a race. To everyone who raced, you have my utmost respect and admiration. A special thanks to the Lord Jesus for listening to me moan for hours, my sponsors for making the racing possible and to my beautiful wife for looking after the kids while daddy played!