AJ Calitz takes the title crown at the 2018 K-Way SkyRun

Author: by AJ Calitz | 18 November 2018

My preparation for the 2018 edition could not have been better and worse....

Training went well and had a couple of good results of late, the last one, however, being 5 weeks before the Skyrun. Coach Christoff Smit Physio said no, I said yes - and once again he was right (as usual).

Work was manic the week before the race, meaning I worked from 5am to 11pm on most days - not ideal if you are doing an Ultra the same week. Couple that with young kids not sleeping well and trying to train in between - it was a disaster waiting to happen. I decided, however, to keep a smile on my face and to try and keep smiling whatever happens.

We got a notice that the route and start had been changed due to unrest in Lady Grey - meaning a longer route, more elevation and chiefly a belting hot day....nice

Arriving at Wartrail on Thursday and seeing how the locals banded together to, at the last moment, put a whole race village together was incredible, emotional actually.

Staying in a tiny tent was our accommodation for the first evening, scoffing down as much food as I could in preparation for the race.

A very tense Friday, race registration and briefing followed - most of which I actually cannot remember.

4am, race start in a chilly Wartrail, with Balloch wall firmly in the sight of our headlamps - as first light arrived, I crested the top with Stewart Chaperon and Sange Sherpa and proceeded to head down to the Balloch Cave and "the mother in law" climb. We took a wrong line up to Skiddaw, but maintained our lead nonetheless, heading up to the highest point of the race, Avoca peak.

My achilles was hurting, legs were not feeling great and my heart rate was unusually high for such altitude. Be that as it may, I stuck to my mantra of being happy and smiling.

The turn at "old faithful" was much further than I expected and almost ran out of the water. A quick stop to refill and we were once again on our way, now back on the traditional route.

Stewart proved very strong on this section as both Sange and myself dropped off the pace. The heat was also starting to sear as I headed down into Balloch valley, cramping so badly...

I saw Craig Kolesky on the way down - his expression when he saw me didn't instil a lot of confidence.

By this time, I was exhausted and thought about pulling out after the wall. After the medical check at which I was 6kg down on water weight (fell of the scale too apparently), I took a 10 min break a Balloch, ate, drank a lot and limped out onto the route as my achilles was really sore.

Let me pause to say this...there were portions of the route that I didn't pray...however I cannot remember where they were and trust me, they were not long. I pretty much prayed all day....

I took Balloch wall easy and thought, ok, maybe I will finish, but I will be 4th and will have a smile on my face.

Coming down the wall and crossing the river to Edgehill I stopped to fill up with water and saw the leaders about 5 min ahead. I could not believe it and thought for the first time - hey, maybe I can do this....

41'c heat on the road to Edgehill felt very similar to training in Cape Town of late, so I decided to, in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo: "just keep swimming"...

Caught Sange, Hilton Dunn and Stewart around the Edgehill checkpoint and took the lead for the first time. By then I was feeling much better and making good headway.

Heading up Bridle pass, I remembered our shortcuts from the training camp and kept far right - this paid off as I made quite a gap on the field. I kept on trudging and smiling up the pass as there was nothing else I could do.

On top of the pass, there is still a nasty climb up to the escarpment at 2600m and then an endless drag to the Turn. I kept telling myself that "you need to run this and that you can do this".

Finally, and mercifully the turn approached where I was pointed to the Hut for some sustenance.

An apple, some juice and a smile later I was 12km from the finish and very very very tired.

Left, right, left, right was my motto for the next couple of Km's as I walked the steep hills and ran the rest.

Keeping a wary eye behind me for the chasing pack, I saw Stewart in the distance just before Halstone peak.

Now, in a 100km ultra, it is not "nice" to have to race the last 10km...trust me.

But unfortunately that was par for the course and I decided that I was going to win this race, no-one would take it away from me. A hard but fast scramble up and down Halstone, in the dusk, 4km separated me from a maiden Skyrun win.

By then I could no longer see Stewart and decided to just do my best and try to find the shortest route down...which almost proved to be a mistake as I lost around 3min due to a navigational error right at the end...

Hearing Carel Willem Bezuidenhout #raasbekkie in the distance, I knew the finish was close, but the race not in the bag yet. On aching legs and sore feet, I ran as fast as I could in the dim light of my headlamp, egged on by cheers and screams as I neared the finish.

Crossing the river and up the hill (which feels like a mountain at the end) I ran into the finish area for my first ever win at Skyrun....

To say I was stoked is a gross understatement - it feels like a ginormous monkey is now off my back!!!

Thank you to the K-Way SA girls for all their support and well done on climbing the wall!

Wesley Sweetnam for being the best second I could have ever wished for - bru, you are amazing!

To the guys from Pure Adventures, well done on a brutal event. Everyone else would have cancelled the race, but you stuck to your guns and showed us how it is done! Adrian Vincent Saffy

To my sponsors, K-Way SA New Balance Suunto Racefood BOS Sport Balega ZA Beyerskloof Bollé GU Energy South Africa #usanaeggs, without you, we cannot do what we do and love....you rock!

To all the athletes that started K-Way SkyRun, you are champions for just being there - it is the only race that I have ever done that I don't hold DNF (or medical DNF) against anyone. To all who finished - you are more than champions in my book!

To all wife Paulette Goedhart Calitz (who prayed, stressed, reported and celebrated all day!), kids, family, friends, supporters - thank you for the sacrifices you have made - this race pales into insignificance to the honour of being a husband, father and friend. I love you guys...sorry for putting you through this kind of torment once again....but it is what I love...

Finally, to Jesus, my greatest motivator, supporter and creator - you gave me strength when I had none, carried me to waters and gave me victory - all to the Glory of your name.

Yours in trail running,

AJ  Calitz