Favourite K-Way Product: K-Way Race Shell jacket
Quote to Live by: “I do not run to win races, I live to conquer mountains”
The name AJ Calitz is synonymous in South Africa with trail running, with speed, and with sheer determination. The man behind the name is quietly strong, proud, fiercely protective of his loved ones, a remarkably talented sportsman, and a great all-rounder in work and play.
But most of all, AJ is a fantastic example of how, through hard work, determination, self-belief and faith, one can overcome the odds and beat adversity.
A K-Way sponsored athlete since 2012, AJ’s achievements are many and varied. His self-sown slogan “I do not run to win races… I live to conquer mountains” shines through all his sporting achievements, from his years as a professional triathlete and cyclist (2000-2002), his Comrades silvers (best time 6:46), and his numerous wins on trail.
This champ’s podiums are too many to list, but he personally rates his top five trail achievements as:
- Guiness World Record holder for The Most Vertical Height Gained in 12 hours (10,257m), set on Platteklip Gorge, Table Mountain, Cape Town in 2014
- Fish River Canyon 100km record holder (6:39:52)
- 2016 SA Ultra Trail Champion
- Four-time Red Bull Lionheart winner
- Winner of the Verdon Canyon Challenge 100km, France (2013)
Lawyer by profession, husband, and dad of two young kids, AJ’s time is precious and he spends it wisely, juggling between family time, training and work.
“I train whenever and wherever I can, be it cycling to work, a lunchtime run, a big mountain run, a hike with the kids, or training with a running pram. I want to teach my kids the importance of living an active lifestyle, and what it means to take the stairs instead of the elevator – choosing the right way in life, instead of opting for the easy way.”
AJ’s phenomenal achievements as an athlete were highlighted during 2017 when, just six weeks after suffering a freak stroke, he competed in Europe’s biggest obstacle event, the Fisherman’s Friend Strongman Race, and won.
“During my post-stroke recovery, I saw how important it is to keep a positive attitude. Not only does it speed up healing, but it helps everyone around you to stay strong.”
A typical training week for AJ usually consists of a very early morning beach run with his dogs, a cycle to work, a big trail session (either hills or speed) in the afternoon after work, then a cycle home.
“My coach is very big on route- and race-specific training, so my training can vary, depending on the race I’m preparing for.”
AJ says his greatest inspiration is his wife, Paulette. “She has been through so much, yet keeps moving forward. She also shows no mercy and knows how to encourage me – during my first Platteklip Charity Challenge, I told her after I’d completed nine laps that I was done… without hesitation, she told me to stop being such a little wimp and do another lap!”
AJ considers mental strength is critical when training and competing seriously.
“I think training builds mental strength as well as physical strength. It’s supremely important when running ultras. Also, if you remember to enjoy yourself out there, all of a sudden the race becomes a whole lot easier!”
One thing few people know about AJ Calitz? “Many would be surprised to learn that I’m not actually that competitive. But of course if someone wants to race, and keeps pushing my buttons, then I switch into ‘big red machine mode’!”