This Sunday, K-Way athlete AJ Calitz takes on South Africa’s ‘Grail of Trail’, the Otter African Trail Run.
South Africa’s most iconic 42km race has been held on the Otter Trail hiking route since 2009, and attracts a deep field of competitive local and international athletes.
The race this year has posted an additional challenge to these runners – with a sizeable reward.
Each year the race route alternates direction to create two differing runs known as the OTTER Classic and the OTTER Retto (Otter spelled backwards). This year will see the Retto edition (West to East) of the race being run. It was first introduced in 2012 and it was here, for the first time in the event’s history, that runners first dipped below 4h30. Calitz clocked 4h29 to place second to Iain Don-Wauchope’s 4h23 winning time.
Runners who have run both OTTER and OTTER Retto courses unanimously vote the Retto to be the more challenging course.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Calitz. “The difficult part is at the end, which tends to suit me.”
Last year, UK athlete Ricky Lightfoot dropped his nearest rivals to win in an extraordinary time of 4h15. With winning times reducing by minutes each year, race organisers, Magnetic South, have posted a lucrative financial reward to the runners vying for the podium. They’re offering R100,000 to the first individual to finish in less than four hours.
Race director Mark Collins explains his thinking behind this incentive: “Over the past few years, the record winning time in the OTTER run has been steadily making its way towards the four-hour mark. This year, the R100,000 bonus aims to push athletes to achieve what was previously inconceivable.”
In training, Calitz has been working with his coach to spend time on his weaknesses and to bring in elements of route-specific training. An exceptional hill climber, Calitz has found that he lacks raw speed on faster sections of the route and it is here that he has lost time previously.
“I have been working on this,” he says, “so I hope to see improved splits on these sections.”
Calitz thinks that it is going to be very difficult to beat Lightfoot on this course*. “But there are also loads of other great runners in the line-up – like Iain Don-Wauchope, who has won twice before, and also Kane Reilly, Andrew Hagen and Thabang Madiba,” says Calitz.
(On the day this news went live, Ricky Lightfoot announced that he’d injured himself in training earlier in the year and had lost three weeks of training. As a result, he would not be competing after all).
For this year, Calitz thinks that the event’s substantial reward is safe. “I think the winning time is going to be between 4h06 and 4h10. Let’s hope that is me!” he laughs.
“The OTTER is the pinnacle of South African trail running, so you have to prove your worth here. It is a race on the world stage, so a win or even a podium placing here is an incredible achievement.”
The event begins with a 5km prologue on Sunday 21 September with the marathon-distance race on Monday 22 September 2014.
Follow the race
Facebook Otter African Trail Run
Previous OTTER winners and times (men / women):
2010 (Classic): Iain Don-Wauchope, 4:59:02; Su Don-Wauchope, 5:58:07
2011 (Classic): Ryan Sandes, 4:40:15; Su Don-Wauchope, 5:17:12
2012 (Retto): Iain Don-Wauchope, 4:23:24; Krissy Moehl (USA), 5:25:59
2013 (Classic): Ricky Lightfoot (UK), 4:15:27; Ruby Muir (NZ), 4:55:48