African skyrunning leaps sky high following Lesotho Ultra Trail

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High mountains, arduous climbs, thin air, incredible vistas and the adrenalin rush of running on technical trail – the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT) promised everything a skyrunning experience should offer, and it delivered even more.

As Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, the announcement of the LUT drew much attention in the world’s skyrunning arena, and the event did not disappoint. The race, which was staged in the Maluti Mountains of northern Lesotho, just 50km of the border of South Africa, attracted athletes from around the world, including South Africa, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Australia, Canada, UK and USA.

Affectionately known as the Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho boasts some of southern Africa’s most beautiful skyrunning terrain with its vast wilderness of unspoilt mountain vistas, and is regarded by many as a paradise for skyrunners. The LUT was hosted by the Maliba Mountain Lodge, providing a superb hub for the efficient organisation of the event.

Both the men’s and women’s field provided a tightly competitive edge, with many of South Africa’s top trail runners vying for top honours. The day brought its share of surprises and made the race even more exciting than predicted.

For the first third of the 50km race, the trio of Lucky Mia and race favourites Iain don Wauchope and AJ Calitz led the field, with several fast runners forming the chase group as they climbed the 1 150m of vertical gain over 15km to reach 3 145m, the highest point of the route at 23km.

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Thick mist on the 10km stretch of ridgeline above 3 000m reduced visibility and made the sighting of the bright yellow route markers difficult for the runners. With the front three runners Mia, Don Wauchope and Calitz temporarily losing their way, the chase group of Andrew Hagan, Quinton Honey and Spain’s Manual Diez Raobago took the lead, and the race was on.

Hagan, well known for his high-speed downhill running capability, took full advantage of the 8km technical descent, earning him enough of a lead on Raobago and Honey to maintain the gap over the next nasty climb, which called for a 720m vertical gain over 6km. The final 700m technical descent further clinched Hagan’s lead, and he took line honours in an impressive 6:07:22.

Raobago came in 2nd place in 6:22:14, followed by Honey in 6:23:10.

The ladies race was just as hotly contested, with Robyn Kime and Tracy Zunckel leading the fray together until the 37km mark, when Zunckel took command over the final 13km, achieving an 11 min gap on Kime to win the race in a convincing 6:56:17. Kime finished in 2nd place in 7:07:28, followed by Canadian Stacie Carrigan in a very solid 7:23:36.

Speaking about her experience at Africa’s first Ultra Skymarathon®, Carrigan was ecstatic. “When I arrived at Maliba Lodge, I was blown away by the scenery – it was incredible. The race course too did not disappoint, and my hopes for a challenge were met. During the low points when I started to feel beat up and broken, I would look up and catch a glimpse of a waterfall, river, the mountains and valleys and all the beauty of my surroundings was enough to make me smile and keep pushing to the finish line,” said Carrigan.

LUT race organiser Andrew Booth sees skyrunning in southern Africa as the exciting future of trail running. “For years South African trail runners have watched with envy as the sport of skyrunning grew in Europe. Now, with the formation of the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA), the discipline has officially arrived in southern Africa. That means we can have a national skyrunning series in our own ‘backyard’, accessible to all,” said Booth.

The LUT was SASA’s second sanctioned skyrunning event – the first being 36km Matroosberg Skymarathon®, which was staged in the Western Cape in October.

“The success of the Matroosberg Skymarathon® and the Lesotho Ultra Trail has seen much excitement, and the imminent announcement of the launch of a national skyrunning series in 2014 has got the trail  community in South Africa quite abuzz,” said SASA chairman James Hallett.

For more information visit the official SASA website of follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Website: www.skyrunning.co.za

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The countdown has begun to Africa’s first Ultra SkyMarathon®, the Lesotho Ultra Trail.

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With less than 36 hours to go before the 55km ultra trail race through the Tsehlanyane National Park in the heart of Lesotho’s Maloti Mountains, anticipation is building amongst the trail running community for this, the second South Africa Skyrunning Association (SASA)-sanctioned event on the South African trail running calendar

After the success of the Matroosberg SkyMarathon® in October, skyrunning fever is running high, setting the ground for the imminent announcement of a national skyrunning series in 2014.

Presented by Maliba Lodge, KZN Trail Running and The North Face, the Lesotho Ultra Trail will see a selection of South Africa’s best trail runners facing the challenge of an ultra-distance, high altitude course boasting more than three kilometres of vertical ascent, peaking at 3155m above sea level.

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Big names include South African trail star and winner of the Verdon Canyon Challenge in France AJ Calitz (K-Way/Vivobarefoot), mountain running legend and winner of the 2012 Otter African Trail Run Iain Don Wauchope (The North Face), 2013 SA Ultra Trail winner Nic de Beer, Stellenbosch-based mountain runner Andrew Hagen (Vibram) and Gauteng trail speedster Lucky Mia.

In the women’s field, Canadian ultra trail star Stacie Carrigan will be dicing one of the most competitive women’s contingent of any southern African ultra trail race to date, including Matroosberg SkyMarathon® winner Robyn Kime (The North face), 2013 SA Ultra trail champ Tracy Zunckel (Race Food), 2011 Otter African Trail Run winner Su Don Wauchope (The North Face) and SA ultra running legend Linda Doke (Salomon).

With Lesotho offering world class skyrunning terrain and warm hospitality, the Lesotho Ultra Trail is set to become one of the continent’s premier off-road ultras.

For more information about the race, visit www.lesothoultratrail.com of follow the race live via Twitter [www.twitter.com/lesothoultra]

Article ©lesothoultra

Feature on AJ Calitz

AJ Calitz in Europe, early 2013. Zegama-Aizkorri

AJ Calitz in Europe, early 2013. Zegama-Aizkorri

In just the last two months K-Way athlete AJ Calitz has been on the podium, won or set course records at many competitive trail races. As the year winds down, so does his racing schedule. This weekend’s 55-kilometre Lesotho Ultra Trail race will be his last for the year.

Two weeks ago Calitz took part in the annual Salomon SkyRun – only a week after winning Red Bull LionHeart.

“I didn’t expect to still feel LionHeart in my legs, but I did – unfortunately,” he says.

“SkyRun was a tough one,” Calitz says, recalling the challenging terrain and adverse weather conditions that led to the course being shortened and runners diverted off the mountain and down to safety.

After getting horribly lost between checkpoints one and two, Calitz managed to catch up to the chasing group. He stayed with them – safety in numbers.

“The weather was horrific with torrential ice-rain and winds of 100kph. It was very dangerous on the Dragon’s Back, but luckily I had all my emergency kit to keep me going.

“I really had a terrible day from the start and with the cold and navigation problems I didn’t eat as well as I should have. I felt the effects of this towards Balloch,” he explains.

Reaching Balloch he was already very cold. “I just couldn’t warm up again,” he remembers. He decided not to carry on.

But then, his K-Way teammate Annemien Ganzevoort – the leading woman runner – came in and told Calitz that she was carrying on. He decided to join her.

“If something happened to her in those conditions and I could have gone along – but didn’t – I would never have forgiven myself… and I really didn’t want to have a DNF on my first SkyRun either. So, we suited up in our K-Way mountain-trekking and cold-weather gear and carried on. We were halted by race organisation just short of Edgehill Farm though.”

“It’s amazing how weather like that can draw athletes closer together… where you switch from competing to surviving in only a few moments. I love this kind of racing. It’s not all about the winning or prize money or whatever the reason why you run, but it becomes an expedition and a truly valuable life experience,” says Ganzevoort.

While Ganzevoort takes a well-deserved rest, Calitz has one more race before he can put his feet up.

Lesotho Ultra Trail is a marked route that is 55-kilometres in distance and, staged in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, the 3200-metres of accumulative ascent comes as no surprise. The course description promises stream crossings, loose rocks, steep descents and “two notable climbs”. The section between nine and 22 kilometres is run at over 3000-metres in altitude.

The men’s (and women’s) field is very competitive and Calitz is expecting to work hard to gain ground on Nic de Beer, Iain Don-Wauchope and Lucky Mia.

“I’m just going to take it as it comes,” he adds.

Although your money can be safely bet on Su Don-Wauchope or Robyn Kime for a win in the women’s race, the odds are fairly good that Linda Doke, Tracey Zunkel, Chantal Nienaber, Megan Mackenzie or Stacie Carrigan (Canada) could be up front too.