Ginger Ninja’s Record Run

The Ginger Ninja.

The Ginger Ninja. Photos: Marnette Meyer and Facebook

If a ginger-haired man shoots past you on Melkbosstrand beach, know that it is AJ Calitz. The record-breaking trail runner touched down briefly in his hometown after finishing the 100km Fish River Canyon Ultra marathon in a record time. caught up with him near Water’s Edge.

‘One of my highlights’
AJ ran the trail in 6 hours and 39 minutes on 19 June. Translated, that means that he ran approximately 15km an hour over terrain that alternates between rocky and sandy and is so alien in appearance that it looks like a lunar landscape. What makes this trail more complex is that there are no markers, and so the runner has to keep on checking his watch’s GPS.

Running "The Vis."

Running “The Vis.”

Previous record holder Ryan Sandes described his love of the Fish River Canyon as “a beautiful irrationality.” The words also seem to sum up extreme trail running. Why go to so much effort? Why go through so much? AJ has been quoted as saying that “the person who is willing to hurt the most will win.”

It was no lucky fluke that he won this ultra marathon on 19 June and managed to shave off an hour off his previous time. He recounts that, “As I was putting on my shoes I knew that I was going to break the record. I had trained right, I had eaten right.”

AJ looks down on the Fish River Canyon.

AJ looks down on the Fish River Canyon.

It is a word that has different meanings for different people. For AJ it means training 18 to 25 hours per week. The training is broken up into blocks of running and cycling. Running dominates, but it is hard on the body. He describes training for the Fish River Canyon ultra marathon on his Facebook page: “In 2016 my coach, Christoff Smit (from Christoff Smit Physiotherapists in Stellenbosch) and I did the whole scientific thing and matched our training program to the conditions I would encounter in the canyon – a lot of fast running on loose sand, boulder hopping and very long hours on the trails.” And so AJ trained by running on Blouwberg beach with its soft sand and steep incline. But that’s where he drew the line. There was no recce of the terrain beforehand. He says he prefers to throw himself into the run.

AJ skated to the interview at Water's Edge.

AJ skated to the interview at Water’s Edge.

The Ginger Ninja, as AJ is sometimes called, grew up in the foothills of Botmanskop in Stellenbosch. He remembers running up the mountain slopes, being outdoors. It was the start of a lifelong love affair with nature in general, and mountains in particular. On 26 June he left for Lesotho’s AfriSki Resort where he will spend time training. Which brings one to the question of what mountains mean to him.

“You’ve said that you meet God in the mountains-” probes. AJ answers unperturbed, “If you want perspective, go climb a mountain. When you’re on the mountain you notice unbelievable things. The mountains are God’s canvas.”

AJ skated to the interview.

No lounging
For AJ there is no real downtime, no discernible rest period. Okay, he takes Sunday off to be with his beloved wife Paulette and one-year-old daughter Emilie, but somehow he ends up going for a run during this day. And that’s how his year goes by, with the first six months dedicated to running marathons and the last six months dedicated to running ultra marathons. It seems unbelievable that he can fit into this busy schedule being the head of the Cape Town branch of TMJ Attorneys.

Perhaps time slows down for AJ when he runs, and everything becomes, as he tells, “a blur and a meditation.” On his Facebook page he describes it similiarly. “To be honest I can remember nothing between the 3rd and 4th hour other than the wild horses that I saw (one actually charged me but then backed off – it must be the red hair!)”

For AJ there is no real downtime.

AJ’s favourite trails:
Devil’s Peak, Cape Town
St Baize hiking trail, Mosel Bay
Panorama hiking trail, Jonkershoek
Strandfontein hiking trail, West Coast
Outeniqua hiking trail, George
Giant’s Cup hiking trail, Drankensberg

AJ’s sponsors are K-WAY, Newbalance , Suunto, Racefood, Sweatsafe, Usana Eggs, SalomonSA, Cebe.



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