Kepler Challenge debutantes Nancy Jiang and Daniel Jones have taken out the 60km mountain run in Te Anau today, while a race record which had lasted for a decade was smashed in the Luxmore Grunt.
Jiang, who was 15th at the world mountain running championship earlier this year, was a comfortable winner in the women’s race, while Jones gutsed his way through a tough final 15km to win a three-man race against Australian Blake Hose and three-time winner Vajin Armstrong.
“I took it easy up the climbs, because that’s what I was told to do, and I wasn’t actually too sure where Mt Luxmore was,” Jiang said.
“The last 20km to go I really felt it in my legs, but I just held on. I ran this race to see where I am at the moment and then I’ll just start building up from there.”
Jiang held a 1min 33sec lead over Margie Campbell at the Luxmore Hut and never relinquished her advantage, heading Campbell home by just over 10 minutes, with Sophie Grant third.
Jones trailed Hose by close to two minutes at the Luxmore Hut, with Armstrong running on Hose’s shoulder after the major climb of the day.
Wellingtonian Jones, who took out the Queenstown International marathon two weeks ago, overtook Armstrong on the descent and Hose before the Rocky Point aid station which left him with 24km remaining to hold his lead.
“I’m stoked to get this result. The Kepler has been on the cards for a while, so to come through after a good hit out with the lads is pretty awesome. I thought I’d be able to cruise the hills a bit more than I did, I actually struggled a bit on the hills and the flats felt alright.
“I felt comfortable hitting the flat, but when I hit the 40km mark, I had a bit of neural fatigue and I just tried to smash some gels and try not to blow completely, but I had to just hope that no one was having a fast finish behind me.”
A fast finish was exactly what Te Anau policeman Dwight Grieve produced, the New Zealand mountain running representative moving from ninth to fifth overall over the final 10km to be the highest-placed local.
Meanwhile, Andy Good was too good in the 27km Luxmore Grunt, an up-and-back race to the Luxmore Hut and home again.
Any course record set by Phil Costley is a handy one, but Good broke the mark set by his fellow Christchurch runner in 2008 by two minutes.
“I’m pretty pumped about that,” Good said afterwards.
“I’ve had a good three or four months training and I knew that if the conditions were right that it was achievable. I know it was Phil’s record and he’s an absolute legend on the New Zealand running scene, so it’s quite humbling to take it down.”
Good’s finishing time of 1hr 50.55sec was nearly 16 minutes ahead of second placed Richard Ford.
Professional mountain runner Ruth Croft backed up a late decision to switch from the Challenge to the Grunt, winning the women’s race from New Zealand mountain running champion Sabrina Grogan.
“I’d love to do the full Challenge, but maybe next year. I’ve been back running for two and a half weeks and I was able to catch Sabrina with a couple of kilometres left on the descent and to be honest I thought I was going to be lucky to catch her. I’d love to come back next year, I’ve always wanted to do Kepler, but it’s at a tricky time of the year for me with the European season,” Croft said.
Jiang and Hose were the Queen and King of the Mountain, respectively, after being the first runners to the Luxmore Hut before successfully completing the course, while 70-year-old Robert Henderson won the Derek Turnbull Memorial Trophy as the oldest runner to make it around the full 60km course, finishing in a time of 11:28:01.
Ashburton volunteer firefighter Sam Cullimore completed the 60km Kepler Challenge in full rural firefighting dress, including helmet, to raise money for Ronald McDonald House South Island. His finishing time was 9:03:06, finishing 263rd overall.
It was also announced at today’s prizegiving that a ballot system will be introduced for next year’s Kepler Challenge entry.
Men: Andy Good 1:50:54 1; Richard Ford 2:06:35 2; Mitchell Braithwaite 2:09:34 3.
Women: Ruth Croft 2:08:54 1; Sabrina Grogan 2:09:52 2; Marisa Ruhter 2:23:17 3.
Men: Daniel Jones 4:59:52 1; Blake Hose 5:11:29 2; Vajin Armstrong 5:12:07 3.
Women: Nancy Jiang 5:54:52 1; Margie Campbell 6:04:58 2; Sophie Grant 6:31:37 3.