Iconic event celebrates 30th anniversary

Kepler Challenge winner Sam McCutcheon, of Wellington, is flanked by second placegetter Stuart Gibson, of Hobart (left), and third placegetter Gene Beveridge, of Auckland. Photo: Julie Walls

WITH a capacity field in both the FreshChoice Kepler Challenge (60km) and FreshChoice Luxmore Grunt (28km), competitors lined up for an early start to take on the iconic community race – the 30th anniversary event.

It was a 6am start last Saturday for the 60km ultra runners making their pilgrimage around the Kepler Track. A 7am starter’s gun followed for the Grunt runners.

Sam McCutcheon, of Wellington, used his course knowledge and experience to win the Kepler Challenge for the second year in a row.

The 28 year old blitzed the field in a time of 4 hours, 49 minutes, 50 seconds, finishing five

Ruby Muir, of Wellington, realises she missed out on the Kepler Challenge record and a prize of $5000 by just 1 minute and 24 seconds. Photo: Julie Walls

minutes faster than his 2016 winning time and 20 minutes ahead of second-placed Stuart Gibson, of Hobart, in 5:10.22, with Gene Beveridge, of Auckland, third in 5:11.22.

McCutcheon said to race commentator Noel Walker at the finish: “It was good and bad and everything in between.”

It was McCutcheon’s third podium finish.

Three-time winner in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Ruby Muir took out the women’s race in 5:24.54, and finished just 1min 24sec off the race record in her fourth Kepler Challenge.

Muir describes the Kepler as “an awesome race” and when asked about coming back for another go, she said: “Look’s like I am going to have to.”

In second place was Cecelia Flori, of Italy. She crossed the line with bloodied knees and a decent scrape to the face after a fall, but she was smiling and enjoyed the race.

Third woman home was Margie Campbell, of Auckland, a former track runner who decided to challenge herself by “going long”.

First to Luxmore Hut to take the King of the Mountain title was Stuart Gibson, 1:06.22, and Queen of the Mountain was Ruby Muir, 1:16

Fiordland Athletics Club captain and Te Anau police officer Dwight Grieve was the first local home in a time of 5:29.32 and placed 11th overall in his eighth Kepler Challenge. Photo: Julie Walls

The first local runner home was Dwight Grieve in 11th place overall in a time of 5:29.32. The first local woman home was a close race between Jodi Cockburn and Heather Barnes, with Barnes edging ahead in 7:52.36.

In the Luxmore Grunt, French-Australian runner Etienne Blumstein-Jones, of Canberra, finished just two minutes ahead of Richard Ford, of Drummond, with Dunedin’s Jonah Smith in third.

Blumstein-Jones, who had previously finished third in the Australian mountain running championships, won with a time of 2:06.45, with Ford on 2:08.35 and Smith 2:10.33.

The women’s race was also closely contested and was taken out by new Luxmore Grunt runner Kirsty Selater, of Matamata, in 2:24.44. She was followed by Tania McWilliams, of Christchurch, and Sharon Lequeux, of Dunedin.

Locals featured strongly in this race as well, with Rebecca Howe finishing in 2:52.47 and Jade Lilo achieving a personal best time of 2:20.

Kepler Challenge organising committee chairman Steve Norris said: “The Te Anau and Fiordland community always gets in behind this event, with excellent support from our hundreds of volunteers and our loyal sponsors.”

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