IT was Wellington domination at the 2019 Fresh Choice Kepler Challenge at Te Anau on Saturday with Daniel Jones and Ruby Muir, both from the capital city, taking out the top titles in the shortened 54km event.
Runners were forced to take on a different course at this year’s event due to wild weather and sustained rainfall during the past few weeks in Fiordland.
This forced organisers of the challenge and the Luxmore Grunt to change the course.
The alternate route effectively asked a capacity field of 450 runners to complete half the Kepler Track twice. Despite being shorter, the challenge part of the race was still present.
This was just the third time in its 32-year history, the first in 1997 and last in 2004, the race had been changed because of the weather.
Biting cold wind and rain greeted runners as they emerged from the bushline on the way to and from Luxmore Hut at the highest point of the alternate route, and runners had to negotiate water up to waist deep on significant sections of the track along the Waiau River.
Defending men’s champion Jones led from start to finish. This was despite coming into the race with an achilles injury which had forced him to pull out just past the halfway mark as defending champion and pre-race favourite of the Queenstown marathon title last month.
Jones took out the men’s race by nearly 20 minutes from Alex Hunt 4 hours, 45 minutes, 51 seconds, with Gene Beveridge third in 4.48:49.
Muir claimed her sixth title in the women’s race after missing last year’s event and had to work hard to achieve her goal in a time of 5.08:04.
She trailed 2018 winner Nancy Jiang at Luxmore Hut, but was able to make her move before Moturau Hut and hold her advantage to the end. Caitlin Fielder was second (5.15:47) and Nancy Jiang third (5.32:57)
Te Anau policeman and Fiordland Athletic club captain Dwight Grieve was the first local home in the Kepler Challenge, finishing sixth overall in 4.53:19.
“It was a fun challenge running a new course, but I found the race harder than normal. Firstly the mud and water but also found the descent harder than the normal route.
“I enjoyed the swim ending up in the water table and fully submerged twice but it actually took the pain out of my legs,” Grieve said.
First local woman home was Crystal Brindle, of Te Anau, finishing her second challenge in a time of 5.48:47.
“I actually loved the change of course and found it inspiring to run back down as others were coming up from the opposite direction,” she said.
Queenstown’s Sarah Douglas won the Grunt women’s race in 2.23:29 from Te Anau’s Sally McMillan-Armstrong (2.46:53) and Lucia Vincent 2.48:14.
The Fiordland Trails Trust 5km /10km Run Challenge was also cancelled due to safety concerns.
“We could have turned it into a duathlon with a swim section (along the trail) or changed the course to along the road but that’s not what you signed up for, nor as safe as we’d like you to be,” organiser Nigel Wilson said.
“We’re looking at trying a different date early next year.”
54km Kepler Challenge alternate route:
Men: Daniel Jones (4hr 26min 34sec) 1; Alex Hunt (4.45:51) 2; Gene Beveridge (4.48:49) 3.
Women: Ruby Muir (5.08:04) 1; Caitlin Fielder (5.15:47) 2; Nancy Jiang (5.32:57) 3.
27km Luxmore Grunt:
Men: Sam Tosh (1.59:56) 1; Scott Underhay (2.05:46) 2; Richard Ford (2.07:18) 3.
Women: Sarah Douglas (2.23:29) 1; Sally McMillan-Armstrong (2.46:53) 2; Lucia Vincent (2.48:14) 3.