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Ruthe Wins Off Road

Ruthe Wins Off Road

Tauranga's Ben Ruthe is better known as a one of New Zealand's top track and road runners. But last weekend he raised eyebrows with a storming win across the mountain tracks of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Almost 300 runners and walkers lined up at Waikawau Beach for the Great Kauri Run, a 30k mountain race across the Coromandel Peninsula. The field this year was the strongest ever, with defending champion Mark McKeown (Tauranga) returning to face international adventure racer and former New Zealand mountain running rep Chris Morrissey (Whakatane), super-vet Colin Earwaker (Rotorua) and New Zealand champion track, road and cross country runner Ben Ruthe.

Established in 2004, the Great Kauri Run is one of the country's fastest-growing off road events. Founded by local event organisers, Adventure Racing Coromandel, the challenging 30k traverses the Coromandel's Central Divide between Waikawau Bay on the rugged Pacific Coast and Coromandel township on the Hauraki Gulf.

The course follows historic mining and Maori trails through what was once one of the thickest concentrations of Kauri trees in the country. It is these historic Kauri groves that inspired this event. For every person who enters the event race organisers plant a new Kauri seedling, and co-race director Andy Reid hopes that one day competitors in the Kauri Run will be able to race through re-generated groves that they helped create.

Interest this year centred on the entry of four-minute miler Ben Ruthe. The Tauranga runner once finished fourth in the world junior mountain running championship, but he has specialised on the track, road and cross country where he has won numerous national titles and worn the silver fern at world championships. More recently, however, he has turned to marathon running and the interest at the Great Kauri Run was whether Ruthe's new found strength would be a match for defending champion Mark McKeown's course knowledge and the specialist strength of Chris Morrissey.

Right from the gun, however, it was Ruthe who made the running. On the opening few kilometres along Waikawau Beach Ruthe and McKeown used their track running speed to open a solid lead after just 2k. But on the long climb up onto the Coromandel Peninsula's Central Divide Ruthe decided to go it alone and crested Waikawau Lookout at the 8k mark 90 seconds clear of McKeown, with Morrissey a further 30 seconds behind.

As the race kept climbing to Kaipawa Trig, the high point of the race at 560m, Ruthe kept adding to his lead and halfway through the 30k run he was three minutes clear of McKeown, with Morrissey still holding third. By the time Ruthe crossed the finish line in Coromandel township the margin was five minutes, but behind him the race for minor placings was getting a shake up as Chris Morrissey used his off road skills to romp off the Central Divide's technical descent and reel in McKeown for second place.

Ruthe's winning time of 2hrs 32min 08secs was four minutes slower than McKeown's superb record run in 2006. But it was five minutes too good for Morrissey, who was pleased to hold off McKeown for second place by just over a minute.

While McKeown was unable to defend his title, the woman's and veteran races saw repeat winners. In fourth place overall 52-year-old Colin Earwaker claimed the veteran title for the fourth year in the row. Earwaker won the inaugural Great Kauri Run back in 2004 and finished just 12 minutes behind Ruthe's win this year.

In the woman's race, Auckland's Oksana Isanina defended her win from 2006. In a close race the Russian-born runner had to run 12 minutes faster than last year to hold out Auckland's Christine Crane. Isanina crossed the line four minutes clear of Crane in 3hrs 14min 08secs, with Gisborne runner Penny Kane another two minutes further back in third. Like the men's race, fourth placed Jo Donnelly from Thames defended her veteran women's title, clocking three minutes faster than last year with 3hrs 23min 33secs.

The accompanying 15k option was a case of youth over experience as Thames teenager Janie Quirk held out Tauranga veteran Steve Hatfield by less than a minute with a winning time of 1hr 12min 05secs. The women's 15k was even closer, with just 20 seconds separating Swiss runner Ursina Hollinger and Taupo's Rebecca Smith.

In only it's fourth year, the Great Kauri Run organisers Andy Reid and Keith Stephenson were happy with a record entry of 275 runners. "I think people like the idea of an event that benefits the environment in which it is held," said Reid, who was also pleased with a record international entry that saw runners from USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Belgium travelling to the Great Kauri Run.

The idea for a Coromandel mountain run came three years ago when Reid returned from the Kepler Challenge wondering why there were no similarly inspiring mountain runs in their own spectacular region. They hope that the Kauri Run will become the North Island's major mountain run and that their Kauri concept might help regenerate the region's greatest asset. With a new Kauri seedling planted for every entrant the organisation has now put in close to 1000 trees. "Long term we're hoping that the event will be responsible for 10,000 new Kauri tress in 10 years," says Reid.

This innovative approach to event organising has made the Adventure Racing Coromandel crew the most popular event organisers in the upper North Island. The Kauri Run joins other popular ARC events such as the K2 road cycling classic, the ARC Adventure Race and the Moehau multisport race. The next ARC event on the calendar is the White Star Intrigue mountain bike race on February 2. For further details see: www.arcevents.co.nz .

ENDS

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