Jones And Muir Bank Kepler Challenge Titles
Jones And Muir Bank Kepler Challenge Titles in Tough Conditions
7/12/19 - Daniel Jones and Ruby Muir have made triumphant returns in difficult conditions at the 2019 Fresh Choice Kepler Challenge today.
Sustained rainfall in the Fiordland region in recent weeks had forced race organisers to use an alternative route for just the third time in the Challenge’s 32-year history, and the first time since 2004.
The alternate route effectively asked a capacity field of 450 runners to complete half the Kepler Track twice, and despite the length of the event being about 6km shorter, it still proved a challenge.
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 in the men’s event, despite coming into the race with an Achilles injury which had forced him to pull out halfway through his defence of the Queenstown marathon title last month.
“It’s the alternative course for the Kepler, but it’s still one hell of a course,” Jones said.
“It was a big adventure out there, it was a lot of fun and obviously hard work. The first half up to Luxmore and back was okay, and then we definitely got some muddy sections to the far end. There was a lot of water on the track and that made it a lot of fun wading through waist-deep water in parts. It was great atmosphere, there were people cheering you on as you went the other way.”
After missing last year’s race, Muir was made to work hard before banking her sixth Kepler title.
She trailed 2018 winner Nancy Jiang at Luxmore Hut, but was able to make her move before Moturau Hut and hold her advantage through to the end.
“My legs got really tired in the mud, but my energy levels were really good and I was feeling quite positive,” Muir said.
“I had knee surgery in February and my big goal was to get well enough to run this by December. It was pretty touch and go, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the start line, so I was happy just to make it here - and to win it as well was a bonus.”
Jones took out the men’s race by nearly 20 minutes from Alex Hunt, with Gene Beveridge third, while Muir was 13 minutes ahead of runner-up Caitlin Fielder, with Jiang third.
Englishman Sam Tosh defied the conditions to break the two hour mark in the 27km Luxmore Grunt, beating home Scott Underhay and Drummond’s Richard Ford.
Queenstown’s Sarah Douglas won the Grunt women’s race from Te Anau’s Sally McMillan-Armstrong and Lucia Vincent.
“It was my first race in New Zealand, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Tosh said.
“We had a nice wee group to start with and then I just pulled away a bit at Brod Bay. With the out and back you had an idea of how far ahead you were so I knew I couldn’t ease up too much. The track was wet and muddy, but coming from the UK that probably suits me more than most, so I can’t complain.”
Tosh will return home over Christmas before returning to New Zealand for events including the Motatapu’s Shotover marathon and the Routeburn Rage.
Douglas said she had dialed things back a bit to suit the wet conditions, and enjoyed the support from spectators on the track.
“I felt pretty good until the last 5km, but that seems to always happen. I’ve struggled a little bit with injuries over the last few years, but I’m uninjured at the moment, so I’m happy with that.”
Te Anau policeman Dwight Grieve was the first local home in the Kepler Challenge, finishing sixth overall.
“Stoked to do it again. You just never know how you are going to go in this race, especially with the alternate course. It was just a matter of hanging in there, it was so draining in the mud.”
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.