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“Brutal” Course And Conditions Make For Tough First Day In Thailand

The five competing New Zealand athletes on the opening day of the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand battled with pride in oppressive heat and humidity in the men’s and women’s uphill mountain races, which took place on a wickedly tough 8.5km climb.

With the temperature in the high 20C and with the athletes tackling 1021m of elevation, it was no easy challenge and the regular use of the term “brutal” by those competing in the Silver Singlet bears testament to the size of the task.

In the men’s race, Toby Batchelor (Pakuranga AC) performed doggedly to place 40th (58:19) with his fellow Kiwi Michael Sutton crossing the line in 44th spot – 43 seconds further adrift.

The Kiwi duo both found the conditions and devilish climbs a vicious test, although both athletes were satisfied with their efforts in what was their first mountain running appearance on the global stage.

Batchelor, the national mountain running silver medallist in Queenstown in August, was placed inside the top 25 in the early stages until the race started to take a toll on the University of Auckland Student Athlete Co-ordinator.

“I’ll take 40th because that was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” admits Batchelor, 28, who hails from The Catlins on the South Island. “It was very steep and very hot, it was brutal. I did what I wanted to do (in the early stages) but I was not able to hold on and I probably dropped 15 spots from about 3km. I was just holding on for dear life. I was fighting demons.

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“I found a little bit in the last couple of kilometres. But, hey, it has been an amazing experience. To be honest, I’m stoked to get to the top.”

Sutton (Athletics Tauranga) made a rapid start and sat 15th after the first kilometre but the software developer and Airbnb business owner found the experience similarly tough.

“I was happy with how the training went but I didn’t expect to be on my hands and knees several times (in the race),” added Sutton. “I knew they were some narrow trails, so I tried to get reasonably high up the field, which I think I did. But then after about two miles I thought I don’t think I can take another five and a half kilometres of this. I then just chugged through (the race), although my ankle started to turn in and I worried that if it turned in again it wouldn’t turn out again.”

Kenya secured 1-2 and in the men’s race as Patrick Kipngeno secured a blistering victory in 46:51 by a margin of nearly a minute and half from silver medallist Philemon Kiriago.

Experienced national mountain running champion Sarah Douglas was the first Kiwi woman home, placing 44th in 1:12:06 - three places ahead of countrywoman Kate Morrison (Sumner), who stopped the clock in 1:14:50. Eva Pringle, 21, of the University of Canterbury was the third women home Kiwi in 50th position (1:19:21). The trio placed 11th in the team race.

Douglas of Queenstown AC, who has competed in three previous editions of the World Mountain Running Championships when it was a standalone event, said the heat made the test in Thailand her toughest yet.

“From about 2km to 6km I found it hard to concentrate and focus and gather my thoughts,” explains the 38-year-old graphic designer. “I felt I wasted a lot of energy through bad form and not really concentrating on my feet because of the heat.

“I really enjoyed the last 2km because that’s when I felt a drop in temperature, a bit of a breeze and the gradient got runnable. But that first 6km was brutal.”

Douglas, who boasts a best finishing position of 35th at the Would Mountain Running Championships, said: “I would have loved to have place a bit higher, but I tried my best and I’m really proud.”

Allie McLaughlin of the USA took the title in a time of 55:15 – 26 seconds clear of Austrian Andrea Mayr, the six-time former world mountain running champion.

On the second day of the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships the focus switches to the trails with three Kiwis in action. The 2020 New Zealand Trail Running champion Weston Hill (Trentham United Harriers) competes in the long course trail race over a gruelling 78km which starts at 12.30pm (NZ time). Jessica Campbell (Sumner) will take on the 38km short course trail race with Ryan Carr (Queenstown AC) entered in the men’s equivalent. Both men’s and women’s short course races start at 1.30pm (NZ time).

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