Jones Returns To Kepler Challenge After Breakthrough Year
With the potential for a record-equalling sixth Kepler Challenge mountain race title on Saturday, top New Zealand ultrarunner Daniel Jones is as interested as anyone to see how he goes in Te Anau.
The five-time winner could equal the men’s record for title wins currently held alone by Russell Hurring, who claimed half a dozen victories between 1990 and 1995.
Ruby Muir also has six Kepler titles to her credit, including four in a row from 2012 to 2015, along with wins in 2017 and 2019.
Jones will return to Te Anau at the end of a breakthrough year in 2023 which saw him produce outstanding debut performances in two iconic trail running events - a fifth-place finish in the Western States 160km endurance run in California and 12th at Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc in France, regarded as the most competitive ultra trail marathon in the world.
After racing two of the sport’s pinnacle events within a couple of months of each other, the 33-year-old opted not to compete at the Auckland marathon, instead preferring to concentrate on the Queenstown marathon and 60km Kepler Challenge.
“It’s been a big year and it’s been about getting back into fitness nicely, without trying to rush things,” he said.
Jones was happy with the way his legs felt on the way to his third Queenstown marathon victory in November, but given the different programme he has been running in 2023, he’s not entirely sure how they will go in Te Anau.
He is hoping to showcase his hill speed development, something he’s been working on since joining with Italian-based British coach Robbie Britton earlier this year.
“I’ve been putting a lot of work into my vert training, as much for Kepler as for next year as well. The hills are somewhere I think I can make the biggest amount of time on. I hope that shows on the lead up to Luxmore and across the tops.”
That doesn’t mean Jones is preoccupied with chasing down the decade-old race record set by Martin Dent in 2013.
Jones came closest to knocking over Dent’s 4hr 33min record in last January’s rescheduled (due to Covid) Kepler when he ran 4:37. Two of Jones’ other title wins came on the weather-enforced alternative Kepler course.
“It’s not a race that I go there just to get a record, I go there because I enjoy the race itself. It’s about heading down to Te Anau and having a fun weekend. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself this year and to be honest I just want to come down and enjoy the race.”
With the likes of Daniel Balchin and David Haunschmidt on the start line, Jones is hoping for some good racing though.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive year anyway. I just take each race as it comes, I don’t really know where my fitness is at. Going into Kepler I’ve done Queenstown, but having not done Auckland maybe I’m a little fresher.”
Nancy Jiang, who has stood on all three levels of the podium at the past three editions of the Kepler, is also returning for 2023 and is expected to be one of the race favourites.