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Saturday, April 13, 2019

2019 NZ Mountain Running Champs and Wellington Mountain Running Champs Wainuiomata Sat 13 Apr


Photos Below 

It was another successful day over in Wainuiomata for the NZ Mountain Running Champs and the Wellington Mountain Running Champs. I am pretty sure that Wellington is the only centre that has combined the two events in fact I am not aware if other athletic centres have an annual mountain running championship race. 

A lot of credit needs to go to Alan Carmen and his support crew at Wainuiomata Harriers. For a small club it punches above its weight and there is little to fault with its organisation for this event. 

The course is an up and down and utilises the 4 wheel drive tracks and fire breaks that pepper the hills that surround the settlement. It is a tough course and will test fitness. I found the written course description and map included with the event information pretty useful when figuring out where the best place would be to take photos. Of course it was always going to be at the top of the “hill from hell” which is close to the highest point of the course. This section is brutal not simply because of its steepness (especially at the top) but because a significant part of the surface is smooth rock and a hazard to navigate. Where there is no rock there is loose gravel and stones. 

The two main races were the 11.5km and 8.5km events.  These races started 10 minutes apart with the 11.5km runners going first. There were two shorter races over 4.5km and 1.5km which catered from some grades including the under 16’s and younger kids which I I did not get to see.

All of the 11.5km and 8.5km runners came up the hill for hell at least once with the longer race competitors doing this section twice. So that’s why I was there at the top. 

Looking south across to the faraway hills and the flat of the town gives a good perspective of how high the runners have to come up. The weather forecast was for possible showers and a dying southerly but honestly it was nice up there with little wind and certainly no rain. Conditions couldn’t be better.

First up to the top of this hill was actually a dog called rocket. This beautiful miniature schnauzer with lovely black eyes was taking his human owner, Paddy Gower, out on his daily walk. Paddy is better known as TV political journalist and commentator rather than a rocket man. Apparently he walks up this hill often especially in the summer when the weather is likely to be better. The challenge for Paddy and rocket was actually going back down the hill on the return journey which is likely to be trickier than going up.

Paddy Gower and Rocket

Not surprisingly the first runner to appear in the 11.5km race was Andy Good who for the record is not related to Tony Good the well known Canterbury road runner (Christchurch Olympic?) from the 70’s and 80’s. Or at least Andy doesn’t think so.

Allowing for the fact that Andy was trying to get over one of the most challenging parts of the course he actually looked good (lame pun intended). He picked his way steadily to the top using the safest line and tacking left of right if needed to get secure footing. He kept moving using choppy strides for efficiency. Many others deployed the same tactics which is entirely sensible. 

Coming onto the track as Andy disappeared behind me were the other two race favourites in the men's race, Harry Burnard (#MadHarry) and Dougal Thorburn,  both of whom could be described as mountain running aficionados.  Afterwards Harry said he loved the course and for those that are happiest running in the wild in the middle of nowhere either in training or racing I can see the appeal.

More runners started to come onto the track below preparing to tackle the hill. The first women up to the top and about a minute apart were Simone Brick and Lauren Starr a couple of visiting Aussies. The first kiwi woman up past me was Sabrina Grogan representing the Canterbury University Club.

In the 8.5km race the first male up the hill was Toby Gualter just back from competing at the World Cross Country Champs in Denmark. Further back was Buddy Small from Southland who runs for St Pauls a club I used to run for back sometime in the 1900’s. They don’t have many hills in Southland that are easily accessible so running around the hills of Wanuiomata would be an interesting experience. In third place behind Buddy was Sam Argyle-Wright from Olympic Harriers and just before he came to the top. All of these three were competing in the Men’s U19/20 grade. And just in case you are wondering  the Women’s U18/20 race was held over the 4.5km course which I didn’t get to see.

Just before Sam came over the hill Andy Good was past for the second and last time and was now heading back on the course to the finish.

The leading woman in the 8.5km race was Mel Aitken an off road specialist who would love this course.  In second place was Tina Faulkner better known as a track runner but doing remarkably well on the hilly terrain of this course. Behind Tina and not that far behind either was Nicola Hankinson another Olympic Harriers entrant.

Last year Olympic came out in force and this year they did the same with plenty of its members turning up across all the grades including the children. There were a number of out-of towners in the various races and hopefully they enjoyed the experience as it’s not something you would easily forget. There were lots of master’s men and women as well and maybe this is because they enjoy the pain or is it because they have less speed these days but plenty of endurance. But tell that to Stephen Day, Dan Clendon and Dougal Thorburn who seem to have plenty of both. And then there are the former champions of old, people like Liam Healy and Mark Handley who several decades ago would have seen themselves at the front of any race.
The prize giving was along affair mainly because there were medals to be awarded for so many grades across both the NZ and Wellington champs. Plus there were spot prizes galore which along with the afternoon tea provide makes this event so notable.

This year electronic timing was used which I believe might have been a late decision due to the high number of entries received. This was all managed by Daryl Bloomfield who pretty much is the official electronic guru for Athletics Wellington races and other club races. But being prudent and learning from experience John Turner was there as manual backup.

Representing Athletics NZ was Alan Stevens who knows one or two things about athletics in NZ and is well overdue in publishing his memoirs.

Other Camera