What a day – 97 starters over 3 races including pacers, and 80, finishers.
Some insanely fast times, records broken, records not broken, a clutch of out-of-towners, champions crowned, personal bests achieved, a couple of false finishes, an exhausted Stephen Day, a bit of rain, wind as promised, lots of enthusiastic spectators, Rees Buck with his Charlie Mordecai moustache, an army of behind the scene organisers, and Sharon and Andrew W who captured it all.
The highlight was the 28.48 achieved in the invitational elite race by Oli Chignell of Dunedin which must be one of the fastest 10k times run at Newtown Park this year, if not ever.
The 29.47 scored by Christopher Dryden of Christchurch for 2nd place is also pretty impressive especially given that conditions were not ideal, even if the wind had dropped a bit and the promised rain ended up being insignificant.
Pacing for this race was undertaken by a couple of superstars, Sam Tanner and Hayden Wilde, the latter being the defacto NZ XC Champion for 2020, and they tell me a pretty handy triathlete as well. It’s not every day that you get to see such a classy bunch of runners at the park.
In the first race of the night, the B 10k, the pace for the lead bunch was taken up by Paul Hewitson and Brad Wong, who hauled the eventual winner Karl Jackson through to a fine performance (39.42) closely followed by Nicolas Vessiot (39.51). There has to be rivalry there.
All eyes were on Michele Allison to see if she could achieve the night’s goal of grabbing the women’s age-grade record for the distance on the track. Those around her provided some protection from the wind in the early laps, but then she broke out to end up with a 44.41 which unofficially smashed the old record by about 2 minutes. Oh, you pretty thing!
Bill Wang tried to finish twice (he wasn't the only one) but the majority of race walkers who competed in the 10k walk earlier in the day, but were then bold enough to try the running version of the distance, did not finish at all. Except you Ian Morton, so I will be watching you.
Now it’s the A race. This field is full of well-performed masters, all of them out to steal race records away from each other. Nice to have friends isn't it.
This race also included some fast women and the odd dark horse.
The early pace was set by Ben Twyman, the Scottish club men’s captain, who did a sterling job at keeping the early laps even for the front bunch. Rees Busk said so, and he knows a thing or two about laps.
This was a strategic race, with the eventual winner, and dark horse, Oliver O'Sullivan of the Hill City club in Dunedin, leaving his best running until the last half of the race. He just stayed in contact, and then moved ahead as runners in front tired. I suppose some of the early leaders may have gone out too fast, with an eye on their record stealing campaign, but who knows.
Stephen Day literally ran himself into the ground for the cause and barely finished, and then in a distressed state.
If I have the story correct, Michael Wray also missed one of Grant McLeans age-grade records by a mere few seconds. It’s all very murky, but on Sunday there is a strong chance legal action might be taken to demand a recount of some kind, possibly a re-measuring of the track, an inspection of Grant’s birth date records or anything else that might give MW the record. Sharon could be working on it.
It looked to me that good performances came from Malcolm Hodge, Geoff Ferry, Grant McLean, Ryan Hunt, and Liam Jones, the latter two improving fast with this running business.
Ryan’s brother, Daniel Hunt, was also in the field but he has not quite returned to full fitness, so its a bit early to say that sibling rivalry is now in full play. Daniel did tell me a few things about Ryan’s competitiveness but you will have to pay me to tell you what he said.
The few women in the field had a battle royal with the 3 top contenders in the form of Cantabrian, Natalie Dryden and the two locals Deborah Lynch and Esther George.
It ultimately came down to a sprint finish between Deborah and Esther who ran 37.17 and 37.18 respectively. I can't wait for the movie.
Although the women’s field was quite small, it turned out to be very competitive and hopefully, all are pleased with their performances.
The invitational elite race was greatly anticipated as a chance to see some rare performances, and we were not disappointed.
weather forecast predicting rain and windy conditions the chances of seeing a
sub-30 minute for 10 seemed tricky to pull off even though the field included
athletes more than capable of picking one-off if the planets were in alignment, so to speak.
The two high profile pacemakers pretty much cleared out with Oli Chignell, Hamish Carson, Christopher Dryden and Caden Shields (Dunedin) in tow. Was Hamish a pacer?
Carson, Chignell and Wilde soon made a small break leaving Tanner to lead the next group Dryden, Shields and Issac Murphy, with someone I don’t know tagging on the end. Was that Fabian Downs?
The next group back was led by pacemaker Evan Cooper and it was quite a big bunch as well. This included, and in no particular order, Hiro Tanimoto, Malcolm Hodge, Niam MacDonald, Ronan Lee, Joseph Lynch, Matt Dryden, Andre Le Pine-Day, Nathan Tse and Nick Horspool who has run at sub-30 in a previous Agency 10k at Newtown Park.
With the pacers gone, including Hamish, it was left to Oli Chignell to do the balance of the laps as a solo effort. Oli is trucking on.
This is a tough ask at the best of times but the excellent crowd support can make all the difference, plus of course the informed commentary from Rees Buck with his Mordecai mo, who knows a thing or two about laps.
Sharon was somewhere doing her paparazzi thing.
So there you have it, an amazing race with some of the best runners assembled and a fantastic end time of 28.48.03 from Oli Chignell, who may have cause to regard Wellington as his favourite place to race given that he won the 2018 SM National XC Champs title at the infamous and insanely muddy Grenada Park location. And now this.
So while many will be pleased with their showing at the park there will be some disappointments as well.
But remember there is always next year. , y'hear?
ELITE INVITATIONAL RACE PHOTOS