A ‘window’ of fine weather and a battle supreme between two of New Zealand’s top female distance runners made for a sensational tenth anniversary Routeburn Classic yesterday (April 27 2013).
The exclusive adventure run is staged on New Zealand’s world famous Routeburn Track.
Dunedin’s Victoria Beck took out top honours in the Peak Performers Women’s division in a new women’s record time of 3hrs 25min 14sec, beating fellow Dunedin-ite Whitney Dagg, women’s champion for the past two years, into second spot with a time of 3:35:51. Third was Helen Gillespie of Hokitika in 3:37:36.
Dagg is training for a super-endurance race so astoundingly turned around at the finish line and ran back to The Divide and Te Anau.
Beck said she did not know what to expect from the run as it was her first time.
“I was worried it would be really technical, but it was better than I had imagined and I had it in the back of mind that it would be possible to win,” she said.
“Because I didn’t know what to expect I was a bit tentative going down the first big descent and Whitney caught me at the 10k mark, but that put some fire behind me going up the next climb I and I pulled away again. “I really hope to be back next year -- the organising crew was just awesome, it’s such a cool event.”
Slippery track conditions due to heavy overnight rain saw slower times for the top male contenders than 2012, but Luke Hurring from Timaru still put in an impressive time of 3:03:49 to take out top honours, with Dallas Wichman second in 3:03:55 and Thijs (correct) Hubber third in 3:10:33.
Luke Hurring said it was the first time he’d competed in the Routeburn Classic, joining a friend from Auckland.
He has mainly competed previously in 5,000m and 10,000m track races but said he had been “mixing it up a little” and recently competed in the Wanaka Challenge Half Iron Man.
“The Routeburn was absolutely incredible,” he said. “I had no expectations of the course as it was my first time so the slightly damp conditions didn’t faze me and I was happy with my race, it was good fun!
“Because I’d never seen the terrain before it was perfect opportunity to check out the stunning scenery, lakes, valleys and mountains. I’d definitely like to return and do it again, it was pretty spectacular!”
Local Queenstown runner Mark Douglas also set his own record of sorts – having competed in all ten Routeburn Classics, he was last across the line in 7:12:26, despite battling hip problems.
Running for the first time was his daughter Fleur Douglas who completed the course about an hour before her Dad. His record was noted with the surprise presentation of the 'Mark Douglas Perseverance Trophy' at the awards presentation on Saturday night, marking his decade of achievement.
Mr Douglas said he was “never going to not do it”, despite the pain.
“It was pretty difficult because I was in pain going uphill from the McKenzie Hut onwards, but from there on there was no way I was going to give in, I just plodded on, very determined.
“I was completely blown away with the award, just overwhelmed, quite lovely. My daughter also did wonderfully well, I was very proud of her.”
And despite the medical issues Mr Douglas said he intended to return. “My intention is to keep going. I’ll be back if it’s at all possible.”
Race organiser Evan McWhirter said he was thrilled to have got the race underway when all the forecasts and advice pointed to him having to potentially call it off.
“Luckily the front we’d been worried about came through early and while it teemed down with rain all night long when we woke up in morning there was this fantastic ‘window’ of good weather so we took it!” he said.
“It was all high cloud both sides of the Harris Saddle, which meant we could get the helicopters over the track, and it didn’t start to drizzle on the slower competitors until the end of the day.
“Because track conditions were slippery due to the overnight rain we had lots of competitors with ankle and knee ‘tweaks’ and ‘sit downs’, which resulted in six ankle sprains and one heli-vac from the Routeburn Flats with someone who didn’t feel he could continue, but all in all that’s to be expected from a track with the ups and downs of the Routeburn.
“It certainly wasn’t cold so no snow like we’ve had in previous years!”
Mr McWhirter said one of the most special moments of the day had been presenting the trophy to Mr Douglas, who was completely taken by surprise.
“We had the Perseverance Trophy specially made for him because he epitomises that. That was the highlight for me, giving him that trophy and touching the emotions of the big man.
“I can’t believe the race has been going for ten years, but it’s so much fun and we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t enjoy it. We have a passion for the event, the area, and the people who support it year in year out.
“Part of the challenge for us is improving it every year, not only with the race itself but in our super spot prizes and a goodie bag for athletes that’s like a ‘Santa sack’ of things they want and need.
“We’ll be back!”
More than 320 runners took part in the tough adventure race which starts at the Divide on Milford Road, crosses the Fiordland National Park, over the 1127 m Harris Saddle and finishes in the Mt Aspiring National Park near Glenorchy.
The Routeburn Classic is a renowned mountain run in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is described as a true adventure run in stunning Fiordland national park and a unique challenge for athletes of all abilities and ages.
Routeburn Classic overall winner Luke Hurring. Credit MMPro
Routeburn Classic women’s winner Victoria Beck. Credit MMPro
Veteran runner Mark Douglas with his Perserverance Trophy and daughter Fleur Douglas. Credit Deborah-Lee Photography