While the UTWT circus moves on to its next destination, the racing stays firmly in NZ this week as we head down to the South Island and a visit to the stunning ranges near Queenstown that make up the Northburn 100 race.
This race has been going a number of years now (I ran the inaugural event), and while it doesn’t attract the numbers that a Tarawera might, this one has more brawn than beauty. This race isn’t for the faint-hearted, with over 8,000m of climbing (and the same descent). It’s brutal on the legs, which goes some to explain why it’s the only race in the Southern Hemisphere that acts as a qualifier for the infamous Hardrock 100.
If it weren’t for an ill-timed trip to the US, I’d be on the start line with the 50 or so other slightly warped people who think this kind of elevation brutality is fun. In a way, I kind of like the fact that this race attracts a limited few – which is why this one features highly on the Ultra168 radar.
You know that you’re sharing the start line of this race with some very like-minded individuals, where discussions and deliberations over the horror of having to carry a rain-jacket simply do not exist. It’s a race whereby the people who start it know they must be accountable and responsible for their own safety in the mountains. It’s a true ultra mentality.
The course is run over three loops in the Northburn ranges, with a base up top amid the winds, rain, snow or sun… whatever the mountain decides to throw at you. Down below is the relative sanctuary of the vineyards and some excellent Pinot Noir for after – it’s worth the wait.
Racing here is simple. Get up to the top of the mountain and then smash those quads coming back down again, repeat three times, but all on three varying loops and slightly different terrains to keep things interesting.
Four years ago when I ran this event, I distinctly remember embarking upon my third loop feeling pretty out of it. Half way along the uphill slog to the top I took a break and sat on a rock, sucked down a gel and looked down on the town and lights and thought to myself how much fun this all was. Life was great.
Northburn is that type of event, you leave a lot of memories and emotions out on the course. It’s a place I’ll return to and run again for sure. If you haven’t already and you enjoy testing yourself, I urge you to sign up and have a crack at this race too.
So enough setting the scene, who are the main contenders in the line-up this year? Well we’ve consulted our silver ferns on the ground across the ditch and they’ve fed back to us who’s likely to be duking it out up front, bar one or two porky pies (cocky rhyming slam for ‘lies’ for those not across London dialect!) that they may have chosen to push our way too!
The 100 miler contenders
In the ladies, two names standout like a sore thumb. Jean Beaumont won this in 2012 in 26hrs 45mins and finished second overall in the process too – she’ll obviously want to repeat that. While Hannah Roberts is a young gun all the way from Honolulu and has real pedigree over the 100 mile distance for someone so young in the ultra-game.
She’s won the HURT 100 twice and also finished fourth at Badwater back in 2012 – she’s a real contender for overall winner if she brings her ‘A game’ to this race.
In the men’s race we have former winner Glenn Sutton toeing the line, along with Michael Beaumont who finished fourth in last years’ race just behind Glenn above, as well as Glenn Kelly who was fifth behind Michael. All three of these guys finished pretty closely together last year, so you can bet that there could be the same on the cards for this year too.
Ben Winrow has been running well we hear from our spies across the ditch and his form last year too suggests that he could be challenging the three guys above him. Ben ran the 100kms here a few years ago, finishing in a very tidy third place, so knows the course too. US runner Andrew Readinger and Canberra guy, Dave Graham are other runners to watch closely.
A real dark horse, although not a dark horse when you look at the volume of races he’s raced over the years is Woulter Hamelinck from Belgium. He’s run an impressive 77 ultras in the last nine years, including a few wins along the way – he could be one to take out the overall win.
We also hear there’s a bit of a ‘smokie’ in the 100 miler, a NZ champion across a few endurance sports, but our sources refuse to let the cat out of the bag. The Ultra168 computer has done numerous search, but to no avail. Watch this space as we hunt for more information…
In the 100km ladies race, Kohleighne Ford is back on the scene and looking solid according to our men on the ground, and in the men’s another former winner of the 100kms and fellow Aussie, Matty Abel lines up again looking to score his second win. He won’t have it all his own way though as Simon Green is racing too, and he’s a top 10 finisher at Kepler from 2013.
In the 50kms, Moritz auf de Heide looks like a main contender for the title, but he’ll have a superstar to track in his wake, namely one Sage Canaday, fresh from his win at Tarawera last week, and even fresher from not having run the full 100kms. The question is whether he’ll head out hard, or sit back and take it easy. His easy though could be enough for the win.
Feature image credit – Paul Petch www.outdoorphotography.co.nz
*All featured runners based upon the latest entrants list available.