This weekend sees the Skyrunning series kick off with a bang and the Ultra Easy 100, a title which in itself is meant as a massive irony. The race is the first of 13 in the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Oceania Skyrunning Series, and the first chance for those looking to get a head start in the series to bag some points to challenge for the overall title of ANZ Skyrunning champion.
The name makes this race sound like a stroll in the park but it is very misleading. One hundred kilometres, or 62.5miles for our US and UK friends, two monster climbs and descents, extreme weather changes i.e. some parts could be 30+ degrees, while others could drop below 10 in the upper mountains, technical trail and high altitude more often experienced in the Northern Hemisphere races on offer to a hardy few.
Race director Terry Davies has a reputation for putting on challenging events. He simply sums it up – “The Ultra Easy is a 100km loop, starting at Albert Town Tavern, running over Mt Iron, Roys Peak, Mt Alpha, Little Criffel and joining the marathon course to go over Mt Pisa – about (which means, probably more) 4700m of climbing and descending – 3am start. 20hr cut off. Not to be taken lightly!”
Grant Guise, who also helped piece together the course and veteran of some impressive international results adds, “The climb from the bottom of the Cardrona Valley to the Mt Pisa summit is 30kms and just over 2000m of vertical gain. It took me over 4 hours in training!”
So who is likely to tough it out this weekend ? Well numbers of competitors are small as this is not an undergraduate ultra where a local 5km park run qualifies you to enter. The locals clearly have the advantage and yet we could be seeing the title heading over the ditch to Australia, all be it in the hands of a Kiwi?
In the mens, it looks to be a four-way split between Hoka athlete and Aussie based Kiwi, Scott Hawker based versus Kiwi locals Grant Guise, Danny Garrett and Simon Green.
Scott is the stand out in this field with impressive results in a number of tough ultras in 2014. A win at the weekend over a much shorter 25km course at the Goat Race Mountain run shows he has pace to burn, but a quick trip to hospital and a course of antibiotics may have blunted him this week. Time and distance will tell as winning times will be most likely be north of 10 hours on this course.
Grant Guise cannot be ruled out. His running has gone through a bit of a resurgence in 2014 with impressive results at the Buffalo Stampede against a world-class field. He knows the course well, trains on it regularly and will have the patience to be in the mix at the very end when the 12km relatively flat sprint for home occurs. For those addicted to Strava stats it is hard to pass up Grant’s impressive 8000m+ of vertical gain last week as he spent most of the week out on the course.
In the ladies it will be hard to pick from the following Becky Nixon and Lisa McFarlane. Becky knows what it takes to tough out these mountains, having finished the Northburn 100 miler twice, finishing second last year. Don’t rule out Canberra runner Bryony McConnell though. She has the patience and resilience to keep pushing to the very end and could top out with the win overall. Also watch out for Justine Medin from Sydney. It’s her first outing over 100kms and while she’ll no doubt be taking life fairly easy for her first attempt at this distance, she did recently have a strong showing at Kepler. I’ve been on some training runs with Justine and she smokes the hell out of me on the downhills, but she’s still very early in her running career.
On a personal level, I was due to race this, but given my recent injury, the prospect of running a 100km suffer fest having not run for six weeks fills me with both fear and excitement… I think I’ll make a call at 2:30am Saturday morning, egged on by the likes of Skyrunning head honcho, Marcus Warner and Grant Guise.