The Skyrunning calendar kicks off with a bang in a little over a week’s time with the first event, The Ultra Easy 100km in what I think is one of the most beautiful places on earth, Wanaka.
While most of us work out how to get rid of the Festive excess, a number of hardy souls will have been in the depths of training to get themselves ready for this wonderfully brutal course, which see competitors smash their way up some pretty awesome climbs with views that take your breath away.
Last year was the inaugural event, with top Aussie-based Kiwi, Scotty Hawker taking out the line honours in a quality time of just over eleven hours. In the ladies, Queenstown runner, Becky Nixon stole the show and she returns this year in an attempt to remain unbeaten on this course and take our consecutive wins.
Becky might not have it all her own way as Aussie based Brit, Lou Clifton, new to ultra running last year but already with some good results could spring a surprise. This will be Lou’s first running over 100kms, but last year she won the Southern Highlands Challenge (50kms) in 4:34 and also finished 9th in her first ultra outing at the UTA 50kms in a respectable 5:46. If she paces her run well, I could see Lou winning this one.
Another interesting name on the starters list is Marie Ford, who according to my sources hasn’t run an ultra for since 2012, but her results over 50km indicate that she could certainly be a contender. She podiumed at the very first Northburn Station 50kms back in 2011 and also just missed out on a podium position at the Great Naseby 50kms in 2012 too. Hard to say if there’s any form of late of course, but results in the past indicate she could happily podium here.
In the men’s race, I have to say it, but I think the title is likely to head back over to the Aussie mainland once again after Scotty Hawker’s win last year. Even though he’s a kiwi, he lives in Australia, so that makes him nine-tenths Australian, particularly when he wins races that moves up to 100% Australian. A little like the UK’s relationship with tennis star, Andy Murray. When he wins, he’s British. When he loses, he’s Scottish. If you catch my drift.
So who’s bringing this title back over to sunny Australia, no pressure, but Ben Duffus is the man. He suffered with injury somewhat in 2015, including a game of chicken with a car and the bike he was on. Thankfully he came out well the other side and showed his class to smoke a good field at the Hounslow Classic Skyrace (68kms), finishing in a very impressive sub eight hours on a brutal course.
Ben will travel very well on this course too given its 4,000m+ of elevation and will pull ahead of the field on the climb up Mount Roy, which take runners up to over 1,900m and some stunning views of Wanaka at dawn. Ben’s going to be in good form I feel, so Scotty’s record from last year will definitely be under threat from Ben.
But we can’t forget the old battler, Grant Guise who finished second here last year and lines up again for some more pain. Grant is a former Wanaka resident, having recently upped sticks to Dunedin but will know this course like the back of his hand. Grant had a big year last year, including a walk/crawl at UTMB, but he won’t beat Ben 🙂 Podium is the best shot for this old war-horse, but looking at some of the other runners, even that could be a struggle!
Where I do think Ben could have a race on his hands is with Berlin-based, Timo Meyer. Timo is a quality runner and has some very good form behind him, including a fourth place at one of New Zealand’s leading runs, Kepler back in 2014. He beaten the aforementioned Grant by nearly half an hour I might add 🙂
In 2014, Timo also finished second at the HURT 100 miler in Hawaii, as well as second at the Tarawera 50kms too. I may have been a little too early to call Ben for the win – but it should be a really good battle between these two up front.
Some other names to watch out for include Charlie Sharpe from the UK, Steve Pemberton from Brisbane, Christchurch runner, Shane Thrower, Nick Johnston who finished Tarawera in a very credible 9hrs 17 and finally Sam McCutcheon who finished third at Kepler this year against a high-quality field.
My sources show that this result is his only ultra to date, and he only finished 14 seconds behind Dave Byrne so the man has real pace. While there’s very little form to show for Sam, he could be a real dark-horse, fighting it out for sure with Timo and Ben. expect him to there or even leading quite a bit of this race.
While Timo and Ben have all the experience in running big ultras, it will certainly be interesting to see if Sam can make light of his lack of experience and use his pace to take this one out and see me with egg on my face! I think he could do it. No pressure.
Who do you think will win?