A little late in the week to be adding this, but I can’t let the second round of the UTWT pass me by without a quick little hit out of who’s hot and in line for some honours tomorrow. The elite end of the field is somewhat smaller in terms of bigger names compared to previous years, but that doesn’t mean that the quality isn’t there.
We’ll start with the ladies, or rather lady that’s going to more than likely win and that’s Ruby Muir. While there are some other very accomplished female runners on the start list, you’d be very pushed to bet against Ruby taking out her third win at this race and more than likely dip below the sub 9 mark for the ladies. She really is in a class of her own and like last year, she’ll probably make the top ten overall, perhaps even the top five if her form in great.
For the Aussies, look out for Melissa Robertson who finished a highly credible fourth at UTA100 last year, but then DNF’ed the GNW 100 miler later in the year. She could be good for a podium here if she plays her cards sensibly, as to could Kiwi, Fiona Hayvice who finished fourth here last year. There are a few other international runners from the US coming over, but there’s a strong chance of an all Aussie/Kiwi podium here if the ladies race well.
In the men’s race, I think it’s a tale of the master versus the apprentice. Jonas Buud from Sweden is probably a little more well-known around these parts as a ‘flatlander’, consistently performing highly on track at road at the IAU champs. He casually smashed out a 6:22 100kms at the IAU champs last year and has also bagged a 7th place at Comrades too. He has speed to burn and it’s hard seeing him not breaking the tape in first place come early Saturday afternoon.
A man of equal pace, certainly over the shorter distances is Dave Byrne, fellow writer over at The Long Run. Dave’s still very early in his ‘ultra career’, stepping up to the 100km distance for the first time. There will be a lot of unknowns for Dave on this course and going toe to toe with someone like Jonas in the early stages is likely to end in a massive blowout, depending of course upon
what type of form Jonas is in. I’d say Jonas is probably in good nick, given he’s been in New Zealand for a few weeks now, is likely to have run the whole course and will be geared for taking this out.
Nevertheless, it will be very interesting to see how Dave progresses here. No one doubts his speed and potential, it’s time to string it all together however with the endurance required over the whole 100kms. The last 40kms of this race will suit both Dave and Jonas down to a tee. It’s a flat 40kms of gravel to open up the legs on and hit the afterburners, so as long as they haven’t taken out too many cookies from the jar early doors. Would be good to see Dave grab a podium here.
We also see a welcome return to action for Ryan Sandes too. He had a dog of a last 18 months with illness and injury and he’s also been in New Zealand for a few weeks, warming up with an adventure race down in Wanaka before relocating to the North Island. I think for Ryan, getting a competitive finish on the board will be the main priority here so that he can get the running mojo back. I hope he does well, he’s a good bloke and a big supporter of racing down in Australia and New Zealand and we wish him well.
Two US big guns in Jason Schlarb and Mike Wardian head on down to Kiwi shores for some hard racing. Mike too is a lovely guy who just genuinely and passionately loves racing. One of the most prolific racers in the world, he’ll do anything from a 15min 5km to an 8hr 100kms. I think there’s a strong chance of a podium for Mike depending upon his current form, nevertheless, he’s got top five written all over him and will always and consistently perform well in anything he races.
Jason Schlarb has got some good mountain legs in him, so expect him to feature strongly in the first half of the race. He grabbed second place at the Eiger Trail last year, his only race for 2015 and prior to that his best result in 2014 was a highly coveted fourth at UTMB, a race where US runners don’t typically tend to do well. I don’t think he’ll have the pace over the final 40 to match the likes of Jonas, but he’ll no doubt put in a very strong performance.
Finally, it’s the turn of local kiwi man, Vajin Armstrong. I think Vajin and Dave will have a good tussle for a podium spot. Vajin finished fourth here last year and then spent a bit of time racing over in Europe, which included a podium at the Swiss Alpine marathon. Vajin will always be there or thereabouts. Lastly, Japan’s Yoshikazu Hara lines up as he does seem to do in most races around the world. Since blasting onto International eyes with a win at UTMF in 2013, he’s been up and down more times than a yo-yo. He finished third here last year, but like the French rugby team, no-one quite knows which Hara will turn up to race.
Ultra168 picks for the win:
Ladies: Ruby Muir
Mens: Jonas Buud
Who’s your favourite for the win?