It’s a Kiwi-ultra-tastic couple of weeks right now. With Tarawera and the Moonlight Shotover Sky Marathon just past, this week we have The Hillary Ultra to savour, then in a couple of weeks, the Northburn 100s. On a personal level, I can’t wait to get back to middle-earth for some hardcore racing at Northburn, but our focus this week is firmly on The Hillary and the wonderful men and women lined up for this rather special race.
Race director, Shaun Collins had, before the race been granted approval tried for many years to have an event on this rather special track that is as the name suggests, named after one of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Edmund Hillary.
Having spent a little bit of time on the track, I can tell you it’s one of the most spectacular around, with a vast sea of change between natural forest and cliff tops, reminding me in some respects of our own Great Ocean Walk 100.
So who’s who in the zoo for this one? What I like about the line-up for this one is the 40:60 split between female to male, showing that the numbers of females moving up to the bigger ultra distances is increasing and what’s more, the line-up here is pretty competitive. So we’re going to start with the ladies today and then bring you the men’s tomorrow.
First up for the mention is Hong-based Kiwi runner, Marie McNaughton, winner of many a race over in Hong Kong and recently placed seventh at the first leg of the Ultra Trail World Tour, The Hong Kong 100. Marie has vast experience, including a top ten placing at Lavaredo last year, on top of winning local Hong Kong races, the MSIG50 and the Lantau 70. I’d say we’d be expecting a podium at least from Marie, but she’s up against some very stiff competition in the form of Australia’s Gill Fowler.
Interestingly, Gill and Marie both raced at Lavaredo last year, where Gill finished just outside the podium for fourth. She also won Cradle Mountain and the Monte Rosa Walser UltraTrail over in Italy. Gill hasn’t raced an ultra since then, back in August 2015, so I’m sure she’ll be raring to go to claim a win and get her Skyrunning ANZ points tally off to a great start.
Batting for the locals however, is Jo Johansen, who’s had a fair bit of up and down since she won Tarawera a few years back. She unfortunately DNF’ed Tarawera this year, but admittedly had a few doubts about even pushing up to the 100km distance prior to the race. Hopefully she’s feeling good and back on the road to some good racing, so we wish her all the best for this one.
Keep an eye on Deb Nicholl too, Australia’s very own Kiwi import who’s had a quiet time since a blockbuster year in 2014 where she dominated most things she entered. It’s only understandable that the body needs a bit of R’n’R after such a hard year, but she’s kicked off 2016 with a sneaky little win up in Queensland at the Glasshouse Hare and Hounds race, knocking off the 52kms in a respectable 4:43.
While she might not be up to taking the line honours just yet, she’s all smiles and one of the nicest lady’s you’ll ever meet, but there’s a hard competitive edge to Deb that see her succeed too. Looking forward to seeing how she goes here.
Finishing just behind Deb in that race in Queensland was Nicole van Gurp, winner of quite a few events up in Queensland. The question will be if that form on the flatter trails of Queensland can be replicated to the steeper inclines of The Hillary.
Stay tuned for the men’s preview very soon!