Having covered the men’s race preview a few days ago, it’s now the turn of the ladies and the field is equally as exciting with some big names returning to the action, including last year’s winner, Dong Li.
Up against her this year are a plethora of Aussie girls and a Kiwi lady in fine form right now. As per the men’s race, this one is going to be as equally tight. If you look at a few of the ladies’ times on this course, they’re highly comparable, for example, Beth Cardelli has run 11hrs 1min, compared to Dong’s time last year of 11hrs 5mins.
Throw into the mix the likes of Kellie Emerson, Gill Fowler, Fiona Hayvice, Ildiko Wermescher and Caroline DuBois and it promises to be a cracking race.
The lady we’re going to start with is someone I’m really excited to see racing up in NSW again at UTA, and that’s Kellie Emmerson. Kellie has pretty much taken out every race in her native Victoria. Since she last raced UTA back in 2013, she’s come on leaps and bounds and is a totally different runner.
She’s not raced a big ultra yet in 2016 and something tells me that she’s been training very hard in preparation for this one. I think Kellie is going to have a great run here and a win would really see her propelled as one of our leading female trail runners over the big stuff i.e. 100kms.
She’s going to have her work cut out though against the Queen of UTA, Beth Cardelli. Beth has won this race three times previously, along with a second place too. She’s had a two-year hiatus from the Blue Mountains trails, but this year is back with a vengeance. She’s built nicely for this, with wins at the Knapsack Ultra and just recently, the Mount Solitary Ultra. Beth is also the quickest lady in this field over the UTA course and I fully expect that the course record could go this year and with it, perhaps the first time that Beth nails the sub 11 hour barrier here.
Gill Fowler likewise has built nicely for this race with wins at The Hillary 80km Ultra and the Razorback Run (64kms).
Gill tends to prefer the gnarlier stuff and there’s a lot of running at UTA, but in saying that Gill has gotten quicker and quicker over the flatter stuff.
Like those before her, I think she’s going to go close to the 11 hour mark too, perhaps nudging just below.
Moving across to some more overseas talent in the form of German runner, Ildiko Wermescher. She’s had a series of high-quality results, including third at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail 85 km last year, as well as second at the Eiger Ultra Trail 101 km in 2014, along with fourth at Transgrancanaria in the same year. But it was her sixth at UTMB in 2014 that really makes the ears prick up. She clearly enjoys the tough stuff and is probably on a par with Gill in that respect.
Ildiko is not overly ‘raced’ and already has a win at the Innsbruck Alpine 85km Ultra too this year. I’m thinking she could easily be a sneaky dark horse for a win here.
Staying overseas we now turn to the current champion, Li Dong. She took all before her last year and as returning champ, it’s hard not to install her as favourite for this one. Since her win here at UTA last year, Li took out five other wins in China and also won Vibram HK 100kms just a few months back too.
One wonders if Dong’s racing schedule over the last 12 months will start to take its toll soon, but to be frank, she’s still churning out the results and winning, so who am I to talk or comment!
I’m also pretty excited to see Fiona Hayvice heading over the Tasman to have a crack here. Fiona’s always been there or thereabouts over the last few years or so, but her break really came at Tarawera where she stuck at it and came out on top to grab the win.
She also finished in third at Kepler towards the back of last year too, so it will be great to see how she stacks up against some more of our local Aussie girls, along with the highly talented overseas runners too. A good result here will really cement Fiona’s place in the leading ladies over the 100km distance.
Finally, making the last of our overseas contenders is Caroline DuBois from France. This lady has some solid results having won the French national 100km champs in a very respectable 7hrs 58mins – expect her to feature, but not sure if she’ll dent the podium.
Two other Aussie ladies to keep an eye on are Melissa Robertson and Katherine Macmillan. Both have had some solid results here locally and could feature in the top five should a few before them take a few too many cookies out of the jar.
So who’s going to win? Similar to the men’s race it’s a little too close to call, with the potential for five or six of the above to be hitting the 10:45-11hr mark. Personally, I’d love to see Kellie Emmerson round off a cracking last 12 months or so and really propel herself on the world stage with a win here. The likes of Beth, Li, Gill and Ildiko are going to make it extremely tough.
With five ladies going hammer and tongs at this one, I think we’ll see a potential new course record, but conversely, one or two of the above may suffer with the pace.