This weekend, we head over to New Zealand and the stunning surrounds of Wanaka for the anything but easy, the Ultra Easy 100km. There’s also a marathon and some kiddy events taking place, but our focus is on the big one.
If you know anything about race director Terry Davis, then it’s probably his warped sense of humour. A little like Sean Greenhill of the Mountain Sports variety, their perversions lie in finding bad ass courses, get a bunch of idiots (like myself) to sign up to it for 10-20 hours or so of suffering, depending upon your ability.
The ‘Ultra Easy’ is anything but, as you have probably worked out from the title and its extreme sense of irony. A wee hike up 1,200m or so to the peak of Mount Roy 15kms in, is followed by another peak ‘bag’ at the top of Mount Alpha, where in the first year of this race, I helped establish what we thought was the highest pie shop in the Southern Hemisphere… yes indeed, we drove a 4WD 1980 Range Rover to the top of Mount Alpha (well almost), got the generator going and warmed beef and mushroom and chicken and leek pies for the runners to enjoy as a sunrise snack.
You’re then confronted with a screaming downhill for 10-12kms or so, before you begin the long ass haul up to the top of Mount Pisa, where this year there’s a good chance we’ll be greeted with snow. There’s then a final 30kms of downhill, just in case your quads aren’t hammered enough. Sounds like fun hey?
After a 10 month layoff, I’m heading over the ditch to pass on my culinary crew duties and to actually race something, so I thought a nice ‘easy’ 100km would be a good kick-start to the season.
But enough of my ramblings, we want to hear about some real athletes and although the field is small, it’s perfectly formed with some high quality runners from both the home island, mixed with a few imposters from over the ditch.
In the ladies, I’ll make this one easy. We have two prize picks, both high quality athletes who’ve had some big results not just at home, but on the world stage too. The inner Sydney suburb of Rozelle is well-known for producing high quality athletes. I, myself hail from this fair concrete training playground where we reach a peak elevation of 7m above sea level. But I pale into insignificance when compared to one of the ladies favourites, Gill Fowler.
We’ve covered Gill’s many accolades in the past, most notably her sixth at UTMB a few years ago, but more recently the Bogong to Hotham title a few weeks back in the Victorian Alps. This course will suit Gill well, so expect her to go very well and be a potential winner here, but that will be fiercely contested by another quality runner from home shores, that of Jo Johansen.
Jo and Gill had an exceptionally close battle at the 2015 Buffalo Stampede Ultra, with Gill edging out Jo by just a mere minute or so over the 75kms. Since then Jo’s had a solid string of results, which included a second place at the inaugural Taupo 100km ultra last year. It will be pretty close between these two.
A couple of other ladies certainly worth notable mentions include Victoria Apablaza (10th at UTA last year) and Raeana Connell, fourth at the Tarawera 85km last year as well.
In the mens race, we have a good battle shaping up between two guys who raced hard together at The Hillary Ultra last year and are racing again this year, in Danny Garrett and Martin Kern.
Danny ran the inaugural Ultra Easy back in 2015, finishing third. Last year he had two very solid results over the ditch here in Australia, finishing third at the Buffalo Stampede and second at the Hounslow Classic. He likes it steep and rough, so expect some hard running from Danny at the weekend.
I don’t have much data on Martin, other than he finished 13 minutes behind Danny at The Hillary, so it should be a bit of a ding-dong between these two.
Victorian, Joel Fitzgerald is a genuine challenger to the top two guys, and he’s had a fairly busy racing schedule these last few weeks, which includes Bogong to Hotham and Two Bays Ultra. He’s performed rather solidly at both events where he clocked fourth at Bogong in 8hrs 15 minutes and then bagged another fourth place to finished the 56km course in 4hrs 31mins. Joel’s a great guy and very talented too, running how his body dictates, expect him to feature and grab a podium here.
Another Aussie and Victorian to watch for is Ben Clark. He raced copious amounts of events last year, the highlight probably being top ten placings at Bogong to Hotham and the Surf coast Century, proving he can mix it up on flats and mountains alike. Highly likely to feature in the top five if fit and ready.
Keep an eye out also for Perth based Richard Gould. He ran here last year with a time that wouldn’t really be on the spotters radar, but since then ran a 20hr 100 miler at the WTF 100 miler in Perth. One might suggest that he may not be overly fast on the more mountainous stuff, but he clearly has a bit of a turn of pace for the long flatter stuff, so watch this space. Either way, expect a big improvement on his 16:47 time from last year if fully fit.
Amadeus Gladbach is another that would normally be on the radar, having bagged some good results here in Australia a few years back, but a chance meeting on Kedumba a few weeks back tells me that he’s not in the peak of fitness right now, but on his day would be challenging for a spot in the upper echelons of the results list.
Best of luck to everyone running this weekend, I’ll enjoy the suffering with you.