The Altra Running New Zealand Team announced their presence on the NZ running scene by storming the top spots at this past Saturday's Kepler Challenge in Te Anau.
Mel, Sarah, Jack and Sam, post Kepler 2016. Matt had a flight to catch and missed the photo....
The Kepler Challenge is now in its 29th year and is the most prestigious mountain ultra on the New Zealand running calendar. The event is made up of the 60km Kepler Challenge, and the shorter 27km Luxmore Grunt.
In the 60km event, Altra Athletes Sam McCutcheon and Mel Aitken were both running comfortably in 2nd place at Luxmore Hut.
Sam was running in a strong lead pack of men, made up of Dom Channon and 3 x Kepler winner Vajin Armstong, all looking comfortable.
Sam just above Luxmore Hut.
In the women's race, Mel trailed kiwi running legend Anna Frost by less than a minute.
By Iris Burn Sam had established a commanding lead that he held onto, finishing strong for the win, in 4hr54, followed by Vajin and Dom.
This caps off an "EPIC" year for Sam, who placed 11th at the World SkyRunning Champs and was crowned the Australia/New Zealand SkyRunning Series winner.
"Epic day in an epic place with above average people; couldn't think of a better way to spend a weekend. Can't wait to get back into it soon."
In the women's race Anna and Mel were less than a minute apart at Iris Burn, but by the next check point at Rocky Point Anna had pulled away, showing the strength and endurance that has served her well so many times on the world stage.
Mel, running in her first ultra and just 2 weeks after winning the Queenstown Marathon held on to 2nd place, in a time of 6hrs23, just 2mins ahead of 3rd place Emma Perron.
Mel running into Rainbow Reach.
For Mel, her first Kepler experience was an unforgettable one-
"I am totally blown away with the experience, the magic of the race itself, the comradeship of the competitors, the supporters and organizers - and of course knowing I just smashed out 60km!"
Auckland based Altra ambassador, Kiwi Trail Runner contributor and race director of the Riverhead Rampage, Matt Rayment took on his first Kepler, just a month after the Taniwha Marathon. Having raced primarily in the North Island, the Kepler's alpine sections were an uplifting experience- " I've never been as high as Mt Luxmore. Life changing. I'm still bummed that I'm back at sea level." Matt finished in 8hr48!
In the 27km Luxmore Grunt, an out and back race to the Luxmore Hut and back to the control gates, Sarah Douglas won the women's race by over 10mins. The current New Zealand Mountain Running Champ has been suffering from multiple foot injuries for the second half of the year, but despite this Sarah gave it her all.
"Due to my ongoing foot problems this was the most challenging (and painful) race I have ever competed in. The view at Luxmore and the support at the finish made it worthwhile. I was chuffed I didn’t get passed by guys on the downhill like I did last year"
In the men's Luxmore Grunt there was much hype, with a deep field and loads of talent lining up. In his longest race ever, New Zealand junior Mountain Running Champ Jack Beaumont lead from start to finish, winning in the 2nd fastest time in the races' history- less than 2 minutes off the legendary Phil Costley's record of 1hr52min30sec.
Jack summed up the Kepler experience and the community feel of the event well- "Great experience, nice variation in terrain and hills. The atmosphere is the best part of the Kepler. Everyone is so pumped and friendly, the whole town seems to be buzzing and it was amazing to be amongst it."