Withering hills pace expected
Marlborough's running royalty will be crowned tomorrow when the annual King and Queen of the Withers race is staged on the demanding tracks in the hills overlooking Blenheim.
The race starts at the Rifle Range Place carpark entrance to the Wither Hills Farm Park and covers approximately 10km of gut-busting terrain.
The event has a long history. It was first held in 1977 as the King of the Withers and contested by male runners only. In 1992 it was opened up to female runners and renamed the King and Queen of the Withers. Originally the course started in the CBD, went into the Wither Hills and then returned to town.
However, increased traffic and housing developments meant several changes had to be made to the course in 2004 and now it is run totally within the Farm Park area.
Further innovations saw separate male, female and walkers' events introduced in 2003, a hybrid (walk/run) section introduced in 2009, plus business house and married couples teams sections.
This year trophies will be presented in 11 categories spread across the run, walk or hybrid sections, including business house and married couple teams. Grades include juniors (under 20), seniors (under 35) and veterans (35+).
Last year Marlborough's Ian Thomas and Megan Craig headed a record 157-strong field home in sweltering conditions and on a tinder-dry course. Organiser Steve Olsen said that this time around the course was in "lovely condition" after recent rain and added that "everything was on track".
Although Thomas ran a fine time of 44min 10sec last year it was well off the 38.55 record set in 2012 by Nelson's Phil Costley.
Craig, one of New Zealand's leading squash players, won for the second time last year in 48.36 and is expected to compete again tomorrow.
Most competitors enter on the day and Olsen expects around 130 to front up, evenly spread between runners, hybrids and walkers. In 2009, New Zealand's world-ranked triathlon star Andrea Hewitt and her partner, French tri champion Laurent Vidal, surprised event organisers by turning up on the morning of the race and claiming the running titles, Hewitt setting a women's record of 45.28.
Walkers start their race at 7.45am tomorrow, hybrids begin at 8am, while runners set off at 8.30am.
- The Marlborough Express