Queenstown athlete Jim Hawkridge will be lugging some extra weight in this year's Routeburn Classic with the added pressure of the 'defending champion' tag. He spoke to sports reporter Jerrie Andrews about his fourth crack at the run.
While most trampers take three days to walk the Routeburn Track, Jim Hawkridge is one of the few runners to cover it in under three hours and it's a time he's hoping to replicate today.
The fifth Routeburn Classic — a 38km run traversing Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks — starts today at 8am and has attracted more than 200 runners.
Among them is Hawkridge — last year's champion, this year's hopeful and an athlete who has an obvious love of all things active.
The 34-year-old Englishman has lived in Queenstown for seven years and in that time has made a name for himself as a multisporter — and a good one at that, winning last year's Routeburn Classic and recording plenty of success as one half of a team in the Coast to Coast.
While winning last year's Routeburn Classic in 2hr 58min 53sec was an obvious high of his four-year involvement in the race, he admitted it did add a slight pressure to his run today.
"I guess because you've won it everyone expects that much more of you, so you definitely have to deal with that side of things. You want to do well and you want to go forward, so there's a wee bit of pressure there — but it's good pressure. When you're competing it's nice to have that to motivate you and I want to improve." Last year's notable omission from the classic was three-time Coast to Coast winner and three-time Routeburn Classic victor Richard Ussher, who is set to line up in today's race and Hawkridge was quick to point out his admiration of the one time Queenstown-based athlete.
"He's the man, he really is. He's the best out there. To be honest with you, he's faster than I am so in some ways I'm not putting too much pressure on myself, but it would be great to beat him, let's face it," he laughed.
"I'll just try to stick to my plan, do my thing and if I'm feeling good I'm going to go for it." For Hawkridge, the Routeburn is a track well-travelled. He's learned lessons about the terrain, about the pace required to do well in an event such as this and about what is possible — including breaking the three-hour barrier, which until last year only Ussher had done.
His goals today are as follows: 1 To run the 38km in under three hours.
2 To beat his time from last year.
3 To give the course record (2hr 51min 57sec) a good nudge.
"I'm trying to take seven or eight minutes off my time from last year and when you think about how far you can run in seven or eight minutes, to put that much pace on when you're already going as hard as you can is quite a bit extra," he said.
"I have got splits from last year's time and from training — I went through about a month ago — I know certain points along the course and what time I should be there. The splits are quite good psychologically, they help you know if you're on track or not and give you something to compare against." "As far as the run itself goes, I don't go out at one pace and maintain that pace. After a while you find you're surging and putting on the pace, then recovering, surging then recovering. It's really tricky when you're running with quick guys. Sometimes they might be surging and you might be in recovery.
You go into the bush and after a couple of corners you can lose them, so psychologically you're having to deal with that. But if you're out in front that can help you — it can play to your advantage." It's not just running that holds a soft spot with Hawkridge.
He does multisport, adventure racing, mountainbike racing, road racing ... the list goes on.
Whether it's his flexibility, his eagerness to give anything a go, or his general success, something caught the eye of international sports brand Salomon, who have come on board as his sponsor, and considering he can go through a $300 pair of shoes in as little as two months, it has made his active lifestyle a lot easier to maintain.
"I just love having something to aim for, having a wee challenge to take on," he said.
And while the 38km Routeburn sounds anything but "wee" to most people, to Hawkridge it's just a run in the park. Or the bush as it were.
"I would say it's quite a short race for me — it's over before you know it," he said.
"It's three hours and I'm used to doing races a lot longer than that. It does go by really quickly. You're going through the trail and through passes and lakes, waterfalls ... there's so much to check out along the way it does seem to go by a lot quicker." Hawkridge's recovery from the Routeburn Classic is set to be like the man himself — fast.
He heads to France on Monday for two and a half months and has already eyed a racing calendar that has got him excited.
"There's races every weekend with thousands of people turning up to them — it's a whole other scene," he said.
Albeit, one a little less familiar than today's Routeburn.
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