Run pioneer still up for challenge
Invercargill's Wayne Green will line up in his 17th Kepler Challenge tomorrow, still a little bemused the event he helped start a quarter of a century ago has grown to become New Zealand's premier mountain running race.
"We thought we had a potentially good event, but we never imagined it would grow to the size it has," Green said.
Limited to 150 starters by the Conservation Department for that inaugural race in 1988, there will be 450 starters in a capacity field at the Te Anau control gates start line tomorrow morning.
This year marks the 25th birthday of the 60km race around the Kepler track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, and the Asics-sponsored event will celebrate with a book written by long-time race commentator Noel Walker.
Green was one of three running-mad teachers at Fiordland College who came up with the idea of running the Milford Track to commemorate its rediscovery by Quintin McKinnon a century before.
Logistical issues eventually ruled that plan out, but the newly minted Kepler Track then came into focus for Green and his co-organisers, Robin Pettit and Ross Redpath.
"We probably got a bit carried away and spent too much time on it," Green said.
"Luckily, it was getting towards the end of the school year.
"I think a lot of our colleagues thought we were a bit strange, but it turned out a lot of them ended up being marshals and quite a few went on to do the event themselves in years to come."
Green said the race grew from the sort of enthusiasm for getting things done which exists in small-town New Zealand.
"We had tremendous community support right from the very start," he said.
"I don't know the exact number, but we needed something like 50 people to be marshals around the course to dispense water and do safety checks and medical stuff and we had no problem at all mustering those people up from the community; that's the sort of community Te Anau is."
Green remembers the T-shirts from the first year, which were printed with the logo of a beer sponsor that had come on board.
"Everybody got a T-shirt and it had ‘finisher' written on the back of it. We handed them out the night before so people felt a moral obligation that they had to finish."
Green feels no small amount of pride at being one of many people who have contributed to the race over the years.
"It's been a big crew of people that have got it going. Since then there's been a huge amount of community help and some really good leadership right through. With things like the stoat-trapping programme, it's really developed in ways that we didn't foresee."
While Green has been a regular at the Challenge, Pettit and Redpath have often been unable to make it because of commitments at the New Zealand secondary schools athletics championships.
Pettit, who teaches in Christchurch, came back for the 20th anniversary, while Redpath was teaching somewhere north of Wellington, Green said.
For updates during the Kepler Challenge and Luxmore Grunt tomorrow, go to southlandtimes.co.nz or follow Nathan Burdon on Twitter @nathanburdon #keplerchallenge
The Southland Times