Armstrong eyes five-hour race

Vajin Armstrong, of Christchurch, wins the 2011 Kepler Challenge mountain race.
Vajin Armstrong, of Christchurch, wins the 2011 Kepler Challenge mountain race.

Christchurch’s Vajin Armstrong believes he’s in the best shape he’s ever been for a Kepler Challenge.

That’s ominous news for those competitors hoping to deny him a third-straight win in the 60km mountain run, which starts from the Lake Te Anau control gates at 6am tomorrow.

Armstrong brings good form to New Zealand’s most prestigious mountain race, after a year of international competition, which includes a second-place finish in the North Face 100km event in Australia in May and a breakthrough win in a 50-mile race in San Francisco.

Vajin Armstrong is congratulated by wife Prasasta after winning the 2011 Kepler Challenge.
Vajin Armstrong is congratulated by wife Prasasta after winning the 2011 Kepler Challenge.

As he went for a training run from Rainbow Reach back to the control gates on Thursday night, Armstrong was able to take stock of what’s been a good year for him and he’s enjoying being back in the spot where his running career really gained momentum.

However, while Te Anau has been good to him over the past two years, he’s yet to crack the elusive five-hour barrier, which is a benchmark for the very best Challenge runners.

After running 5:03 in 2010, he went agonizingly close last year, with a 5:01.

‘’I’ve had a really good training block and I’m in the best shape I’ve been coming into a Kepler Challenge,’’ Armstrong said today.

‘’There’s a really strong international field this year, a guy from the States, some Australians and the Englishman Martin Cox, so hopefully that will spur me on to a good time.’’

Armstrong said it was unlikely that he would be challenging the race record of 4:37:41 set by Phil Costley back in 2005.

‘’It would be a lot to take 23, 24 minutes off my time in one year, but maybe sometime in the future,’’ he said.

United States runner Jason Schlarb is being eyed as something of a dark horse. He’s an experienced trail-runner and the United States is becoming something of a hub for mountain runners, but it’s yet to be seen how he will adapt to the special demands of this race.

While Canterbury’s Grant Guise, who was fourth in 2010 and fifth last year, was still deciding whether to run yesterday after suffering from a stomach bug this week, his training partner and English professional Martin Cox was excited about returning to the Challenge.

Cox finished second to Costley the year that he set the race record, blowing up in the final 10km in what was his first long-distance event.

Now Cox races over mountains most weekends around Europe for a living, and he knows how hard he will have to push himself to be in contention.

The well-maintained Kepler track surface meant it compared favourably with alpine races in Europe and was one of the reasons he had come back.

Cox said the $5000 prize bonus for breaking Costley’s record could mean a fast race this year as the top runners set a strong pace through the first half of the 60km circuit.

‘’I know we aren’t supposed to think about the money because it’s supposed to be about running, but I will be,’’ he joked.

The Challenge’s companion event, the 27km Luxmore Grunt, gets underway from 8am tomorrow.


Kepler Challenge (60km)

  • 4:37:41 Phil Costley (2005)
  • 5:23:34 Zelah Morrall (2003)
  • Luxmore Grunt (27km)
  • 1:52:30 Phil Costley (2008)
  • 2:04:18 Shireen Crumpton (1998)

Check back here on our website tomorrow for updates during tomorrow’s Kepler Challenge and Luxmore Grunt, or follow @nathanburdon on Twitter and #keplerchallenge

The Southland Times