Three-time Kepler Challenge winner Vajin Armstrong is hoping for a race tomorrow and there's a good chance he's going to get it.
The defending champion has had a big competition year, including three months running overseas, and hopes to break the 4hr 50min mark for the first time during this year's Asics-sponsored 60km mountain race.
He is likely to face some stiff competition from the likes of Australian Olympic marathon representative Martin Dent, who finished 28th in London and 23rd at this year's world championships, and Dent's compatriot Rowan Walker, a winner of the Canberra marathon this year and the Auckland marathon last year.
With that sort of quality in the field, Armstrong is hoping to run his best time and he believes Phil Costley's 2005 record of 4hr 37min 41sec could be threatened by whoever crosses the finish line first.
"I'm definitely looking to get into the 4:40s. It was great last year to get under five [hours]. You are always looking to improve and transcend what you've done before. That's the big goal for me and I think to win the race this year I'll have to do a time in the 4:40s with a couple of the Aussie guys coming over who have the potential to run very fast," Armstrong said.
"If this was a straight running race, [Dent] would be hands down the favourite, but obviously you've got a big hill to get over, a big downhill and a long run so it's a little bit of unexplored territory for him. A guy like that, the pace won't be too fast for him, it's whether he's got the strength to hold it until the end."
Armstrong has had an impressive season, including a second-place finish at the Swiss Alpine Marathon, despite falling and breaking ribs with 15km to go.
"It's been epic. I was very lucky that I got to go to Europe with my wife for three months of racing in the big mountains there. That went really well. For me, one of the big ones was the Swiss Alpine Marathon. That's got a close connection with the Kepler Challenge because through the 90s the winner of the Kepler got a trip over there. Russell Hurring went over a few times and I think Keith Murray went over as well. Both races are similar ages and similar distances," he said.
"The Kepler has been my main goal since getting back. I've been training harder than ever. I've probably had my best ever block of training. I've been focusing on just getting really strong, getting a lot of climbing and a lot of vertical. It comes down to whether I can get over that hill feeling good and the second half of the race I can really try and bring some speed out and run fast on the way back to the control gates."
The Kepler Challenge, now in its 26th year, remains one of Southland's best sporting events.
It attracts 650 runners across sold-out fields in the Challenge, which follows the loop Kepler track, and the 27km Luxmore Grunt, which runs from the Te Anau control gates to the Luxmore huts and back.
Dent and Walker decided to enter the Kepler after getting rave reviews from fellow Canberra runner and Luxmore Grunt winner Stuart Doyle.
It will be the longest race that Dent has done, although he did pull out because of illness at about 70km into a flat 100km race earlier this year.
"The mountains around Canberra where I live, Rowan and I have done a few training sessions there, but they are only about 200m high. I've done a lot of long runs and a lot of quality with intervals. It's a bit of a mystery going into any marathon, let alone an ultra-marathon; you never know what's going to happen."
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