Sweepers support competitors in the Kepler Challenge

Kepler Challenge volunteer Michael Bashford ran 29km in training at the weekend.
Jamie Searle/Stuff

Kepler Challenge volunteer Michael Bashford ran 29km in training at the weekend.

Michael Bashford is taking part in the Kepler Challenge but not as a competitor.

He has been a sweeper for 16 editions of the kepler and will be in the role again when the 60km mountain run is held in Fiordland National Park on December 2.

A sweeper runs with competitors keeping an eye on how they are coping and if needed, provide help, advice or get medical help. The back pack carried by Bashford contains a first aid kit, radiotelephone and warm clothing. 

Some of the health issues competitors have are dehydration, hamstring injuries, muscle cramp and sprained ankles. Occasionally, an injured competitor is picked up by helicopter.

"We're there to help people finish the run," said Bashford, a member of the Wyndham Athletic Club.

There are 14 sweepers this year and most will be given different stages of the run to patrol. A few might complete the full course.

Bashford said he was more than happy to run the entire 60km if required. 

Chairman of the Kepler Challenge organising committee Steve Norris said the sweepers' input was invaluable.

"They do a great job for us."      

Bashford is a farmer at Progress Valley, the Waikawa fire chief and a medical first responder.

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He has competed in five keplers, including the first in 1988, and one Luxmore Grunt, which is a 27km run also held on the day. The kepler (450 runners) starts at 6am and the grunt (200) begins an hour later.

"It's just amazing country, amazing people and amazing friendships you make." 

Bashford started running regularly 10 months before the inaugural kepler. Living near Waimumu in 1978-92, he used to run to and from the Mataura freezing works, where he worked as a meat inspector.

What prompted him to take up running?

"I was overweight and not happy with myself," Bashford said.

"I'd put on old rugby socks, shorts and an old shirt and flat shoes [for a run in the early days]."

In nearly 30 years of competitive running, Bashford reckoned he had competed in 50 or 60 half marathons (21km) and six marathons (42km) in Otago-Southland.

He trains in different areas of Southland and last year trained on Stewart Island.

Bashford travelled to Forest Hill and Fosbender Park-Sandy Point in the past two weekends for training. 

"It gets me off the farm and I'm meeting different people and talking about different things." 

Meanwhile, the kepler and grunt are organised by a committee of volunteers, with support from about 200 Te Anau residents. Overseas runners for either event this year totals 70 to 80.

The race records for both events are: 60km kepler (men, 4hr 33min 37sec; women, 5:23:34) and 27km grunt (men, 1:52.30; women, 2:04:18). 

 - Stuff

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