2012 ASICS Kepler Challenge – Prize giving talk

1. Introduction

2012 - the 25th Kepler Challenge Mountain Run. For 25 years runners have been trucking into Te Anau, set to take up the ultimate challenge.

The pre race briefing left some runners perplexed. The DOC representative said if you are attacked by a falcon put your arms on your head – it will stop the falcon taking your head off. Unfortunately he didn’t explain why the loss of your arms would be any better!

Alistar Pearce, weather forecaster, confirmed what we had always suspected – that things look better for him over a glass of red wine. Once again he covered all options by pronouncing there was a 50% chance of the weather remaining the same – or a 50% chance of it changing. He pronounced rain would hold off until 6.00pm – a bold prediction given that he didn’t leave his ute for the whole of race day – and the only sign of life from him was a wave when he wanted another hot dog.

Alistar told me to tell the runners at the start that conditions were pleasant at the Luxmore Hut. I think he must have meant inside the hut. By the time the middle of the field arrived they were unpleasant and challenging.

We experienced the same at the Outlet and eventually the army took pity on the finish line teams and erected a tent over them. This turned into a protracted process and there was real doubt as to whether the Grunt runners would be hurdling poles, canvas, ropes and pegs as they rushed to get over the finish line.

At the finish the Army were taking down their tent in the pouring rain. When I inquired why they didn’t put coats on – they responded that the Army didn’t issue them with coats. I then asked for Sergeant Lisa Hill to come over and explain.

Lisa confirmed that the Army didn’t issue coats – the best they could issue was one umbrella – and she wasn’t sharing that with anyone!

2. ASICS Kepler Challenge Summary – Mens event

But let’s go back to start of the Challenge. Russell Prince, winner of the inaugural event was to do the honours. The starting horn had been temporarily mislaid. With only minutes to spare it was found and race official Pania Dalley had to push her way through 480 runners on the Outlet. She got to the front, climbed onto the Outlet railing and waved to let me know we could start the traditional countdown from 10.

Russell Prince also saw Pania waving, took that as his signal, blew the horn and set the 25th anniversary event off before I could open my mouth. Yeap – he was that fast!

Thoughts of a false start were abandoned as the runners quickly disappeared into the Fiordland bush. There was some thought that Russell Prince should be held back and made to start the Luxmore Grunt – to see if he could get that right!

Immediately after the start a spectator said “Well they’re off and no one’s died yet”. Quick as a flash Race Director Steve Norris replied “Early days yet!”

2012 was always going to be a competitive race – for both the men and women. An exciting field of runners had gathered – including an unprecedented number of international competitors.

Jason Schlarb from the USA led the field through Brod Bay with all the contenders following closely behind.

Martin Cox from the UK, who last ran in 2005 when the race record was set, was first to Luxmore followed a minute back by Kiwi Vajin Armstrong, Jason Schlarb and Tony Fattorini from Australia.

By Forest Burn Armstrong, the title holder, had taken the lead from Cox and Fattorini had moved into 3rd place.

Hanging Valley and Armstong’s lead was 2 minutes over Cox who was 1 minute ahead of Fattorini.

Although Armstrong did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the race Fattorini had moved into 2nd place by Iris Burn and was less than a minute behind. At the same checkpoint Jason Schlarb had passed Martin Cox and moved into 3rd.

Rocky Point and Martin Lukes (a 3 times winner) had also passed Cox and was catching up on Schlarb. Had Lukes left his run too late or could he catch those in front of him?

By Rainbow Reach Armstrong had a 3 minute lead over Fattorini who was 4 minutes ahead of Schlarb and Lukes – they were now running neck and neck.

Officials reported that in the latter stages Armstrong was not even breathing heavily and over the final 10kms he increased his lead and won for the third consecutive year – but for the first time, and to his great delight, he broke the 5 hour barrier. To celebrate this milestone he immediately rang his wife Prasasta to tell her the good news. This sounds ok - except she was also running the Challenge and, can you believe this, stopped running to take his call!

Tony Fattorini’s mother was running in the Grunt – and said she had only come on the condition that her son would run a fast time. That plan worked well and for the first time Fattorini also came home in under 5 hours. His 2nd would have been a welcome relief after three previous 3rds.

Martin Lukes moved into 3rd place over the final kilometres and added to his amazing record of 3 x 1st, 5 x 2nd and now 2 x 3rds.

3. ASICS Kepler Challenge Summary – Ladies event

The ladies event was equally fascinating with a number of well matched rivals all striving for the title. First time runner Sarah Biss made the early pace - and led through Luxmore followed by another Kepler novice Ruby Muir who was only 20 seconds behind. Shireen Crumpten was handy enough in third. Previous title holders Vanessa Haverd and Victoria Beck remained in contention.

By Hanging Valley, Muir was in front and steadily increased her lead through each of the remaining checkpoints. Biss withdrew at Moturau and Crumpton took over 2nd place but was passed after Rainbow Reach by 2011 winner Victoria Beck. And that was the final order – Muir, Beck and Crumpton.

But folks the most noteworthy performance yesterday, was undoubtedly Ruby Muir’s. She said that entries opened the day after her appointment with her orthopaedic surgeon. Neither she, nor the surgeon was sure if she should be running.

Well she did and at 21 years of age Ruby Muir finished in 5:37. The second fastest Kepler Challenge ever run by a woman – second only to Zelah Morrell’s record setting run in 2003. We look forward to seeing Ruby back again.

4. ASICS Luxmore Grunt Summary

The Luxmore Grunt was more clear cut. Australian Stuart Doyle, the 2011 title holder, was pushed by Richard Ford in the early stages but surged ahead going up the hill and won comfortably over Ford who claimed 2nd.

Whilst Melissa Clark from Canberra led up to Luxmore, she was passed on the way down by Jacqui Gee from Christchurch who made a late switch from the Challenge. Lucky she did - otherwise the Aussies would have claimed both titles – and bragging rights for 2012. Now that would have been too much.

5. Entry Forms

Once again competitors used their entry forms to great effect with many writing heart rending pleas as to why they should get in – as if the computer cares! Here’s some of the better comments:

Eddie Hussie: “As Homer Simpson says, son when you participate in sporting events it’s not whether you win or lose: it’s how drunk you get”.

Merv Johnston: “What I’d really like to hear at the finish line is ... Merv the Organising Committee regrets to inform you that they will not accept any more registrations from you ... so have a nice sleep in on 1 July next year”. Well Merv I think that can be arranged.

Brigitte Masse: “I will probably be among the shortest runners in the field at 1.57cm (I guess at that height she would be – but I think she meant 1.57m). She then said feel free to mention this as I probably have to do 50% more steps than others to get through the same distance”. We are just checking but suspect that on a handicapped basis Brigitte might have beaten Vajin Armstrong and claimed the men’s title in a record time.

Richard McIntosh: “This is my 4th Kepler. I have improved by exactly 3 minutes each time. By my calculations if I continue to improve at this rate each year I will win it in the year 2054 at the age of 103 – providing I can stay injury free of course!” Remarkably Richard’s incremental improvements continued in 2012 – and I have decided that if he can win at 103 then I will still be commentating at 96.

Alan Potter: in his profile it said – “I’d like to thank my wife. She’s awesome. His form then said “and she typed this and entered me without my knowing it”. In the commentary section it said “Alan Potter runs so he can buy new back packs, running shoes and watches”. I guess his wife typed that part too!

And my favorite. This is what one entry form said. “My real name in Ewa Kusmierczyk – but I felt sorry for event organizers having to pronounce my name so now call myself Crazy Chick. If you can pronounce my surname I will give you a big hug”.

I spent all morning practicing how to say KUSMIERCZYK – but it was worth it!

Eva also said that her best achievement was eating bananas during a race and not throwing up. I wish Rebecca Hart had followed her advice. She finished the Luxmore Grunt and so liked my commentary that she stopped to be sick right beside the commentary table. Then she did it again, and again. When I offered to call the medics she just smiled – and said no it was ok – she felt fine. Then she was sick again.

6. Race Information

TIMES 2012 2011 2010
Under 5 Hours 2 Nil Nil
Under 6 Hours 28 20 14
Over 10 Hours 54 55 61
DNF 16 6

Noteworthy Finishers

Christopher Pettridge who finished in 438th place in a time of 10:52 was the 8,000th Kepler Challenge finisher.

Nobby Clark      20 Grunts

Nathan Facer and Sally Nicoll   16 Challenges

Wayne Green      17 Challenges

Mark Douglas     18 Challenges

Paul Helm and Merv Gilbert    19 Challenges

Sub Sutherland and Neil Burrow   20 Challenges

Bev Thorne      22 Challenges
(most by a female)

Alan Reid and Trevor Warr    23 Challenges

Alan Reid is still the only person to start every Kepler Challenge although injury meant he withdrew during two of them and Trevor who only moved to Noosa on the condition his wife would let him return to run the Kepler each year

And what of the old champion Ray Willett?

At Hanging Valley Ray was having trouble, peeling his banana. Frozen fingers and thick gloves made this challenging. Long term official Terry Cayford offered to peel it for him and commented that had had to help many runners with this during the day. Ray, in summing up the cold, said that he had been trying to go to the toilet but had been struggling to find his willie – to which Terry responded “Well I won’t be helping with that”.

Sadly Ray did not reach Rainbow Reach before the cut off time and was officially withdrawn at Rainbow Reach. This means that Ray also remains on 23 out of 25 Challenges. He did go on to finish in a private capacity and came across the finish line dressed as the Speights Southern Man – and still looking for his willie. We hope he has since found it.

7. Around the course

Rocky Point officials dressed up as the Flintstones - and no doubt startled many dazed runners when they saw the cartoon characters pouring their drinks. Young local runner Casey Brown arrived and immediately asked for pliers. Apparently the underwire on her bra had been causing discomfort. Before Fred Flintstone could say yaba daba do - one of the male officials not only produced the pliers but dived in to fix the offending item. From that point the official’s wife insisted he only assist male runners.

Members of the Southland Times media team Barry Harcourt and Nathan Burdon were describing their wild and rocky helicopter ride to see the runners approaching Luxmore Hut. Breathlessly they described the whoops and jolts – and then mentioned that they had passed so close to one runner that they had blown him over and off the track.

I was about to tell the crowd about this when Nathan came rushing over and said “Please – if you tell them about this don’t say it was us – say it was the TV3 News!”

Pete Wilkinson has been trying for years to beat his friend Ben Bonner. It didn’t happen yesterday and a dejected Pete came over to explain. He said he had asked the pharmacist in Winton how he could win. The pharmacist had suggested that his only hope was to try sleeping pills and laxatives. A dejected Pete admitted that he had only just realized he should have given the pills and laxatives to Ben – not taken them himself!

8. Finish Line

And from the finish line….

There was some doubt whether Paul Garvie was in fact a Scotch man. Irene Barnes quickly appraised the situation and said lift up his kilt and I’ll have a look. Which begs two questions - how can you tell a Scotchman by his privates – and how many kilts Irene has looked up.

Lisa Brignall had a tumble and came in with her legs streaked with blood. We love blood at the finish line so I hurried over to see if it was sore. Lisa reassured me that it was fine – but because it looked so spectacular there was no way she was going to clean it up!

Remember Mark Douglas who in each of his 18 Kepler finishes has tried to cross the line one second before the hour? Yesterday he excelled himself by running his slowest ever time and was the last official runner home in 11:59:59. By then his wife had long gone and a forlorn Mark was once again looking for a ride back to Queenstown.

We were genuinely disturbed when organising committee member Brian Sheppard and event founder Wayne Green finished. These two men have been friends for years - in fact Wayne was staying with Brian. They had had a tough day and spent many hours running and walking together. That being the case – why did they finish 20 seconds apart? Did friendship run out or did Brian think that by walking fast he would be able to out sprint his buddy? Maybe it was a race for first shower? Looks like we better come back next year to see the re match.

And now for the Apologies

Throughout the day we built up the fact that later in the afternoon we would be doing an in depth interview with the author of the Kepler Book “Calling Them Home” – inevitably we had to delay this and each time I commented on the fact that the author was an awkward bugger and rarely gave interviews. Apparently the author heard me say this, stormed off in a huff and refused to speak for the rest of the day.

Personally I think the book’s an ok read – and I do recommend you buy an extra copy – as the wind came up in the afternoon the results teams at the finish line found they made good paper weights.

I’m sorry that I told runners to sprint across the finish line so they could claim a spot prize. You were going to get the spot prize anyway.

I’m sorry that I called the Rotarians a bunch of fat cats – when I was trying to convince one of their younger members to ditch Rotary and become a Scout Leader. Apparently they want my Paul Harris medal back – and have stopped my supply of free hot dogs for the next 25 years.

I’m sorry that early in the day I announced that Sergeant Lisa Hill had been promoted to Brigadier. One of the soldiers new to the Kepler came over and earnestly said to me “You’ve made a terrible mistake. Lisa’s not a Brigadier – she’s only a Sergeant”. But that’s not what I’m sorry for.
On hearing of her promotion Lisa immediately texted the Minister of Defence and asked when she could expect a Brigadier’s pay to appear in her bank account. Apparently he replied with some talk of a posting to Afghanistan.

A solider came over the finish line near the end struggling under a huge pack. I’m sorry that I suggested that it was full of endangered species (including the pair of nesting falcons). I’m also sorry that I told everyone the Army was planning a big cook up for tea. Apparently that solider is still being questioned by police, DOC and other officials – and he is being sent to Afghanistan.

This is probably an opportune time to highlight that 2012 was the 21st year that the army has been part of the Kepler team. Thanks guys – you give us great support, are fun to have around and we couldn’t do the commentary, or look after the runners without you.

9. Final Stories

And now for the final stories…..

Nelly Hyman – Said on her entry form:

The Kepler Challenge reminds me of a quote:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body – but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming – what a ride!

But the best running story we heard came from Richard Ford. He came over to tell us that as he was coming down the hill in the Luxmore Grunt in some pain, so Denise Manning who was going up stopped, opened up her pack and shared her precious supply of pain killers with him.

Richard went on to run 2nd in the Grunt while Denise was near the end of the field. But on Kepler Challenge day, it doesn’t matter – one runner needs help and another will always oblige.

I think a generic pat on the pat is appropriate for yesterday. Firstly to the runners who contended with challenging conditions throughout the day – but also to the officials – both on the course and at the finish. It was a wet, cold and windy day for everyone – except Vajin Armstrong and his chums at the front of the field – but it still went without a hitch.

So the Asics 25th Kepler Challenge has come and gone. Who would have thought that from such small beginnings back in 1988, a major international event would eventuate? The Challenge is for the runners – but it is still owned by the community and hundreds of volunteers within it. We in Fiordland, are very proud of it.

It has been an honour to write the 25th anniversary book and help celebrate this wonderful milestone - so many stories, so many happy times, and so many chapters yet to come.

Thank you.

Noel Walker
Race Commentator 2012


Noel and team