2013 Kepler Challenge – Prize giving talk

1. Introduction

I wonder how many runners rely on physios to make it to the start line. I thought I would share my recent experiences.

About 3 weeks ago, and being in such great physical shape, I thought I would make a late entry in the Kepler Challenge – 22 years after my last appearance.

I went to see Cathy the local physio and explained that I had a sore shoulder that she needed to fix so I could enter the Kepler Challenge – or at least the Grunt. Cathy poked around and after painfully strapping my shoulder, and sticking 6 inch needles into it, pronounced that the problem was in fact my neck.

With only 4 weeks to go, she was not hopeful of getting it right in time for me to start training – however, she recommended I see her colleague Brendon.

Brendon, after ripping off Cathy’s strapping (and all the hairs on my back, shoulder and chest), duly pronounced that it wasn’t my shoulder or neck that was the problem – it was my knee. He also expressed doubt about my ability to enter the event, and wondered whether we should focus on something more realistic – like doing the commentary. He offered me exercises for my jaw and tongue.

I insisted that this year I wanted to run. Brendon did his best. He shaved and strapped my knee and then gave me a stretching regime.

Two days later I was back. The stretching for one set of ligaments had pulled a completely different set - and I could hardly walk. My neck was still sore, my knee was in agony, I could hardly walk and Cathy had forgotten to take one of the acupuncture needles out of my shoulder.

Why were they making it so hard for me? And then it dawned on me – Cathy was running in the Grunt and Brendon in the Challenge. Neither wanted the extra competition that a late entry from me would create.

I admitted defeat - but I’ll be back. It might take a year, and a hundred physio appointments but I’ll be back. So if ACC levies go up for the rest of NZ, it will be to fund my treatment and to make Cathy and Brendon rich. Watch this space!

2. KEPLER CHALLENGE SUMMARY – MENS EVENT

And now to the race. On Thursday night Alistar Pearce, based on the latest weather forecasts, told organizers that gale force winds and rain were predicted and he doubted whether helicopters would be able to fly officials to their checkpoints the following night.

As soon as I heard that Alistar had predicted this, I knew things would be ok and told people to pack plenty of sun tan lotion and expect a calm and warm day. And so it turned out to be.

As Gary Tong, local Mayor, prepared to start the event one runner was heard to mutter “Jeez, we’ve never had anyone in a suit and tie before”.

The late instruction, issued only seconds before the start, that all runners had to run over the mat so their transponders could be registered, caused some concern and meant the back of the field didn’t move for 5 minutes

There was much interest in the men’s field. Defending champion Vajin Armstrong was expecting a fast race - and to be pushed by two Australians who were entering for the first time – although both were stronger over the marathon distance. Previous winner Martin Lukes, former local Mark Green and several other Kiwis would also force the pace.

The race started and by Brod Bay Martin Dent from Canberra and Vajin Armstrong had a 2 minute lead over the second Aussie contender Rowan Walker. Things were shaping for a close and tight tussle – or so we thought.

By Luxmore, Dent had a 6 minute lead over Armstrong, with Walker 2 minutes back and Green a further 2 minutes behind in 4th.

At Forest Burn, Dent’s lead had increased by another minute and by Hanging Valley he was a clear 9 minutes ahead of Armstrong. Interestingly at this point Dent was running 2 minutes slower than the Costley’s race record split from 2005.

And then things moved up a gear. By the time Dent came into Iris Burn, he was 7 minutes ahead of the previous record split. He held this margin through Rocky Point and Moturau. By now we were wondering if he could maintain this blistering pace – but his lead over Armstrong had increased to 20 minutes.

At Rainbow Reach he was still 5 minutes ahead of Costley’s record split. By now it was clear that the record was under real threat. Bear in mind, that like Costley, Dent was running a solo race – far ahead of the competition.

And that’s exactly where he remained. Martin Dent not only claimed the 2013 title, but he smashed the race record by 4 minutes and finished in 4:33:37 – a truly incredible feat. At the finish Dent, who had never run a race of this length before, said that he had felt fine for most of the run but over the last section even the little hills felt like mountains.

Armstrong, also running a solo race throughout, came home comfortably in 2nd, but at 4:55 was 22 minutes behind. Rowan Walker was third, Martin Lukes moved ahead of Green for 4th and Green held on for 5th.

3. KEPLER CHALLENGE SUMMARY – LADIES EVENT

Funnily enough, people expected Ruby Muir in the women’s race to push for the record. Last year Muir ran the second fastest time ever for a woman so expectations were high.

By Brod Bay, she had assumed the lead and taken charge of the race. At Luxmore her lead over Landie Greyling from South Africa was 8 minutes with Shireen Crumpton and Whitney Dagg filling 3rd and 4th.

Unfortunately our communications were patchy from that point but Muir went through Rocky Point 16 minutes ahead of Whitney Dagg who had moved into 2nd.place.

That’s pretty much the way it remained with Muir claiming her 2nd consecutive title in a time well outside the record (and 8 minutes slower than her 2012 time) – but she was still 18 minutes ahead of Dagg. Jean Beaumont had moved though into 3rd place – maintaining her consistent record of top placings.

At the finish Ruby said the biggest spur was seeing her partner Kristian Day running just ahead of her during the final stages of the race. She passed and beat him by 33 seconds. I bet that hurts!.

4. LUXMORE GRUNT SUMMARY

Once again our communications and information in the Luxmore Grunt was very patchy.  We do know that 19 year old Troy McAlistair led to Luxmore but was overtaken by Geoff Williamson on the downhill. Williamson finished in 2:03 with McAlistair 4 minutes behind.

Richard Ford maintained his consistent record in the Grunt by coming 3rd.

All we know about the ladies race was that Louisa Andrews was first to Luxmore and won in a time of 2:27. Amanda Broughton was 7 minutes behind in 2nd.

5. ENTRY FORMS

Matt Pepler

This will be my fifth Kepler. During that time I have had 4 different relationships. I’m not sure if these numbers are correlated so I may take a break next year just to find out! This announcement is dedicated to whichever (if any) partner I have at the time of the race this year.

Jean Beaumont

Who travelled from London for the race said I have done a few runs in Britain – most notably the “Knacker Cracker” with a hangover. That training obviously worked. Jean came 3rd in the Challenge.

Allister Field

My fiancé will be at the finish line. Mention something about the Kepler being a good lead up to married life. We tried to oblige and immediately thought of words like tough, brutal, exhausting and battered. We suspect that Allister’s fiancé might be still running.

Sally Price

I’ve promised my husband that if I improve my time we can make a baby. I’m not sure if I want to improve my time or not. Sally might be missing from the 2014 challenge – or else she’ll only have a 3 month training window. She improved her time by over half an hour.

6. RACE INFORMATION

TIMES 2013 2012 2011
Under 5 Hours 2 2 Nil
Under 6 Hours 22 28 20
Over 10 Hours 57 54 55
DNF 14 16 6

Noteworthy Finishers

Unfortunately neither Peter Dunne (trying to complete his 20th Challenge) nor Ray Willet (trying to complete his 24th) was able to complete the course yesterday. Both have been characters of the event and part of what makes it special.

Notable finishes yesterday:

Bruce Robertson     11 Grunts after 5 Challenges

Nobby Clark      21 Grunts after 3 Challenges

Nathan Facer and Sally Nicoll   17 Challenges

Wayne Green      18 Challenges

Paul Helm and Merv Gilbert    20 Challenges

Sub Sutherland and Neil Burrow   21 Challenges

Alan Reid and Trevor Warr    24 out of 26 Challenges

The final runners home in the Challenge were Wayne Green followed by Alan Reid. On his entry form Wayne had said I hope to improve on my last year’s time of just over 11:30. He did that alright. This year he took 11:52 – improvement means you go faster Wayne.

The wives of both Wayne Green and Alan Reid confirmed yesterday that this would be their final Challenge - but if they were extra good, they might be allowed to enter the Grunt next year!

7. AROUND THE COURSE

One runner came hurrying over to the officials tent before the start so desperate to get more safety pins that it prompted Safety Controller Todd Hollebon to inquire “What’s he wearing – nappies or something?”

And number 333 Rob Bell didn’t lose his safety pins – but his race number. How could you lose your race number? Luckily Barbara Kane was able to come to the rescue and he became number 484.

Poor Gary Pertot. He made a flying visit from Melbourne for the Kepler Challenge – but unfortunately his bags didn’t. He had to borrow running gear, Asics donated a new pair of shoes and Qantas told him he could collect his bag from Melbourne airport when he flies home today!

On Friday we went out to the Outlet to see how preparations were going. The soldiers were sitting round in a circle listening carefully as Lisa briefed them on their role. We didn’t dare interrupt but were sure we heard Lisa say: right - here’s the key things to remember. We start at the Moose with the competitors. Then we move to the Fat Duck for something to eat. After that, it’s off to the Ranch, back to the Moose and then back to camp. Only then can we relax and have a few drinks!

8. FINISH LINE

One lady was holding the cutest little dog at the finish line while she waited for her husband. I wandered over and asked her if we could interview the dog.

You can try she responded. I asked the dog a question or two. He didn’t respond much. I asked the lady to squeeze his tail so he would bark.

The lady looked mortified. I then asked since the dog wouldn’t bark perhaps she could bark for him. And yep - she did!

We were astounded when we discovered that Irene Barnes had brought a book along to read during the quiet patches. We were even more astounded to learn that the book was called Secrets and the content rivaled 50 Shades of Grey. When we asked Irene to read out some of the juicier parts she just blushed and rushed off to play with her medals.

Shane Fletcher promised to pay his son Joel $1 for every minute that his son beat him by in the Grunt. The margin was 20 minutes – but when we suggested that $20 was a bit miserable, Shane replied a bet’s a bet. He gets $20 – and I get to deduct travel, meal and accommodation expenses off it!

Cathy Kirkpatrick came over the finish line. Her entry said she was the Mum to 4 awesome kids. She was accompanied by Luke Kirkpatrick who was also the father of 4 children. I inquired whether they were related. Neither was able to reply. I then speculated that they may be brother and sister. Well that got a response. Cathy thrust her finger at me like this! I had obviously caused great offence! It was only later that Sue explained to me that Cathy had not been flipping me the bird but showing me her wedding ring.

Matthew Akehurst said as he crossed the finish, my doctor told me that jogging could add 10 years to my life. He then said my doctor was right. I feel 10 years older already!

Tim Lyndon had written on his entry I am doing this because I refused to let my girlfriend Robyn Bruins come to NZ without me. Thanks Robyn for getting me through this.

Robyn wrote on her form. If I finish in front of Tim Lyndon fantastic! If we finish together it was meant to be. If he beats me, it could be all over.

And how did it end up? Tim beat Robyn by 3 minutes. Silly boy!

And now for the Apologies

I’m sorry that I said to Vajin Armstrong that the only thing wrong with Martin Dent and Rowan Walker was that they were Aussies. Vajin was much more magnanimous when said don’t hold that against them – they’re crap at playing rugby so we can give them the odd win in the Kepler Challenge.

I’m sorry I suggested the figure on the medals this year looked like a nun wearing a chastity belt – especially when one kid asked his Mum what a chastity belt was.

I’m sorry that I highlighted that the officials taking the transponders off at the finish were wearing rubber gloves – and suggested that some competitors may have repositioned them for greater comfort.

I’m also sorry that later in the race, when I was wet and cold, I told the final 12 competitors that if they didn’t hurry up their transponders would explode and they would have to hop to the finish on one leg. The next runner to finish duly hopped over the finish line.

9. FINAL STORIES

The Kepler Challenge takes real determination to complete – and yesterday no one exemplified this more than Sadie Cranston who fell over, hit her head, grazed her legs, and broke her finger - yet still managed to finish with her arm heavily bandaged – and she did it in 7:45!

Yesterday we learnt what true dedication to the Kepler Challenge means. Jason Taylor a Scotsman from Sydney introduced his son as he crossed the finish line. His son is named Monty Kepler Taylor – and yes, the Kepler was in honour of Jason’s Kepler Challenge finish the year before.

This year the final word comes from Madeleine McIntosh who yesterday completed her 10th Kepler Challenge. She sent in this poem:

This is my 10th and I’ve said it’s my last,
I've been quite consistent but not very fast.
Athletic ability - zero to none
Perfect CV for a nice slow run.
Post run comas slumped on the bed
People saying you're wrong in the head.
Running for hours in the pouring rain
How can you do that and still be called sane?
The rituals, the gear checks my bladder that leaks
Unable to walk downstairs for a week
The suffering and pain and the injury woes
Not to mention the state of my toes
I've run myself ugly I'm over the hill
The thought of another one makes me feel ill
I’ll farewell you nutters my work here is done
Stop kidding yourselves that this really is fun
I've made up my mind it’s a dangerous addiction
Time to give up the Kepler affliction
Never say never does not apply here
Good bye from me - and I'll SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!  

Noel Walker
Race Commentator 2013