A dusting of snow was the icing on the cake for the 250-plus keen mountain runners who competed in this year’s Routeburn Classic Adventure Run on Saturday.
Celebrating its 20th year, the event sees athletes run the stunning 32km Fiordland National Park track in one day. Runners were itching to get out there after the three previous events were cancelled due to weather and the 2020 floods that washed out the Milford Road and tracks.
Ten keen Australians who booked to compete late last year when registration opened, keeping fingers crossed they’d be able to travel, made it over by the skin of their teeth thanks to the trans-Tasman bubble.
Queenstown’s Sarah Douglas made it a double when she backed up her win in 2014 with a placing at the top of the women’s field. Back in 2014 she set a new women’s record of 3hrs 16 min 48 sec, but yesterday’s wet and slippery conditions (and the fact she competed only last weekend in the gruelling Mountain Running Championships at Coronet Peak) saw her post an extremely respectable 3hr 26min 14sec.
Douglas was a full ten minutes ahead of second placegetter Dahna Hunter (3:36:15) and Maureen Stachowicz in third (3:45:05).
“That was pretty tough,” said Douglas. “I was a bit hesitant during the week about recovering from the running champs and being confident to take on the Routeburn, but by Thursday I was starting to feel pretty good, any tightness had disappeared.
“We were so lucky to get a gap in the weather and it was worth the wait after it’s been cancelled so many times. If it went ahead I knew it was going to be epic, and it was. It was quite slippery underfoot but you deal with the conditions you get on the day.”
Craig Fowler of North Vancouver (originally from the Bay of Plenty) crossed the finish line in 2:52:01 to take top male honours with Martin McCrudden from Wellington just over seven minutes behind in 2:59:15 and Queenstown’s Hywel Dinnick third in 3:01:33.
Fowler, a structural engineer who has been living and working in Canada for three years with wife Genevieve, is in New Zealand on a family visit to introduce six-month-old son Hugo.
After starting running as a youngster to conquer ashma, Fowler has mapped his trip around New Zealand to compete in running events, lining up next for The Nugget multisport event at Waihi Beach on May 8.
“That run was pretty satisfying,” said Fowler minutes after crossing the line. “There was a bit of a spread at the top so I didn’t actually see anyone after the Mackenzie Hut.It’s pretty special to be even doing an event because in Canada we’ve been in lockdown for a year-and-a-half so just to be on a bus with a couple of hundred people and compete was amazing.
“I’ve never been on the track before so that was a huge bonus. It was beautiful.”
The Routeburn Classic ‘adventure run’ usually attracts athletes from all around the world, but organiser Evan McWhirter of Good Times Events said he was grateful this year to get another event under his belt with a token number of Australian visitors.
“It’s amazing to break the drought after three years of cancelled events, and while we knew everyone was going to get a bit wet, we had concerns right up until the morning about potential snow and wind,” he said. “Everyone was so amped and the energy at the start was massive when we knew we could race.
“The fastest and the slowest runners missed the snow at the top of the Harris Saddle, but for the majority of runners they had a magical experience with lightly drifting soft snow falling around them.”
The theme for this year’s event was 80’s athletics gear, one that was proudly embraced by race organisers and many runners.