Having an additional 50 runners on the startline for Saturday’s Kepler Challenge will provide a much-needed economic boost for the Te Anau community, according to organising committee chair Steve Norris.
Tourism in the lakeside town has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, prompting the Department of Conservation to increase the concession from the traditional 400 entries for the race, with a total of 450 starters taking on the 60km mountain race this year.
“Those 50 runners probably equate to an extra 120 people coming to Te Ana, at least,” Norris said.
“That means more hotel rooms, 120 cups of coffee, breakfasts, restaurant meals – it should be really good for Te Anau.”
When entries opened earlier this year, the Kepler field sold out in just 2min 6sec, the fastest time on record, while the Luxmore Grunt companion event just less than four minutes to fill up.
The field for the 33rd edition of the Kepler Challenge will include six-time winner Ruby Muir and fellow Wellingtonian Daniel Jones who will be chasing a third-straight victory.
New Zealand trail runner star Nancy Jiang, who won the race in 2018, will again challenge Muir for line honours, while three-time champion Vajin Armstrong remains a force.
A number of runners in the men’s field have targeted the five hour mark, and with the track in good condition after recent fine weather in the Fiordland National Park, the scene has been set for some fast racing.
The 27km Grunt includes Richard Ford, who finished third last year and will be striving to break the two hour mark in his 12th Grunt, while well-known local runner Dwight Grieve is having his first attempt at the event after completing 10 Keplers.
Last year’s women’s winner Sarah Douglas is also returning.
All starters will be looking forward to returning to the traditional Kepler circuit after heavy rain forced organisers to use an alternate for just the third time in the event’s history in 2019.
Some rain is forecast for Saturday morning, with the day expected to improve as it goes on.
“Hopefully there are some people who were doing their first one last year and have been able to come back to do the full circuit,” Norris said.
Kepler Challenge, 60km mountain race.
Starts: 6am from the Lake Te Anau Control Gates
Defending champions: Ruby Muir and Daniel Jones
Men – the current race record is held by Martin Dent in a time of 4:33:37. This time was set in 2013, breaking the eight year old record set by Phil Costley.
Women – the current race record is held by Zelah Morrall in a time of 5:23:34 which was set in 2003.
Luxmore Grunt, 27km mountain race.
Starts: 7am from the Lake Te Anau Control Gates
Defending champions: Sarah Douglas and Sam Tosh
Men – the current race record is held by Andy Good in a time of 1:50:54. This time was set in 2018 breaking the 10 year record set by Phil Costley.
Women – the current race record is held by Shireen Crumpton in a time of 2:04:18 which was set in 1998.