The WILD – Cullen Rhind wins with Ali Wilson second overall

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653 hardy mountain runners gathered in Arrowtown over the weekend for the Pioneer Edition of The WILD, lining up to race in distances ranging from the 9km “Beast of Beetham” to the ultimate challenge: a 75km ultra marathon with 3900m of vertical gain.

The event attracted a strong international field but no one could match the pace of Kiwis Cullen Rhind and Alison Wilson in the V5000 75km run. As well as winning the women’s category Wilson finished second place overall just 35 minutes behind Rhind.

“That is one hell of a course,” said Rhind at the finish line. “It was pretty brutal, I’m absolutely shattered.”

Rhind posted a winning time of 08:23:01 and had no choice but to leave everything out on course with Arrowtown local and one of the pre-race favourites Benje Patterson hot on his heels.

“I was running with Benje for the first 40ks but he was having some cramp issues and I managed to get ahead,” explains Rhind. “I was petrified he was coming round the corner for the last 10kms.

“The last hill almost killed me, whoever put it in the course deserves a special place in hell!”
That person would be well-known runner Malcolm Law whose dream it has been to bring fellow enthusiasts together for a celebration of trail running while also raising funds and awareness for native habitat restoration projects in the trails where he loves to run. Named The WILD for good reason, the event is aimed at adventurous trail runners and is owned and organised for the Wild for Nature Trust.

As Vajin Armstrong, winner of the V3000 64km event, noted: “I knew with Mal Law involved in the planning there was going to be some spicy sections to the course. It definitely lived up to its hype.”

Photo – The WILD V5000 women 2023 winner Ali Wilson credit photos4sale

Adventure racer Ali Wilson proved that she was more than up for whatever Mal Law or the course wanted to throw at her, setting a blistering pace and finishing over an hour ahead of her nearest rival in the women’s field, second-place-getter Eszter Horanyi of the USA.

“I had a bad race at the Adventure Racing World Champs back in October so I knew what I needed to do out there today,” she explained. “Although, I almost pulled out of the race a couple of weeks ago. I emailed Mal and told him I couldn’t even run a bath let alone a race but straight away afterwards I thought I would be missing out and got back in touch to say I was in. It was a solid day today.”

Vajin Armstrong claimed the inaugural V3000 title, crossing the finish line in 07:05:14. A Christchurch local, Armstrong is well used to testing his climbing legs in the Port Hills. He opted to play the long game for today’s race, running alongside eventual second-place finisher Dai Lawson for the first, more technical half of the course before pulling away at around the 35km mark.

As well as claiming a win Armstrong said the race setting was a highlight for him.
“We climbed up on to this exposed ridgeline and I couldn’t believe my eyes at times. It was pretty epic up there.”

Louise Murray took out the women’s V3000 title, saying she was surprised by her win and hadn’t entered the event with any thought to finishing on the podium but had loved the support of her fellow competitors throughout the day.

Originally from Ireland, Murray has been living in New Zealand for 18 months and says it might just be the running trails that keep her here long term.

Paulius Auryla covered 30km and a 1600m elevation gain in an impressive time of 03:00:33 to take out the men’s V1600 title. It was all the more impressive given that it was his first ever trail race, possibly the longest distance he’s ever run and there are no high mountains to practise on in his home country of Lithuania.

“It went quite well, I guess,” said a somewhat surprised Auryla. “I didn’t know what to expect so I was running it more like a game – just going ok here’s another hill.

“I’ve been visiting Arrowtown so I decided I had to do the race because with all the mountains around I had to use the opportunity. I’m normally a road runner so I don’t own any of the compulsory safety gear but other people were happy to lend it to me, the running community is great.”

Nancy Jiang charged home for the win in the women’s V1600, wrapping up a big week which saw her take out second place in the Kepler Challenge last weekend.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to enter, I was quite tired but I just wanted to make the most of being in Queenstown and Arrowtown,” she explained.

Kate Morrison backed up her win in Friday’s 9km Beast of Beetham, digging deep to record the fastest time in the women’s field for the 11km Beast of Brow on Saturday. “It’s an amazing run, I’m so stoked for all these courses,” she said.

Finn Lydon, on his OE from Scotland, was the fastest man on the Brow course, charging home in 1:21:31s. Asked to sum up the course in one word he went with “relentless” but even the false summits he’d encountered on route weren’t enough to wipe the smile off his face.

Long distances and steep hills were not the only challenge for competitors, with the weather also adding to the ‘wild’ theme. With strong winds forecast for the Queenstown Lakes, the event organisers made an early call on Friday to change the V5000 course, cutting out the traverse of Vanguard Ridge and reducing the course from the planned 85km to a 75km distance. A shorter, distance but still no walk in the park as everybody crossing the finishing line would attest to.

The skies were deceptively clear and calm for the 6am start but it was a different story 18 hours later as the final competitors crossed the finish line shortly after midnight in the dark and rain. No matter the finishing time or the weather conditions, the vibe remained positive and the sense of achievement high.

“Ultra running is all about setting lofty goals,” says Mal Law. “You struggle to get there, you know you’re going to have adversity along the way, you’ve got to reset and problem solve as you go and you’ve just got to battle on to the end.

“The WILD has been five years in the planning, and much like all ultras it’s been immensely rewarding and you swear you’ll never do it again. But in truth we’re already and excited and planning ahead for next year’s event.”

Full results at
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