The Ultra-Run is the longest of events on offer at Macpac Motatapu with Andrius Ramonas (Lithuania) and Nancy Jiang (Queenstown) both pushed hard all the way in two of the more competitive races seen in recent years.
Ramonas won the men’s race after a shoulder to shoulder battle with Joe Cox (Wanaka) for much of the distance, while Jiang had a similar battle with Laura Reidy (Queenstown) before she prevailed.
Ramonas hails from Lithuania but has been living in New Zealand for five years and is quickly making a name for himself as a trail and ultra-runner to be reckoned with, especially over a mid-range event like the 52km Ultra at Macpac Motatapu.
“I’m running so many years, I started 20 years ago on roads and tracks and quickly moved to trail running but I would say I progressed to really long ultras but at the moment I settle to mid-range, more technical and hilly ultras, which have physical and technical challenges.”
The 37-year-old knew he had a battle on his hands today though, sharing much of the course side by side with eventual runner-up Joe Cox, only edging ahead to win by less than three minutes at the finish line.
“I think at the end it was a bit of a tactical battle. Pretty much from the start I could see Joe, I closed the gap with me and another runner in the first hour and then we pretty much stuck together and when you are going through technical and long and physically challenging places ,if you don’t have that really solid advantage it is good to join someone and keep your legs for the final kilometres.”
That focus and indeed race preparation paid off for the Lithuanian.
“I did some research about the course and what to expect, this is the first time, I knew that in the final seven or eight kilometres I could gain some time, my specialty is my road running skills, I know that I could probably push four-minute kilometre pace and usually, if you don’t have a really experienced trail runner, that is enough to create the gap.”
Women’s winner Nancy Jiang hails from Queenstown, the Chinese born athlete continued a stellar recent won that saw her finish 15th at the 2018 World Mountain Running Championship proudly wearing the sliver fern and won the Keppler Challenge on debut, late last year.
For someone so at home on the hills, it was perhaps a surprise that it was the climbing that had the 28-year-old worried early on.
“That was tough, a really tough day. It was so steep I was like, I don’t know how I am going to do four of these, but I finally found my groove half way through and I pushed it up the last hill and I knew after that it is downhill and then just to get through the river crossings.”
Jiang had been in a titanic battle all race with Laura Reidy, with the two only minutes apart when Reidy chose the lower route later in the course, with Jiang having taken the high track option, completely unaware of what her opponent was doing.
“No, I didn’t know but I regret taking the high route, I probably got a bit more elevation than what was on the trail. When I got to the aid station they told me I was still leading so I thought great, lets maintain that.”
And maintain she did to add another title to her burgeoning CV.
Meanwhile in the XTERRA Triathlon, Flavio Vianna and Emma Weston were popular winners, with Christchurch based Vianna finally standing on top of the podium while for Weston (Dunedin), it was her first attempt at a serious triathlon.
“I think I made mistakes the whole way, I got on the mountain bike and dropped to the lodge and there was no way through, so I went back and then I missed the sign for transition and came through to the finish line and had to go back,” said Vianna.
“I think it hurt everyone, not just me. It was about who can tolerate more pain, I hurt on the uphill but managed to drop the guys and win, I actually didn’t know I was in front until the finish. This is amazing, I have to say thanks to my friend Dougal (former winner Dougal Allan) for not turning up, otherwise I would be second!”
Weston was perhaps the most surprised at her victory and couldn’t believe it when she saw the finish tape in front of her.
“This is my first triathlon ever so the swim I am not used to and didn’t enjoy as much as the rest of the day. I just found a little space and ground my way through it. But all the competitors are great, really friendly and chatty – well I was so I suppose they had to chat back! Running up the hill and looking at the views from the top were just amazing.”
The Macpac Motatapu continues tomorrow (Sunday) with the Off-Road Marathon, Miners Trail and Sawpit Trail events, all finishing at Wilcox Green in Arrowtown.
1 Andrius Ramonas, LTU, 6:47:42
2 Joe Cox, NZL (Wanaka), 6:50:14
3 Bastien Missud, AUS, 6:58:48
1 Nancy Jiang, NZL (Queenstown), 7:30:45
2 Laura Reidy, NZL (Queenstown), 7:40:50
3 Rose Pearson, NZL (Dunedin), 7:55:03