Defending champion Nancy Jiang will have extra incentive to reclaim her Kepler Challenge crown this weekend with the race taking place on her birthday.
Jiang claimed her first Kepler Challenge title last year on her race debut and said winning the race again would be a perfect birthday present.
“I have been trail and mountain running for three years now and I am still enjoying it more and more every day.”
She is just one of a handful of elite runners who are set to tackle one of New Zealand’s mostbeloved mountain runs as it returns for the 32nd time.
Margie Campbell is entering her third Kepler Challenge with a vast amount of experience to her name and is hoping to continue her upward trend of finishing spots since her debut in 2017.
In her first attempt she finished third while in her second attempt last year she was second and is hoping to go one better this year to claim her first win in the event.
Caitlin Fielder will also enter the race in strong form having competed four different 50km runs as well as the 85km Old Ghost ultra-marathon and two 30km races in Europe.
Defending male champion Daniel Jones returns to attempt to claim another title and will hope to improve on his time last year and push towards the race record of 4hours 32 minutes set by Martin Dent in 2013.
He will face tough opposition from race stalwart Vajin Armstrong, who returns for his seventh Kepler and has openly declared his “love” for the event.
Armstrong is a three-time winner, having taken out the challenge each year between 2010 and 2012. He has backed this up with three other top three finishes, with second in 2013 and 2016 and third last year.
Another runner to watch will be Australian Alex Hunt, who headsinto the Kepler with some strong form with solid results in a variety of races across Australia and New Zealand.
He has been competing in multisport racing for more than seven years and joked that he was looking forward to falling short of the win in the Kepler challenge once again.
“I’ve travelled from Tasmania to enjoy my second favourite part of the world, to spend some time with some of my favourite people and get beaten as usual by Daniel Jones.”
New Zealand will also haveanother home grown runner to cheer for, with Gene Beveridge hoping to improve on his third from 2017 and use his experience and success to good use.
He enters the race as the record holder from the Hilary 34km and Tussock Traverse 26km as well as having a variety of international experience from global orienteering events.
The Kepler Challenge is a community-run event and in 1998 the Kepler Challenge Mountain Run Trust was formed giving the event charitable status.
As part of the Trust’s ongoing commitment to the local Fiordland Community, 20 spaces are set aside for a Charity Challenge with a $1000 price tag allowing challengers to obtain a guaranteed space in the Kepler Challenge prior.
The 60km Challenge starts at 6am, with the first runners expected to finish between four and five hours later.
The 27km Luxmore Grunt starts at 7am.
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here