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Vajin Armstrong Abel Tasman Coastal Classic Race Report

Vajin and wife Prasasta at the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic

 The Abel Tasman Coastal Classic took place this past weekend in good conditions and some good racing up front. Below is Vajin Armstrong’s Abel Tasman Coastal Classic Race Report-

Anyone keen on trying to take out one of the titles in the Top of the South Trail Series? Well they better make sure they bring their A game. As with Graham Taylor, Phil Costley and Simon Mardon the Nelson region has three of the best in the business, ready to fend off any “out of towners”. The fact that they are also almost all in the Masters Ranks is even more impressive. Last year I headed up to Nelson during the bulk of my Kepler training to race the Dun Run, I had the lead at the top only to see the rangey figure of Graham Taylor streak past on the long decent to the finish. It was only later I would find out this was one of his local training loops and he knew that decent like the back of his hand…Had I learnt my lesson from last year? No, not really, but I did head up to Nelson with hopes of a good performance. The Abel Tasman is one of the true classics in the New Zealand Trail Running scene, with this year being the 19th running of the event. They still have three of the originals from that first event who have been back each year and ran every one of them. A race has to be pretty outstanding to inspire that sort of dedication, and this race has outstanding pretty much sorted. It sells out its 300 spots pretty early on and makes the race into a real event by including not only lunch, but also a great buffet dinner. On first inspection it may seem to be on the expensive side but when you consider you are getting a boat ride out to the start, plus two meals you have to say that you are getting pretty good value for money on this one. Factor in that this is also one of the prettiest sections of costal track you are ever likey to see, you can see why it keeps drawing people back.
Anyway back to the race, unfortunately due to my position as one of the competitors in the event my report will be quite biased due to the fact that I didn’t really see anyone after Tonga Bay when Graham had had enough of my pleasent conversation. Coming into the event I had been told by numerous sources that your time for this race would give a pretty good reflection of where you would be at over the marathon. Being 36km and having plenty of undulations and some sand, I thought this souded fairly reasonable. So before the race I was hoping to be around 2.30 as this would be a fairly solid position to be in 10weeks out from Kepler. I knew Graham Taylor was looking to run Auckland in 5 weeks so I was thinking he would be in good shape over this type of distance. The race kicked off at the Awaroa airstrip under clear skies and with a freshening breeze. Immediately I let Graham take the lead, as he actually knew where to go. In the early goings I asked Graham if he came out and ran here often, to which he replied that he didn’t (without mentioning the fact that he had come out and had a run over the course earlier in the week… The pace was solid but comfortable through to the decent to Tonga Bay, at that point Graham upped the pace slightly and gapped me heading onto the beach. I wasn’t at all worried as although I knew Graham was a fantastic descender and I still fancied myself on the climbs and I knew we had a couple straight off the beach. I was planning to be back with him in no time.

Unfortunately, as soon as the trail kicked up, my quads were gone and I mean really gone, like how they might possibly feel at the top of a good 1000m vertical climb. Three big weeks of mileage and some solid hill workouts plus racing can do that to a man, even someone who prides themselves on being able to handle some big weeks. So here we were 30mins into the race and I am grovelling up the first real hill, with Graham now well out of sight, and a long way to go. So what to do, the only thing I could, just keep moving forwards as fast as possible. If that meant hiking some of the uphills then so be it, so onwards I went struggling up the hills, recovering on the descents, and moving alright on the flatter sections. I used this time as an opportunity to get on top of my fueling and hydration, and hoped that things might start to come around. There wasn’t much to report during this section, just beautiful bays, wonderful views and some lovely snaking single track.

By the time I hit Torrent Bay I got a time check saying that Graham was 3 mins up, so I was happy that I hadn’t blown out completely and was still in the race. I didn’t have any idea about split times along the way, except Graham had mentioned before the race that from the bridge at the top of Torrent Bay you have about an hour of running to go, or 58 mins if you are going well. I hit that bridge at a bit over 1.35 so was looking at having to work hard to get under 2.35. The last section of the trail was probably the most runable so I tried to push the pace on the flatter sections where my legs felt the best. I used this section to visualise the last section of the Kepler, where you are trying to run as fast as you can on tired legs. Things started to flow pretty nicely along here and before I knew it I could see Marahau. This last section is very deceptive as there are plenty of little bays and short hills to get past before you are finally on the boardwalk to the finish. Coming up to the line I was as surprised as anyone to see that I had actually managed to run really strong over the last section and ended up with 2.30.50, certainly a lot better than the 2.35 I thought I might end up with. It was a good lesson in staying strong and working hard all the way to the finish, despite things not quite going as planned.

Graham though was the story of the day, dominating the dojo, all the way to a 2.27.05 finish. He is now the 2nd fastest ever on this course, behind the one and only Phil Costley, and is now looking on track for a big breakthrough result up in Auckland. Guys like this, working a serious fulltime job, new baby and still managing to be busting out PB’s in his forties, are the real legends of our sport. I look forward to seeing Graham showing some of the youngsters how it’s done, on the road over the next few months. Third place went to the ever polite and gentlemanly Matt Pepler, who wished us well, as he settled back for a solid 3rd place in 2.46.

On the womens side of things it was great to see top Australian  long distance triathlon representative Michelle McAdam turn up and run a solid Sub 3 hour time to take 1st place. She said she is taking a bit of a break from the roads, and with a 2.44 marathon, will now be a force to be reckoned with on the trails. It was the epic “Battle of the Fleur’s” for 2nd and 3rd with Lattimore getting very close to 3 hours in 2nd and Pawsey 3rd with a solid 3.09.

Final Results were-
Graeme Taylor 2h 27m 5s 
Vajin Armstrong 2h  30m 50s 
Matthew Pepler 2h 46m 41s 

Michelle McAdam  2h 58m 2s 
Fleur Lattimore 3h 1m 5s 
Fleur Pawsey 3h 9m 20s.

Vajin Armstrong is one of  New Zealand’s leading trail ultra runners, being the 2 time defending Kepler Challenge winner, two 2nd place finishes at the Tarawera Ultra 100km and a impressive 1st place at the American River 50mile this year. Vajin is sponsored by  Saucony, UltrAspire and Oakley. His next race is the Waihi Xterra NZ Trail Running Champs in October as he builds up for the Kepler. Keep an eye on the BCR Blog to follow Vajin as seeks his 3rd Kepler title and a sub 5hr time.


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A Backcountry Running Community for New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra runners- We want this to be the place you come for all things trail running including race previews and reports, interviews with New Zealand runners and hopefully a whole lot more! Our aim is to provide as much original content- previews/reports/interviews on New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra races. We can't be everywhere- so feel free to get in touch if you have the scoop on a race or event.

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