The 25th Kepler Challenge is set to be a cracker with a deep field promising good racing at the front of the men’s and woman’s fields. Matt Bixely has previewed the woman’s race HERE. Below is a look at the men’s race-
I could be wrong, I often am, but at the front of the race I see 7 guys that will be battling it out (it would have been 8 had Mick Donges not pulled out) and of that 7 I think there are 3 that will most likely make up the podium, with the other 4, as well as a dark horse or 2, ready to pick up any carnage that might (will!) occur.
Vajin Armstrong- the 2x returning Kepler Champ and 2012 American River 50mile winner is back, has the experiences and Kepler knowledge and is focused on a sub 5hr time. Chatting with Vajin over the last few months it sounds as if all is on track for a sub 5hr time and he is the man to beat!
Marty Lukes- we could do a whole post on just Marty and just his Kepler results alone! The fastest guy in the field with a 4hr49 (few have ever gone faster), as well as a 6hr49 100km- he has the strength and speed. After 3 wins in ’07, ’08 and ’09, ’10 and ’11 Keplers were the slowest Marty has run, but he seems to have turned a corner and is back in good form.
Martin Cox- yes, the Martin Cox that lead non other than Phil Costely at Luxmore Hut in 2005 when Phil ran 4hr37, is back for another crack at Kepler glory. Martin’s list of running achievements in his native Britain and in the European Alps are impressive to say the least and in all of his 5 previous trips to NZ he has made an impression on the mountain running scene here, most recently winning the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon this past Febuary. Martin still holds the King of the Mountain record to Luxmore Hut he set in 2005.
Tony Fattorini- former 3rd place finisher and has a 5hr06 to his name. Tony recently set a PB’s for the half and full marathon and seems to be in good form after a few slower Kepler’s the last 2 years.
Andrew Tuckey- another Australian but probably a lot more of an unknown than Tony. Andrew has a very solid running background, notabley he finished in 3rd place at May’s TNF100 in Australia, behind Ryan Sands and Vajin Armstrong in a sub 10hr time.
Jason Schlarb- is a US ultra runner who is in NZ for the summer cycle touring with his wife and child, but don’t expect Jason to be on holiday come Dec 1st. Jason has a string of impressive results and 1st place finishes in the US, but really is an unknown in NZ- not for long!
Nick Hirschfeld- has had some very solid results in the last few years at short distance races, including a age group win at the world Xterra Champs and a stella sub 2hr50min Routeburn Classic. A recent move from Auckland to Hanmer will mean he has been spend time in the mountains and will be very interesting how his first step up to ultra distance plays out.
Dark Horse- Gary Melhuish- I said it back in April at “Loop the Lake” (and he hadn’t even been training back then), and I will say it again- he will make a lot of people look silly.
young Sumner Running Club member Hugh Abbiss is another possible dark horse- anyone that is out training hard with Marty Lukes is worth mentioning.