St James Stampede Ultra

Marty Lukes, arguably New Zealand’s most successful ultra runner (trail and road) gives us a run down on why he thinks the new St James Stampede 50km Ultra is a race worth doing.

Located in a wonderful block of North Canterbury High Country the St James Ultra run is part of a number of other endurance events on the same day albeit on slightly different courses. It is not to be confused with the now defunct and longer ultra held on the St James Track which is located on the Main Divide. This relatively new event is on the St James Station just North of Hanmer Springs and utilises the St James Mountain bike track. Getting to the race start is a small adventure and all part of the pre race atmosphere.

The event start is in a large paddock off the Rainbow Road at the beginning of scenic single track up onto Fowlers Pass. It’s a neat area to get ready; a social spot right next to support vehicles. The event begins in a low key way but the scenery is majestic. It is hard to go down off the first pass with so much wonderful easily negotiated alpine terrain surrounding the track.

Fortunately the semi technical single track down towards Lake Guyon makes up for it. Great back country running. Tussock lands open up to become easy 4WD with 2300 m Mt Una and Duessa in the background Lake Guyon is a place to linger. Magic.

From the first aid station the track becomes farm landish with lots of ducking and diving up grassy banks and undulations. A few simple river crossings aid the cooling down process; water refills are never a problem.

The second half becomes technical and you must be self sufficient and not rely on memory to know where to race. It is critical that you carry a laminated map or map in a waterproof cover. You must expect to use it to know where to go. The consequence is becoming lost in big country. If the weather is bleak you could be in some predicament. However this is what makes this event unique: a real adventure in great country.

The last 16 km is more mind over matter. It’s good stretch to the finish following track and rough 4WD up onto the St James mountain bike trail. Remember to turn right or consult your map when you rejoin the main track.

Overall the St James is a welcome addition to our ultra running calendar but remember this is big high country. Be prepared to look after yourself and others through being well prepared in both rough terrain and extreme hot and cold conditions.

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