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Chris Morrissey Kawerau King of the Mountain Race Report

Karhu Running athlete Chris Morrissey gives us a great race report from this past weekends epic  Kawerau King of the Mountain Race.

The 58th Kawerau King of the Mountain was set to be a one of the best show downs in recent years. The track was in great condition, the day was fine but not as hot as the previous years scorcher and both the men’s and women’s fields were looking strong. I was returning after winning last year and feeling pretty good after a win a few weeks earlier at the Xterra trail champs in Waihi. Previous winner Sjors Corporaal was looking fit and said he was feeling good. Australian Ben Duffus who won the sister race, the Pomona king of the Mountain in July and the Surf Coast Century 100km race in September was also feeling good but had only at a look at the lower slopes of Mount Edgecumbe (Putuaki). I don’t think I have ever done an off road race where the potential top three were all feeling good with no excuses.
In contrast the two top women both had injury clouds hanging over them. Helen Rountree, last years winner and winner at Pomona said she only turned up to bring the trophy back. Despite being injured, Helen wanted to improve on last years effort and hopefully get closer to the hour mark. Ruby Muir also recovering from an injury, who is certainly not new to mountain running was fronting up for the first time at Kawerau after a solid run to win the Xterra trail champs a few weeks earlier as well.

KOTM Start- Ohope Express

KOTM Start- Ohope Express

The scene was set for a great race. For the second race in a row I got a bit boxed in at the start easing into my work before hitting the first road up hill 20 seconds after the gun. Feeling good I changed my tactics from previous years and decided to push hard all the way to the base of the mountain. Local junior Glen Tarboton  and Teunis Schonveld who had both set times around the 56 minute mark in training lead to the top of the first hill. I passed Teunis at the crest of the hill and continued to chase Glen. I knew I had company as I heard spectators cheering for Sjors. Nearing the base I finally caught Glen, we exchanged a few encouraging words and headed to start of the single track. 100 metres before we left the road Ben glided by and slipped in front of me. I regarded Ben as a serious contender and he obviously had ambitions of leading at the base. But so did I. I put in a little surge to regain the lead just before the single track. Ben followed close behind a Sjors was on his tail. Within a few minutes Ben reclaimed the lead and I was content to follow at that stage.
With the overall king of the mountain title up for grabs there were a few races within the race going on. Sjors and I were out to beat Ben to make sure a kiwi won, but at the same time the race between Sjors and I was intense with a trip to Australia up for grabs. At the first drink station the three of us had a clear lead over the rest of the field. The running stopped at about a third of the way up where the gradient pitched up to about 45degrees to the top. From there it was hands on knees or grabbing vegetation to help with the ascent. Ben started to fade so I took the opportunity to push harder and went by again. With the gradient being so steep I could look down at my feet and could see Sjors had followed suit to keep in contact. Gradually I managed to shake him and lost sight the few times a had a sneaky look back. Knowing that I would need as much lead by the top as I could get if I was to remain in front I started to push harder.
Nearing the top Paul Charteris gave me a few encouraging words. After the hair pin at the summit I heard more encouraging words from Paul. This time they weren’t for me. I figured Sjors must have been close to the top.

Chris and Sjors- Phope express

Chris and Sjors- Phope express

I felt as though my descent was going well. Back through the drink station at the skid sight I was still in front. After the drink station I dug it in over a small climb that would be known as “No, I didn’t notice it” in any other race, before gliding to the final steepest down hill section of the course. At that point, within 300 metres of the base I heard footsteps. I didn’t look behind but I knew who it was. I’m not sure if I thought a rude word or actually said it out loud. As we hit the base I was still in front with about 800m to go. Sjors was right on my shoulder so I moved aside and let him pass on the last of the single track. Hoping that I wasn’t done yet I hit the road with 500m to go a few seconds behind. Sjors eased away up the final 100m long climb before the descent to the finish. I faded as I watched him glide away.
Sjors set a new PB of 47:55 breaking his previous mark by about 10 seconds. The 35 second advantage I had gained on the way up had been erased by the base and almost reversed by the finish. I crossed the line in 48:29, a PB by 38 seconds. My second race for team Karhu New Zealand and my second PB.
Returning to running after an extended break, Murupara runner Lance Downie came through for an impressive third in 51:20 with Ben Duffus just under a minute behind in his first shot at the race.
Glen Tarboton improved on last years 2nd place in the juniors to win and slashed minutes of his previous best time.
As we tried to recover, news was coming through that the women’s race was hotting up. Helen had led to the top in under 40 minutes but Ruby had caught back up by the time they reached the skid. Similar to the men’s race they were still together at the base. We all waited at the finish to see who would come around the final corner first. Helen emerged still full of running to cross the line the best part of 6 minutes faster than last year and 46 seconds under the hour mark. A shoeless Ruby Muir crossed the line 30 seconds later to also break the hour. The first time in the history of the race that the first two women have achieved this.
The trio of Sjors, Helen and Glen will be joined by 57 year old Colin Earwaker who won the 40+ section, to represent New Zealand at the Pomona king of the mountain in Australia next July. All the best to them. All deserving champions and I’m sure they will do us proud.
Look forward to a rematch next year.

Kawerau king of the Mountain facebook page

Paul Charteris photos


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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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