Kepler Challenge Race Report – Martin Dent

On Saturday the 7th December Olympic Marathoner Martin Dent, from Australia, lined up at the Kepler Challenge with Phil Costley’s 4hr37min race record in the back of his mind- below is Martins race report on how he went about re-writing the record book.

Kepler Start, Martin Dent centre left. Photo: Barry Harcourt

Kepler Start, Martin Dent centre left. Photo: Barry Harcourt

The day started early, although it was 10 minutes later than planned, due a self-created alarm fail. Fortunately, Rowan Walker was my back up alarm and woke me at 4:10am. This was damn early, just a few days before we had been in Canberra where it was now 2:10am.

After a bit of breakfast (two pieces of toast and a coffee) and some other mucking around we were on our way to the start. Everything seemed low key and without much, if any, warm up to do there was plenty of time for last minute preparations. I did do about a 500m warm up to make sure my feet felt right in my shoes and to mobilise myself for a few light stretches. After a few pictures and chatting to the Aussie crew (John Winsbury and Rowan) as well as some of the New Zealanders I had met the day before (Vajin Armstrong and Grant Guise) we were on the way at 6am.

Vajin hit the track first and I tucked in behind him. We started rolling along fairly well in the early light and would have been well under 4min/km. After about 2km I thought I would have a turn at the front and went past Vajin. I may have started running a little faster as within a few hundred meters Vajin dropped off. It was bit tricky to tell the pace, but before 20min I hit the Brod Bay drink station. I did some quick calculations and realised that I must have been close to 3:30/km for the first 5.6km. That suited me.

It was time for the climb I had thought so much about in the last couple of months. All I knew was that we climbed about 800m over 8km and 66 minutes would be a good split to Luxmore Hut. The climb went on and on and the switchbacks kept coming. My heart rate would have been up, but I was confident in my ability to recover once I got to some easier running. I looked back a bunch of times on the switchbacks expecting to see Vajin. I managed to run the whole way up including the stairs. After about 35min I eventually broke through the tree line and the gradient backed off. I saw a few spectators here and then looking ahead could see that the main climb was behind me. I pushed through this section trying to have a look at the fantastic view while recovering from the climb. Soon enough, 63minutes in, I was at Luxmore Hut for the gear check which I was anxious about as I had never done anything like it before. I took the chance to put on my gloves. The gear check went fine except for almost running in the wrong direction after the check. Soon enough I was on the climb out the back of Luxmore Hut.

I was feeling really positive here as knew I was ahead of record schedule, and I still felt fine with only two major climbs to go. I started to think about drinking a little more water from my bottle and work out where I would need to refill it. I tried to see if I could spot anyone behind, but couldn’t see anything from the top of the climb around the side of Mt Luxmore. The tracks through this section were pretty wild, but I was in control and still climbing fine. I scooted down to the drink station at Forest Burn Saddle and probably should have refilled, but I was running fairly fast downhill and was past it before I knew it. I still had some water so it would have to wait.

The next section was bumpy and rough and at one stage I fell, but fortunately it was on an uphill. I was trying to look ahead to see the terrain coming up and which way I should be going. At one point the ski poles headed off to a little summit, but the trail went around the side of the mountain. A moment of hesitation and fortunately I correctly followed the trail. After 110 minutes into the race I was at the Hanging Valley Shelter. I refilled my 500ml bottle and drank two cups of water. I think the stop was all of 20 seconds. I was getting the hang of this!

Now the downhill would start. The stairs were fun, I went two at a time in places taking it more carefully on some of the steeper sets. It was a relief to be back in the tree line soon after and roll down the mountain. The switch backs were good and bad. Nice to slow down for a moment, but reaccelerating every time was a challenge, especially when they were close together. I was running quite quick though and tripped a few times on rocks just managing to stay upright. I was excited to spot the balloons of the drink station at Iris Burn and the sign that said half way with 2hrs and 20min on the clock. I think I grabbed a drink here and said hello to the crew that had been there over night.

The climb out of Iris Burn was a pain. I felt flat and lacking in strength, but after hitting some flat parts and passing hikers I started to perk up. During the next 5km I was thinking it was getting close to less than two hours to go and I felt alright. After a while it started to get a bit monotonous and I was expecting the next drink station at Rocky Point Shelter to appear any moment. It did about 15 minutes later than I thought, with 2hrs 55min down. It was a relief to get there and I smashed a cup of water and Leppin in matter of seconds. Now I was on the home run I told myself.

I was trying to remember the distances to the various drink stations from here and how long until Rainbow Reach. I think there was sign at Rocky Point that said 14.5km to Rainbow Reach. I told myself I run that on my easy runs in an hour. If I could do that I would be there 5 minutes under record pace and I could cruise in.

It’s all a bit of blur to Moturau Hut but my GPS said I was there at 3hrs 30min. I stopped, refilled my bottle, drank two cups of Leppin and trudged out of the drink station thinking its only 10 miles to go. My pace was consistent and although in every other race I have done 4:00/km would be a disaster, in this setting it was flying. I had planned to meet my wife, Kathie, at Rainbow Reach with some flat coke and I really hoped she made it. She was also handling our 7 month old daughter, Layla, so she would have been forgiven if she hadn’t. After having a couple of moments of indecisiveness on corners leading into Rainbow Reach I spotted Kathie and Layla up ahead. Kathie even got some GoPro footage of me running past! The coke went down a treat. Around the corner I was at the drink station and went to grab a water – the cup was empty, I don’t think they were expecting to see the first runner yet! So I grabbed Leppin and threw it on my face as I was feeling warm by now.

With 3hrs 54min having elapsed, I had 43min to run 9.5km to break the course record. I didn’t need to take any risks, so I continued on at a similar pace of just under 4min per km on the flats and downhills and 5min/km on the up hills. I was pleased to see the next drink station not long after and grabbed a cup of water to tip on my head. I started to tell myself that I could jog it in and still get the record. The hills started feeling bigger and I just wanted to get to the last drink station. Finally it came and I started to count down the minutes to the end. With a kilometre to go I could hear the speakers from the finish line and even heard my name mentioned at one stage. I spotted the stretch of gravel we had started on 4.5 hours ago and jumped through the finish line in 4hrs 33min. I felt awesome and smashed at the same time. This had been my longest ever race. I had always felt in control, but was definitely getting very tired by the end.

Martin Dent finish

The smile and time say it all- Martin at the finish. Photo: Scott Underhay

Vajin came in at 4hours 55min a few seconds faster than his best and Rowan was third in 5:09, first finisher over 40 as I reminded him!

It was a nice feeling to finish a four day hike by 10:30am locally (and 8:30am in Canberra!).

Thanks to Steve and the rest of the organising committee, the volunteers, the event sponsors and the people of Te Anau for creating such a unique and wonderful event. Thanks also to my parents who looked after my three boys back in Canberra while I was away, my sponsor New Balance (I ran in 890 v3) and my wife Kathie who supported me in getting the training done to prepare for Kepler.

Hopefully I will see everyone again next year.


Brod Bay left turn 20:00

Tree line 54:40

Luxmore hut in 1:03:20

Luxmore hut out 1:04:00

Forest Burn Shelter 1:30:05

Hanging Valley in 1:50:14 bottle refill + one cup water

Hanging Valley out 1:50:29

Start of switch backs 1:58:27

Iris Burn 2:20:25 cup of water

Rocky Point 2:55:20 two cups of water +1 leppin.

Moturau Hut 3:30:20 Bottle refill 1 x cup water 1 x leppin

Rainbow Reach 3:54:44 coke, bit of leppin, most on face!

5.5km to drink station 4:11

Finish 4:33:37

6x Gu -0:05, 0:45, 1:15, 1:45, 2:15, 2:45

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