Mt Difficulty Ascent Report

mtdThe Mt Difficulty Ascent on Saturday delivered on its promise of a brutally steep, demanding course. While the races namesake, Mt Difficulty its self, lacked any significant snow cover, the wind picked up the slack (and almost some runners) and added an extra element to the race.

From the gun, Australian John Winsbury set out with a firm race plan of running the runable sections hard and walking the steeps with purpose. Not a surprising tactic from John, but what was a surprise was that no-one went with him. Other pre race favorite Andrius Ramonas choose to  hang back with the social run group of Tom Hunt and Grant Guise, as well as 1/2 marathoner Andrew Town (Andrew went onto win the 1/2 for the 2nd year running) .

By the 18km mark John’s aggressive tactics had yielded him 10+min lead over Andrius, Tom and Grant, with Matt Bixley  with in 3-4mins of the chasing group. From this point the course climbed 1000m in less than 4km. Positions were maintained over this section, with John firmly in control- it was a race to see who would round out  the podium. The chase group splinted at  the 23km aid station and 12km later, with 8km, 800m downhill to the finish Grant held a questionable 3-4min lead over Tom, with a similar gap back to Andrius.

Despite a questionable fashion sense, John Winsbury is all smiles with 8km t go.

Despite a questionable fashion sense, John Winsbury is all smiles with 8km to go. Photo: I am Alice

Things stayed this way to the finish, with Matt Bixley rounding out the top 5. But the day definitely belonged to John Winsbury, who ran strong from start to finish and was a class above. He collected the big points in the Skyrunning Series and plans on running the remanding races- he is making a late run.

The woman’s race had a lot more jostling for the win, with at least 4 different woman leading the race. A late starter was Wanaka Adventure racing guru Jo Williams, which added to an already competitive field. Mel Aitken took the early lead, running with the leading guys up the first climb over Nipple Hill, before being past on the first of 2 steep descents by Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg and Jo Williams.  The 2 Jo’s lead up the 2nd climb, with Whitney, pre race favorite Beth Cardelli from Australia and Mel in pursuit. On the major climb of the day, both Jo’s still held 1st and 2nd, with Beth in 3rd, until the summit of Mt Difficulty, when Whitney Dagg started to move through the field.

Just before the days highest point Whitney moved into 3rd, then just 2km later, at the 23km aid station she caught Jo Williams, moving into 2nd. From here Jo Johnsen was in sight and by the time the Slapjack Saddle aid station was reached at  29km Whitney had moved in to first. Whitney held the lead, in the end wining by 9mins, with Jo Johnasen 2nd and Jo Williams in 3rd.


Whitney around 10km in. Photo: Flashworks Media/John-Jo Ritson

Whitney around 10km in.
Photo: Flashworks Media/John-Jo Ritson.

It was exciting to see the marathon grow from 11 starters last year, to the much bigger and competitive field of this year. Certainly the Ascents inclusion in the Aust/NZ Skyrunning Series helped boost interest and race numbers, but personally I think it has more to do with a growing interest in this style of race.



  1. Whitney Dagg- 5hr54
  2. Jo Johansen- 6hr03
  3. Jo Williams- 6hr10


  1. John Winsbury- 5hr18
  2. Grant Guise- 5hr27
  3. Tom Hunt- 5hr34


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