Of tough men, long skirts and bronze shoes…
A fixture on the New Zealand trail running calendar for 27 years, now, the inaugural Kepler Challenge (planned to be a one-off) was originally organised to honour a Fiordland outdoor legend.
In 1988, the Te Anau community was looking for a way to commemorate the centenary of the re-discovery of Milford Track by Quinton MacKinnon (re-discovery as it is thought that a similar route had previously been used by Maori to gather greenstone from Milford Sound). At a public meeting it was decided that funds be raised and a statue be erected to honour Quintin MacKinnon.
MacKinnon’s discovery made it possible for people to walk relatively easily and safely through the lofty Fiordland mountains to Milford Sound via the famous Milford Track, later proclaimed to be the “finest walk in the world”. Only a few years after his discovery, MacKinnon started guiding people on the Milford Track. A surprising number of men and women completed this trip in those pre-Gore-Tex times of ties, hats and long skirts. Access to Milford by road only became possible in 1953 when the Homer Tunnel was completed.
MacKinnon’s venture was the beginning of the tourism activity in this area, today worth millions of dollars, and as somebody’s put it; “until the rediscovery of MacKinnon Pass, Te Anau slumbered on the edge of the unknown…” MacKinnon himself unfortunately went missing, presumably drowned, on Lake Te Anau in 1892.
Amongst many other fundraising events the (then) Fiordland Athletic Club decided to organise a race on Milford Track, which proved too much of a logistics nightmare. Instead they turned their attention to the Kepler Track, which was being built to relieve the pressure on the two Great Walks in the area; the Milford and the Routeburn Track. The Kepler Challenge name was chosen to express the fact that this was to be a race/challenge for all, not just the professionals and semi-professionals.
The race was run on 17 December 1988 with 149 runners competing. By then the Kepler Track was completed apart from 3km above the Luxmore Hut, which meant part of the course was run through virgin tussock. It was meant to be a one-off fundraiser but the response to it was such that the committee decided to continue to hold it and it has been run every year since then – it is now firmly established as the premier mountain running event in New Zealand. A shorter, gut-busting “sister” race was established later: the Luxmore Grunt is a 27km run up to Luxmore Hut and down again.
The first male and female runner to reach the Luxmore hut, earn a special prize, the title of the “King and Queen of the Mountain”. The veteran runners say that in the men’s field the King of the Mountain never goes on to win the Kepler Challenge…
The race trophy, a bronze running shoe, is a cast of the type of shoe used by Russell Prince, the winner of the first race.
In previous years the field, 450 in the Kepler Challenge, 150 in the Luxmore Grunt, has filled within a week of the entries opening in mid-winter. In 2006 the registrations went online for the first time and now the field fills in just minutes, demonstrating the popularity of the Kepler Challenge in New Zealand and abroad. The first race was also a successful fundraiser and today visitors are greeted by a lakefront statue of Quinton MacKinnon, gazing upon his beloved Lake Te Anau. Following in this vein, several people who complete the Challenge in recent years have done so as a means to fundraise for worthy causes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: courtesy of the Kepler Challenge organisers, Trail Run Mag is proud to be represented this year by Shaun Brewster and Chris O’Driscoll, from Brewsters Running, who will experience the event from an on trail perspective an report back via a feature in the coming edition #15 of the magazine. Stay tuned…(go lads!)
Current Race Records
Kepler Challenge (60km)
4.33.37 – Martin Dent (2013)
5:23:34 – Zelah Morrall (2003)
Luxmore Grunt (27km)
1:52:30 Phil Costley (2008)
2:04:18 – Shireen Crumpton (1998)
Names to watch in 2014
Martin Dent – Aus – 35 – from Canberra, Australia has been a competitor in the 2012 Olympic Games (marathon) and has represented Australia in three Commonwealth Games. Martin won the 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge in a record-breaking time of 4.33.37
Vajin Armstrong – NZ – was the winner of three Kepler Challenges (2010, 2011, and 2012) and second place-getter in 2013.
Mark Green – NZ – 41- placed 5th in the 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge.
Grant Guise – 4th in 2010, 5th in 2011, 6th in 2013 in the Kepler Challenge,
Scott Hawker – NZ – 27 – placed 5th in the Hong Kong 100km, 5th in Tarawera Ultra, 1st in Mt Solitary Ultra, 7th in North Face Ultra.
Stafford Thompson – NZ – 34- came 1st Coastal Classic 2013, 1st Hanmer Alps Marathon 2013, 1st Motatapu Marathon 2014.
Mick Donges – AUS – 31- has been running ultra-marathons for five years. He has been placed twice in the Tarawera Ultra-Marathon.
Peter Tuck – NZ – 45 – has a marathon PB of 2.42. He had a cycling accident in 2012 and 2014 ASICS Kepler Challenge is his final stage of rehabilitation.
Glen Marvin – NZ – 41 – this is Glen’s 4th Kepler Challenge. He is raising funds and profile for the Mental Health Foundation in conjunction with Malcolm Law and the High Five Challenge. His personal goal to raise $10 000 towards total target of $250 000
Paul Timothy – Brit – 32 – 2nd Croesus Mountain Trail Run (3.05)
Cameron Durno – NZ – 33- is an endurance sports coach and this is his 11th Kepler Challenge.
Kevin Bruffy – USA – 30 – former university runner in the USA.
Timo Meyer – Ger – 36 – H.U.R.T. 100 mile (Hawaii USA) 2nd overall, UTMF Japan 4th
Tom Hunt – NZ – 26 – completed the Tarawera Ultra in 7.12 and was 2nd in the Hilary 80km Ultra
Shane Thrower – NZ – 46 – Uncle of Scott Hawker
Matthew Dickinson – Brit – 29 – 2013 52 peaks in 52 weeks.
Michael Beaumont – NZ – 39- will run in his 7th Kepler Challenge
Russell Hurring – NZ – 60 – from Dunedin, has encouraged his son and daughter-in-law to take part in the Luxmore Grunt this year. This is Russell’s 12th Kepler Challenge.
Malcolm Law – NZ – 54 – of 7 in 7 fame. This is Malcolm’s 6th Kepler Challenge and he says he just can’t stay away from this race.
Ruby Muir – NZ – 23 – was the 2012 and 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge winner.
Jo Johansen – NZ – 34 – 1st 2014 Tarawera Ultra, 1st woman on the Hilary Trail, 1st woman Hutt River Trail.
Jean Beaumont – NZ – 50 – from Prirua, Jean was 3rd in 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge. She has run seven Kepler Challenges and six 100 mile races.
Beth Cardelli – Aus – 34 – was named Australian ultra-marathon runner of the year for 2012 and 2013. She is three times winner of the North Face 100 in Australia.
Julie Quinn – NZ – is a successful kiwi ultra-runner in Australia. She has had two wins and two seconds in the North Face race in the Blue Mountains in Australia.
Richard Ford – NZ – 24 – this is Richard’s favourite race. Placed 4th in 2010, 3rd in 2011, 2nd in 2012, 3rd in 2013.
Luke Hurring – NZ – 30 – son of Russell Hurring. He has had lots of running experience on the track and road, but is new to long distance trail running.
Nathan Jones – NZ – 37 – from North Canterbury. Nathan ran the Luxmore Grunt in 2010 and 2011, and the Kepler Challenge in 2012 and 2013.
Alan Funnell – NZ – 46 – is the president of the Leith Valley Harrier Club in Dunedin and is the race director for the Three Peaks event. He has been running for thirteen years.
Martin McCrudden – NZ – 20 – from Wellington, Martin was first in the Crazyman Junior Duathalon.
Kelvin Meade – Brit – 35 – has run in similar events over the past four years
Patrick Williamson – NZ – 23 – from Wellington, has run in the Motatapu Miners’ Trail and the Shotover half-marathon.
Andrew Fraser – NZ – 49 – from Cambridge, was the 2nd veteran in the Coast to Coast and 2nd veteran in the Routeburn Classic.
Riki Russell – NZ – 26 – from Riverton ran last year’s Luxmore Grunt in 2.38.40
Jeff Walker – NZ – 50 – from Cromwell, has run several Coast to Coast events, three iron distances and one Luxmore Grunt.
Morgan Denny – NZ – 28 – from Bluff, was 5th in 2013 Luxmore Grunt
Rod Albert – Mex – 38 – this is Rod’s first mountain event after competing in several half-marathons.
Mark Geddes – NZ – 38 – from Dunedin, has been running for many years, including half-marathons and cross country races.
Rikki Griffin – NZ – 36 – from Te Anau, Rikki is usually a cyclist/multi-sport competitor.
Louisa Andrew – NZ – from Dunedin, won last year’s Luxmore Grunt and has completed the Melbourne marathon and ten half-marathons
Christina Taylor – NZ – 22 – has been competing in track and cross country for ten years.
Kellie Hurring – NZ – 31 – from Auckland, Kellie’s father-in-law, Russell, has encouraged the family to take up the challenge. In the past, Kellie has held national titles in 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 10 000m.