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2018 NZ Road Relay Preview

The National Road Relays return to Canterbury for 2018. The relay from the Sign of the Takahe to Akaroa is run every year. It has been going since 1935 and 2018 is the 78th time the event has been held. Since its incorporation, the event has only been cancelled for the five years of World War II and then again because of the 2010 earthquake.

This is the thirteenth time the Akaroa Relay has hosted the NZ National Road Relays. When the NZ National Road Relays were founded in 1977, the Akaroa Relay played host. A pattern was soon established where the Akaroa Relay doubled as the Nationals every four years and was a provincial relay in other years. This pattern was disrupted a few years ago when Nationals were held here for three consecutive years. Given the difficulty in ad hoc hosts coming forward and the fact that Akaroa is held every year, Akaroa is pretty much the default option whenever no-one else has a viable hosting bid.

The masters grades were first introduced to the NZ National Road Relays in 1983, with a masters men and a masters women grade. The 50s grade, which is not specifically men or women but an open 50, was added in 1993 and then in 2012 a 60s grade was also added. Dont bet against a 70s grade becoming a reality at some stage given our changing population demographics.

Curiously, the NZ Road Relays are the only national championship where the age for masters men has retained the original age. While the road, cross country, mountain, trail and track/field championships all switched to 35 when World Masters switched from 40 in 2003, the relays has stayed with 40 for men and 35 for women.

The Akaroa course has some demanding laps. The eight-leg long course starts with a 9.6km leg that starts with nearly 3km uphill and then 3km of steep downhill. Leg two is 10.4km but features a large hill to ascend and descend. The next three legs are all flat, with lengths of 10km, 9.4km and 10.7km.  Leg six is the shortest leg, just 6.8km, but its all uphill and its steep. The penultimate leg is 9.5km but after a warm-up of a few undulating kilometres, theres about six kilometres of steep downhill. (Leg seven has a reputation of its runners being unable to walk for a few weeks due to wrecked quads.) The final leg is only 9.9km but features three steep hills, each a little over 1km, to climb and descend. As such, the specialist assignment to legs becomes important to teams with podium aspirations.

The 60s run the short course of six legs. This starts near the start of leg two in the long course. The first leg is 4.6km and is mostly the first half of the course second leg, which is mostly flat. The second leg is the last 6.1km of the long course second leg so it is mostly a case of up the hill and down the hill. Legs three and four are the same as the long course, being the flat 10km and flat 9.4km. The final short course leg is the long course leg five (10.7km flat) dissected into two the first half being 6.55km and the second half being 4.15km.

Before we examine who the contenders are for 2018, we need to put in an even bigger disclaimer than usual. We know what club has entered what grade and whether theyve been classified as A, B or C by the organisers (even no such sub-grade officially exists outside of the senior men, different start times are assigned and you cant win unless you have the later A sub-grade start time). What we dont know is the final team lists; we only have the provisional lists. This is masters athletics you can guarantee some teams will have suffered injuries to key team members in the time since putting the original entry and the time of the race. Teams will have had changes forced upon them. For some it might mean an improvement; for most it means the opposite. The other problem is in estimating the leg assignments and while we know many of the competitors, we dont always know that someone happens to be particularly useful running up the hill or down the hill in order to be relatively faster than their other performances in a season have shown. Enough excuses already lets look at the grades!

The M40 grade gold medal has gone to Wellington for each of the last three years, switching between Wellington Harriers and Wellington Scottish. Auckland University have the most wins in the M40 grade, with seven, all recorded in the eight year period of 2000 to 2007. Wellington Harriers (1984, 1991, 1992, 2016), North Harbour Bays (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989), Olympic Christchurch (1985, 1996, 1997, 1999) and Wellington Scottish (2010, 2011, 2015, 2017) are all tied with the second most.

There are 11 teams in the M40s this year. Three of those have the B grade head start so are not in the running. One of the M40s teams has members from another club in its ranks and should really be in the composite grade but theyre not a team with any real chance of scoring a podium finish so there shouldnt be any controversy.

The race for the gold medal will be between defending champions Wellington Scottish and last years third placed New Brighton Olympic. NBO have never won this grade, though part of their forerunners Olympic Christchurch did so. In 2016 Scottish were favourites until a hamstring injury meant a substitution early in lap three passed the favourite mantel to ACA. ACA gave that status to NBO after problematic lap five probably justified a substitution (their runner finished weaving all over the road having blown spectacularly). NBO came within a kilometre of winning until a popped Achilles intervened to give Wellington Harriers the win. So when we say Scottish and NBO are the clear favourites, lets not forget that in relays particularly in masters relays anything can happen on the day.

On paper however, Scottish look good. Stephen Day defies his age and still runs sub-33 for 10km, while Levente Timar and Andrew Wharton are not too far behind. They do have Dave Parsons and Simon Keller returning from some recent injury issues and they may not be up to the former speed, while Ben Winder is somewhat untested this season. Paul Barwick remains a model of consistency while wily old dog Todd Stevens will keep everyone focused in the team van. Im picking a win for Scottish by around 90 seconds over New Brighton. New Brighton have Mark Bailey, who if he is fit is  - along with Cambridges Steve Rees-Jones the fastest in this grade. Chris Mardon has been consistently strong for about five years now. They also have an unraced talented veteran in their ranks with Granantan Boyle and his fitness could be key. Nathan Peterson is the new guy in the ranks and as their eighth-ranked runner, hes around 30 to 60 seconds slower than Scottishs slowest and this should prove to be one of the decisive differences.

The race for third is between Wellington Harriers and Owairaka. WHAC are reliant on their Double Dans, Dan Nixon and Dan Clendon, to lead the way. There is a question mark on their fitness given theyve not been racing in the Wellington championships but both are capable of low-33 for 10km. Stewart Milne is certain to run leg six up the hill, where he will be strong. Alex Jones is faster this year than in 2018 while their Sydney runner Roussos Alexopoulos is also strong. Their two potential weaknesses are in keeping John Beale focused (he may be used on leg one as hes better at head-to-head racing than in a time trial scenario) and James Waite. James is new and his 10km time appears to be nearer 40 minutes than 38.

Owairaka have Nick Moore and Simon Mace as the tip of their spearhead. They do have a consistent set of runners with Daniel Coates, Julian Ng and Tim Morrison not too far apart over 10km. However, they lack depth and John Mauros parkrun times suggest hes a low 37 man, a little quicker than Peter Kenny and Bazyl Piotrowski. I think WHAC will take third by several minutes.

Elsewhere in the grade, ACA have some talent but because theyre needing to use M60s Alastair Prangnell and David Lear (who would make them a dangerous team in the O60 grade even the O50 grade if they had the numbers to enter that grade), they dont have the depth to challenge for a podium without assistance from injuries and penalties. Similarly, Cambridge have the fantastic talent of Steve Rees-Jones with support from Dean Chiplin and John Charlton but they have four guys around 41-42 minutes to make up the team.

Eight teams line-up in the O50 grade. Port Hills have a 45 minute head start as the sole 50 team to be deemed B grade, so the race itself is between seven clubs.

When the grade was instituted in 1993, it was one by Pakuranga. Pakuranga have won five times, all in the period 1993 to 1998. Auckland University are the only club to match Pakuranga, their five wins coming in the years 2006 to 2012. Wellington Harriers have won four times in the last five years, notably looking to be the first team to make it four in a row for 2018.

They wont make it four in a row. WHAC have lost depth on recent years, notably losing Dallas McCallum who is reportedly caravanning around the North Island looking for his lost youth. Paul Hewitson takes over the mantel of being their fastest runner and they are next reliant on Dave Carrigan, who is another master with little recent racing. Their eight-seeded runner is Alastair Kenworthy, who is a 41 minute man and with only one sub-36 man their average is hurt beyond repair.

The race to win will instead be a resurrection of an old M40 rivalry: Wellington Scottish versus Papanui Toc H. Papanui have the best individual with the indomitable Richard Bennett. Bennett will be assisted by Darren Hoolahan. With their recent parkrun times, Shane Grose and Steve Darby seem to be in about 37:30 10km condition, while Anthony Duncraft has been noticeably absent this season. With Malcolm Cornelius having an OE adventure in Europe, Pap have called up M60 Don Greig. Dons faster than most M60s by some way but he may find the younger M50s have no respect for his former talents Don still holds the M50 leg eight record and it is FAST!

The top half of the Scottish M50 team is rich in talent. Michael Wray ran 34:50 at the Wellington Road Champs 10km and this race aside has spent the season finishing behind Peter Stevens. Grant McLean is an accomplished runner who remains in low-35 shape and Dave Kettles, despite not producing quite the road times he did in 2017, is strong. Bill Twiss is hitting his stride after being out of action on secondment overseas last year. Where Scottish will be vulnerable is the injury recovery status of Jim Jones, James Turner and Phil Sadgrove. Sadgroves recent parkrun time suggests hes only recovered to about 41 for 10km. The Scottish M50s have been cursed in the last two years. In 2016, James Turner defied a calf injury but limped in to finish on the final leg to hold on to third place by seconds another 100m and he would have been caught. In 2017, John Plimmer collapsed and was hospitalised 300 metres before handing over to the final leg runner while in second place, resulting in a fifth place finish. This year, if Scottish can avoid another year of drama, they should win by two minutes.

Hamilton Hawks are my pick for third. I have them several minutes behind second and ahead of fourth. Kent Hodgson should be their fastest and he is capable of sub-35 but is probably only in low 35 shape at the moment. Chris Smith ran well at Waikato/BOP road champs, as did Andrew Wark at the Club Champs. However, Glenn Sextons recent parkrun times suggest hes not completely up to speed and is in about 37 shape. Parkrun also provides insight on Chris Keith and Norm Robbins, who are both in the 38:30-39:00 range. Kevin Knowles is around 39:30 while Garry Wilson is probably nearer 42.

Nelson, WHAC and Lake City should have a good battle in the race for fourth. If the injury die is thrown by one of the leading three, as is so often the case, this race becomes important as medals are on offer for the winner. I predict Nelson to be the team poised to take advantage but only if Alex Lloyd and John Kennedy, who have no recent history on which to hang a prediction, are in low-36 shape otherwise Im picking WHAC.

The masters women grade was first won in Takapuna, who went on to amass five titles. The real Queens of the grade are Wellington Scottish, with a whopping 11 wins, notably six in a row 2011-2016. Such a shame that Scottish have no team this year. Hamilton Hawks, who have the second most titles of seven, are the current champions.

Unfortunately there is a real lack of entries. Something seems to have gone awry with masters women recently as this dearth is merely the continuation of a theme weve seen in extremis for 2018. There are only five teams more runners will medal than will not. This is bad as it cheapens the medal for those that do win them.

We are guaranteed a new winner. None of the five teams are from clubs to have won before. The race at the front features two teams who will be some 14 or 15 minutes faster than third. These two teams are so finely matched that lap selection will be absolutely crucial.

New Brighton Olympic have accomplished triathlete Andrea Hewitt. Andrea is over five minutes quicker over 10km than any other runner in the MW grade. This is important as the main challenge to NBO is WHAC, whose weakest runner is around five minutes quicker than NBOs weakest runner.

Hewitt is assisted by Melanie Angland, who is the only other sub-39 10km runner in the field. Tina Cox is around 40:20 but after that NBO have slower runners on offer. Carolyn Forsey, Ronaldo Reid and Stephanie Rumble should all run times that equate to around 45:30 for 10km, while Christine Stowell-Collett will be more like 47. That leaves veteran Margaret Flanagan, who will struggle to break 50.

WHAC have a less diverse range of talent.  They have two ex-Scottish runners to try and channel that history through to their team mates. Their fastest is Nat Hardaker, whos good for 39:30 or so with Sophie Lee around a minute behind. Vickie Humphries is still a class runner, a W50 faster than many W35s, and is in the sub-44 club with Dorota Starzak and Onur Oktem. Carline Thomas and Jane Boyd are their slowest runners but will be faster than New Brightons slowest three.

On average WHAC have the slightly faster runners and if all legs were the same, Id pick them for the win. Given the range of leg lengths, however, I think NBO will be able to exploit having Hewitt and Angland to win. Either way, it will be close.

The remaining three teams look to be quite different from both the front two and each other. Olympic should be third by some 12 minutes over Lake City, while Caversham can expect to be around 17 minutes behind Lake City. Olympic have three (five on a good day) who can run 10km under 45 minutes, whereas Lake City only have two with that ability (just) and Caversham have three who wont break 50.

The six years in which weve had a 60s grade has seen Nelson win five times. WHAC, in 2016, are the only club to have ever broken the monopoly. Perhaps that why Nelson have managed to put together four teams! There are 13 teams entered, which is impressive even though that represents just six clubs.

It looks like Nelson 2 and New Brighton Olympic are the contenders. The Nelson team, however, is somewhat dependent on the speed of Graeme Lear. This could be a concern as Graeme withdrew from his later races at the World Champs in Malaga with a hamstring issue Nelson may have to promote from another team. The odd thing about the Nelson team selection is it does not look as if they have put the fastest six on one team. Are there injuries or form issues Im not aware of or have Nelson decided to give the others a chance by spreading the talent? Or are they messing with us and they will file a change of team the morning of the race to consolidate the top six into an A team?

As it stands, the best of the Nelson four seems to be the team that consists of Graeme Lear, Murray Hart, Bill Revell, Andrew Barker, Ian Carter and Dave Riddell. All apart from Ian ran well at the Tasman Road Champs Ian instead went to Europe and ran well at the World Masters Champs.

The challenge will come from New Brighton. They boast top M60 Tony McManus, who could make any of the O50 teams (NBO have no such team). David McDonald and Clive Kitchingham showed good form at the Canterbury Road Champs, while Paul Seniors Lionel Fox Relay performance suggests hes as good. Ron McTaggart isnt too far behind but their need to include Bruce Woods as their final runner makes them unlikely to pip Nelson.

Theres an interesting race for third shaping up. Nelson could have another team on the podium as the Nelson 3 team looks good for bronze. This team consists of Clive Holyoake, Derek Shaw, Chris Bolter, Graeme Sellars, Kevin Ellis and Barry Dewar. If theyre all in shape, which is not assured as some have not raced yet this season, then theyre all 41 to 43 for 10km.

Auckland University will give them a good race and have some great names listed. Graham Macky and Gavin Stevens are both high quality runners, while Steve Fairley and Steve Duxford ran well at Auckland Road Champs. The question is whether Bryan Bates, untested in 2018, has held form and how fast is Dave Harkness.

Wellington Harriers will lean heavily on Richard Brent. Richard has been absent from racing for a couple of years so theres a question to be answered on whether hes in form. Brian Hayes is definitely in form and will have Paul May and Duncan Mathews in similar shape, with Geoff Smith and Des Young not too much slower. If the questions facing Nelson 3 and Auckland Uni are valid, WHAC will have the answers.

2018 NZ Road Champs Preview (Updated for Late Entries)

The New Zealand Road Champs return to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region this year. They were last in this part of the country in 2015 when Tauranga hosted. This year it’s Cambridge. It is only the second time in over 45 years that Cambridge has hosted this event. Possibly only the second time ever (I only have records back to 1972) for it to be in Cambridge. The last time it was here was 1992.

We have 361 entries. That’s not bad for a location with no airport. The upper half of the North Island will likely drive to Cambridge; for the rest of the country there is the choice to drive after flying to Hamilton, possibly even Rotorua or Auckland. Perhaps this is why there are no masters entries from Otago and only one each from Southland and Nelson but it doesn’t explain the absence of Taranaki runners.

In the meantime, there are some notable absences from the entry lists. One major cause is the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Wellington’s team has been hit hard with these, losing M50 winner Michael Wray and runner-up Peter Stevens. Michael was the only M50 to run sub-35 in all the NZ Centre Road Champs this year, while Peter would normally be expected to do the same, so both would have been considered favourites had they been available to run. Wellington also lose Mat Rogers from the M35s, top W35 Tina Faulkner and M60 Tony Price. Tony Price’s absence is compounded with Geoff Anderson also going to Spain; there will be a couple of medals available in the M60s that you would usually consider pre-assigned. Sally Gibbs, Alastair Prangnell and Graeme Lear are another three who would have been favourites to win gold medals. Wellington also misses one of its top M40s with Stephen Day unable to make the trip to Cambridge, albeit not for Malaga. With the country’s top M40, Steve Rees-Jones not running (unless a last minute recovery from the health issues he’s suffered since cross country produces a late entry), it means there will be a feeding frenzy in the M40 ranks to be able to take advantage!

There are others and I could go on but this is a preview of the NZ Road Champs, rather than the World Masters Champs, so let’s focus on who is competing in Cambridge.

While there is a reasonable turnout for most grades in the masters men, albeit that they’re missing some of the top guys, for the masters women it is very poor. There are 29 masters women and only nine of these will miss out on an individual medal. Most of these are foregone conclusions.

There are only five W35s and only four of these appear to be realistically looking at the age-group podium. The one who will definitely miss out is Charlotte Bartrum from Tauranga. In the absence of Tina Faulkner, who would have won this race by around three minutes, Auckland’s Bridie Hart will go up against local Veronica Maree for the win. Curiously, Maree is marked in the Waikato Centre Champs as a social runner so has presumably upgraded to full membership to be allowed to compete. In the race for third, Tauranga’s Krissy Tanner goes up against Canterbury’s Shannon-Leigh Litt. Krissy won this head-to-head by 40 seconds last year so starts as the big favourite for bronze.

Lindsay Barwick versus Michelle Hopkins

We have four W40s and once again, it appears only three are in the running. Auckland’s Katrin Gottschalk is going to need to improve by about a minute on what she ran at the 2017 and 2016 champs to get a sniff of the podium. Wellington’s Lindsay Barwick starts as the narrow favourite. The Wellington champion will have Auckland champion Michelle Hopkins for company. Waikato champion Tanja Miller has the slowest centre champs time but can’t be discounted from challenging at the front. I would be surprised if the gap between whoever finishes first and whoever finishes third exceeds 10 seconds. The front three here will be the first three masters women overall.

Michelle Van Looy

The numbers remain low in the W45s. Of the five, two do not seem to be in the running. Auckland Triathlete Natasja Barclay and Canterbury’s Katherine Fitch will be a minute, possibly two, behind the other three. Of the remaining three, the race will be between Wellington’s Michelle Van Looy and Waikato’s Judith May. Wellington’s Andrea Harris can expect to finish with a comfortable third but miss the front two by 30 seconds.

The W50s are even more scarce and noticeably lacks perennial challenger and Canterbury champion Maggie Chorley. Ariana Summers from Canterbury should take advantage of the absence of the only W50 to beat her at centre champs to take the gold medal. The only other W50 is Jacqueline Eastman, who can expect to be 20 seconds behind Ariana.

Sally Gibbs being in Malaga means someone will win a gold medal they otherwise would miss out on. A late entry brings the number of runners up to four so only one will miss a medal; this will be Judith Uhlenberg, around five minutes behind Maureen Leonard in third. Carolyn Smith will be under pressure for first place from Carline Thomas. Carolyn is a slight favourite but a gap of less than 10 seconds means Carline could come through on the day.

Debbie Telfer

For the W60s the one to miss out on the medal will be Penny Burkhardt, who will be some 30 seconds behind Sue Meltzer. It will be Sue’s second year picking up the W60 bronze. Second place will be Auckland’s Karen Crossan. Invercargill’s sole representative is Debbie Telfer and she will win the W60 gold by around a couple of minutes.

Sue Meltzer and Margaret Flanagan

The oldest grade for the masters women this year is the W65 grade. This grade has only five runners. Unlike the others this grade could see a narrow gap between first and last. Canterbury’s Margaret Flanagan starts as the slight favourite. Auckland’s Barbara Scarfe is second favourite, with Pam Graham, Judith Bradshaw and Kathy Howard too close to call. Really these five could finish in any order.

Wellington's late entry completes their team so there are four teams. This is not great news for Canterbury, who now have little to no chance of making the podium. Wellington, Waikato and Auckland will be very close and the three teams must pay attention to some head-to-heads to decide the win. Lindsay Barwick against Michelle Hopkins against Tanja Miller will take place at the front end. In the upper-middle range, Auckland’s Bridie Hart and Karin Gottschalk against Waikato’s Judith May and Veronica Maree and Wellington's Andrea Harris and Carline Thomas will be the decisive race.

Jonny Mckee & Graeme Buscke

The M35s have 12 runners. Last year’s winner, Alasdair Saunders from Wellington, is back to defend his title and he will go up against 2017 M35 silver medallist Damien Cook again. However, I think it unlikely that either will find their way in to the top three this time. The standout runner in the field is Jonny McKee. Three years ago McKee ran 31:28 and finished as third SM. He lined up in Auckland in 2017 and recorded fast times at the World Masters Games but we haven’t seen him compete since then, not even in the centre road champs. Has he been away, been too busy moving house from Auckland to the Waikato or has he been injured? If McKee is fit, he could win the masters overall and be well ahead of the second placed M35. The other M35s should have some tight racing. Napier’s Graeme Buscke will be back from London, Wellington’s Valentino Luna Hernandez is in good form and Auckland’s Nick Pannett showed good form to win the Auckland Champs. All three of these can run under 34 minutes for 10km, meaning the rest of the field will need a tactical race to stand a chance. Assuming McKee is in form, the big question is which of those three will miss the medals. It will be close but I’m picking Pannett for silver and Luna Hernandez for bronze.

Brian Garmonsway and Craig Kirkwood

Of the 14 M40s, there is one clear favourite. Brian Garmonsway recorded 31:49 in the Wellington Road Champs on a course that requires four hill climbs and descents. No other runner in the field has a recent sub-32 to their name. The contest to thrill spectators should be M40 v M35, Garmonsway v McKee, at the head of the field for the overall first place. If there is to be an upset, look to Craig Kirkwood. Kirkwood is better known as a coach these days and doesn’t seem to race much. The Tauranga runner ran 32:43 in 2017 on a tight course with forty 90-degree corners, which suggests he can’t be discounted from getting that time down on a more favourable course. He did start the Waikato centre champs but pulled out before 4km. Assuming Kirkwood is still okay to run to form, there will be a minute back to third place. Expect that third place to be decided by a close contest between two Wellington runners (Levente Timar and Andrew Wharton), with Cantabrian David Fitch and Aucklander Nick Moore in the mix. If past races are a guide, these four will stay tightly packed testing each other’s resolve to hang on, until the final kilometre when it will turn into a drag race. It’s impossible to pick one, though the centre champ results suggest Timar is a very slight favourite.

Chris Mardon looking to repeat

Chris Mardon could be considered favourite to retain the M45 title but he will have to put in the work to stay ahead of Auckland’s Sasha Daniels. Sasha won their head-to-head in the mud at National Cross Country by a mere second. Daniels has much better finishing speed than Mardon so if they remain together with a kilometre to go my money is on Auckland. Third place will feature Jason Baillie (Canterbury), Dean Chiplin (Waikato/BOP), Mark Reid (Canterbury) and Simon Yarrow (Auckland). Darren Gordon has picked up a foot injury since the centre champs, otherwise he could have been in the mix too.

Auckland, Canterbury, Waikato/BOP and Wellington have complete M35-49 teams. Wellington should win thanks to Brian Garmonsway, Levente Timar, Andrew Wharton and Valentino Luna Hernandez. Wellington have enough depth with Tom Bland, Paul Barwick and Alasdair Saunders preventing other teams scoring as high as they otherwise could. Auckland will take second: Sasha Daniels, Nick Pannett, Nick Moore and Simon Mace should have enough to see off Canterbury and Waikato. Despite being the host centre, Waikato are overly reliant on Jonny McKee and Craig Kirkwood to do more than fight for third. Lance Brew and Dean Chiplin should add enough points to Waikato so that Canterbury miss out on the teams medals. If Canterbury are to get on the podium, they will need Mark Reid and Damien Cook to get up and also ask Jason Baillie to get ahead of Brew and Chiplin.

Tony Broadhead and Grant McLean

The M50 race could be a puzzle. In the absence of Wray and Stevens, not to mention Richard Bennett, you would have thought Waikato’s Tony Broadhead to be clear favourite to add the NZ Road Champ title to the NZ Cross Country title he won so convincingly. This confidence has to be punctured by a centre road champs where Tony only just broke 37 minutes. The photos show a good day so perhaps it’s a slow course? Assuming Tony is okay, I see a three-way contest where he will go up against Wellington’s Grant McLean and Auckland’s Gavin Butler. Waikato’s John Crane and Kent Hodgson (who turns 50 just two weeks before the race) and Wellington’s Bill Twiss will be in close attention too,along with late entry Chris Myland, but it’s hard to see any of the other seven being in contention.

Paul Hewitson versus Richard Seigne

Paul Hewitson from Wellington is the pick of the M55s. He will have Canterbury’s Richard Seigne not far behind. Richard won their head-to-head at NZXC but on tar seal, and if he stays off the beers beforehand, Paul should be comfortably ahead. Graeme Butcher, also from Wellington, should be chasing for third place but Canterbury’s Antony Rogal will be looking to show he runs better away from the mud after Graeme thrashed him at NZXC.

Where are all the M60s this year? We had four at NZXC and for road champs, we have also have four. There’s no doubt that if they weren’t in Malaga, Geoff Anderson and Tony Price would have been the first two in the M60s. Instead, we will have Kevin Knowles (Waikato) racing Peter Richards (Canterbury) for gold/silver and Auckland’s Malcolm Chamberlin will be several minutes back in third. I’m picking Peter Richards to see off Kevin by around 15 to 30 seconds. Late entry Grahame Clarkin has no real chance of catching Malcolm for third.

The M65s will put on a good race. Tauranga’s Gavin Smith starts as the favourite. He can expect Eric Phimister from Napier to give him close attention. Eric ran well at the 2016 Road Champs and was a fraction quicker than Gavin at their respective centre champs. Third place will most likely be Nelson's sole representative, Derek Shaw. Chasing him will be Hamilton’s Colin King and Hatea’s John Kent with Adrian Brouwers (also Hatea) as the wildcard. The only M65 with no medal pretensions at all is Auckland’s Richard Thomson.

M65 Gavin Smith & M70 Trevor Ogilvie

We have five M70s and Lake City’s Trevor Ogilvie is in a class of his own; he should win by at least five minutes. Late entry Fred Needham from Cambridge will be up against Auckland’s Peter Willmott for second. I expect Fred to win by around 45 seconds. Peter will be safely two or three minutes ahead of fourth. The fourth place could come down to a gap of a few seconds. Napier’s Robin Reed will be up against Tauranga’s John Shivas for the bronze medal.

There is one M75, a late entry from Peter Vyver is a guaranteed gold providing he finishes even though he's likely to be last to finish overall.

The M80 grade has two competitors. Auckland YMCA runner Robert Wynn is the oldest man in the field, around three months older than Northland’s Dave Eastmond. With youth on his side, Dave can expect to win by a minute or so.

Dave Eastmond

As with the younger masters, the M50+ teams race is Auckland, Canterbury, Waikato/BOP and Wellington. Wellington have no margin of error; missing their two best runners has left them no spare runners and they have just four. Canterbury seem to be the weakest of the four teams, reliant on a Wellington team with no backup to suffer a mishap. Auckland don’t seem to have the depth to challenge Wellington or Waikato. The contest between Wellington and Waikato looks fascinating, with no clear-cut favourite. The key contests can be split into four sets of pairs: Tony Broadhead versus Grant McLean, Kent Hodgson versus Paul Hewitson, John Crane versus Bill Twiss and Bruce Edwards versus Graeme Butcher.


2018 NZ Cross Country Champs Preview

At the time of writing, late entries are still open. We'll update the preview if there are any significant late entrants.

With 544 entries listed across all grades for the NZ Cross Country Champs, we are set to see the biggest fields for many years. Auckland managed around 450 for each of the last couple of years with Christchurch being around 370. The last time Wellington hosted was in 2010 when the Waikanae course was still available and they had less than 500, so this is a lot even for a location that benefits from being easy to get to from anywhere in NZ such as Wellington.

The Grenada course has been used as the venue for the Wellington Cross Country Championships for three years. In 2016 it was very muddy and the top field made for very difficult running, so much so that this field is no longer used. Last year the course only had one muddy patch, which was very deep, and the going was firm elsewhere. The 2018 local champs were even more boggy than 2016, making those participants who are less fond of mud thankful that the top field had been retired from active duty.

The 2km loop starts on a relatively firm section that will become increasingly cut-up around the first bend (A) as the day progresses. A short sharp climb (B) will then be presented to participants, rewarding those with decent spikes, to lead into a meander around some sports fields. These sports fields are usually firm but the centre champs saw some muddy sections to catch out anyone not paying attention on the turns. A series of two short descents through at least one muddy flat comes to a downhill left turn (C) where a few will lose their footing.

The jump at D will lead into the swampiest part of the course where any rain will be pooled. The going gets firm again and passes through some trees (E); watch out for the tree roots. The approach to a small dip is where the mud will be at its deepest (F) and the tightness of laces will be put to the test. After going around the field, there will be the second jump to negotiate before passing around the last of the deep mud (G). The climb to the hairpin (H) isn’t too steep and sets up a fast finish through flattened grass where the mud-phobes who survived 2016 give thanks that we now run alongside, instead of through, the deepest swamp in Wellington.

Masters Men 35-49

The fastest master in the field, M35 Nick Horspool, is running seniors and only one of last year’s M35 podium is back: Auckland’s Nick Pannett will be looking to trade-up last year’s bronze medal, particularly as he'll be upbeat from winning the grade at both the North Island XC Champs and the Auckland Champs. He’ll face stiff competition from Wellington’s Richard Swan and Taranaki’s Nathan Foley, both of whom are fresh from skipping their centre champs. Nathan, who was still a senior last year, produced a relatively stronger performance at Nationals last year in Auckland but Nick beat Nathan by 13 seconds at North Islands in July. There will be pack of chasers that includes Alasdair Saunders, Tim Carpenter, Simon Wills, for whom a medal is possible. It’s unlikely anyone else will trouble the podium.


Brian vs Steve

The M40 grade contains some quality athletes and the front three here will be the first three masters overall. 2017 champion Stephen Day will find his job a lot harder now that Waikato’s Steve Rees-Jones has decided to return to masters after running seniors last year. Stephen Day runs well on mud but Trentham’s Brian Garmonsway showed at the Wellington Centre Champs that he can be even better, securing a 28 second win over 10km. It would be a surprise to see anyone get ahead of these three. Rees-Jones has an impressive kick that should see him win if he’s in touch late in the fourth lap, so Garmonsway and Day will need to work the mud early to nullify that threat. In the best of the rest, the contenders are David Fitch (Canterbury and South Island champion), Nick Moore (Auckland M40 winner), Simon Mace (Auckland M40 runner-up), Josh Campbell (Wellington) and Andrew Wharton (Wellington). The “domestic” race between Nick and Simon could be a good one to watch. Nick beat Simon at Auckland Champs to reverse their finishing order from last year’s nationals. The dark horses are Southland winner Dwight Grieve and Nathan Jones (second M40 at South Island XC).

Chris v Sasha

For the M45s, both of last year’s top two are back. Auckland’s Sasha Daniels will be hoping to learn from overcooking his first half in 2017 (resulting in a blow up that saw him have to defend second place late on), while Canterbury’s Chris Mardon is looking for a third consecutive M45 gold. Both have demonstrated their form. Chris won the M45 grade at South Island XC Champs, while Sasha did the same at Auckland Champs. Wellington’s Todd Stevens is one to watch and could well take out both. He’s running well, winning the North Island XC. This is a course to suit his strengths – Todd loves the mud more than most. Dean Chiplin is a dark horse, albeit one relieved at the absence of Michael Pugh (Michael dominated at Waikato Champs), and it’s also worth keeping an eye on Otago’s Andrew Lonie. None of the other entrants are likely to feature.

As things stand, we have four centres with teams in the M35-49 race. Wellington should finish well ahead of any other centre. It will be close between Canterbury and Auckland for second place, but Auckland should come through for silver. Manawatu-Wanganui will be nowhere near the podium.

Masters Men 50-64

We have a large field of 23 M50s, including last year’s first two of Peter Stevens and Michael Wray. Richard Bennett didn’t run last year, however, and he is back for 2018. The contest at the front will be between (Canterbury and South Island Champion) Richard Bennett and (Wellington and North Island Champion) Peter Stevens.

Peter vs Richard

Richard has always had the better of this contest, most recently racing Peter to win the 2017 NZ Road Champs. However, Peter is in peak form and runs better than most through deep mud. The last time the NZXC Champs were held on a very muddy course, Hamilton 2012, Richard won his grade so don’t expect him to dislike the course. For third place, the race appears to be between Waikato’s Tony Broadhead and Wellington’s Michael Wray. Tony has had the better of this rivalry over the last year, comfortably beating Michael at the North Island Champs and the 2017 NZ Road Champs, making the Lake City runner the clear favourite for the bronze. Should either falter, there will be a queue of runners looking to take advantage; don’t discount Blair Cossey (Auckland), Dave Kettles (Wellington), Will Cooper (Palm North). Will is the most intriguing of these; he has demonstrated he has speed on the track – possibly showing more speed than any other M50 in the race - but his ability to run longer and on mud is unknown.

Alastair PrangnellLast year’s winner, Auckland’s Alastair Prangnell, will start the race as favourite to win the M55 grade. Tony Warren pushed Alastair last year but Tony had a very slow showing at the Auckland Champs to suggest he won’t be able to repeat his 2017 silver medal. The challenge to Alastair will come from Paul Hewitson (Wellington), Richard Seigne (Canterbury) and Cliff Bowman (Tasman). It’s interesting to see Nelson’s Patrick Meffan has entered after he announced his retirement from racing last year. If he’s fit, Patrick could be in the mix too but did not run either Tasman or the South Island Champs.

With such large fields in the youngerTony Price grades, it is a big surprise to see only three entrants in the M60 grade. The three entrants are quite different in ability so the finishing order is pretty foregone. Tony Price from Masterton will win with a comfortable margin over Otago’s Geoff Anderson. Wellington’s Steve Bligh will finish last in the bronze medal position.

The M50 teams seems to have five centres in contention, making it deeper than the other team races. Wellington look to be the first placed team by a comfortable margin. Tasman could be the surprise package by claiming silver or they could finish off the podium altogether. If they want the former, Patrick Meffan will need to be fit. Auckland and Canterbury will contest a close contest for either second/third or third/fourth with Canterbury slight favourites. I can’t see Manawatu-Wanganui featuring in the medals.

Masters Men 65+

We have nine runners in the M65 grade. This year sees the return of Graeme Lear. Graeme seems to have only raced ultras since the 2015 NZXC Champs in Christchurch, when he won the M60s. He must be fit but will he have his speed? If so, he will be the clear favourite to win. Tasman duo Ian Carter and Derek Shaw, along with Tauranga’s Gavin Smith can be expected to fight for second place. Ian’s performance at Tasman Centre Champs suggests he should triumph. On a firm course he’d possibly be tipped to take the race to Graeme. The question is how will this accomplished track runner cope with deep mud? Graeme, Derek and Gavin have all just entered this age group. Last year’s winner Graeme Adams will have to look to next year (when he enters a new age group) for an opportunity to podium.

Brian Hayes

The M70 grade has seven runners but the most notable thing is the absence of Canterbury’s Michael Bond, who has won for each of the last four years. (Michael would have been in the M75 grade this year however.) Wellingtonian Brian Hayes will win this fairly comfortably and John Skinnon (also of Wellington) will take silver with an even bigger margin over third. No-one else in the field is capable of beating either of these two. The battle for third should be a good one, where Taranaki’s Des Phillips and HBG’s Robin Reed can be expected to hold off any other contenders.

Ray Wallis - the oldest competitor

The M75 field contains the oldest runners. Kapiti’s Peter Ellis is 77, 14 months younger than Aurora’s Ray Wallis. In the Centre Champs, these two raced over 5km and Peter triumphed by five minutes so it’s hard to see Ray overcoming that margin.

Masters Women

Carla Denneny

The W35 grade is thin with only four entries, which means only one runner is going to miss the podium. Wellington’s Carla Denneny is the youngest and should be considered the favourite based on her Wellington Cross Country Championship performance for which she won the masters women. Rosie Hay from Canterbury, who finished second W35 at Halswell Quarry, is the pick for second place. Auckland’s W35 winner Bridie Hart will likely hold off Masterton’s Sally Duffy for third.

Juanita vs Nic vs Michelle (not pictured)

The W40 grade features two of last year’s W35 medallists. They will probably find life harder in this field and be wishing it was allowed to go back to the younger masters grade. Manawatu’s Juanita Paterson, Auckland’s Michelle Hopkins and Wellington’s Nic Hankinson can be expected to contest a tight race. Looking across the grades, they’ll also be contesting the third MW overall. Wellington’s Mel MacPhee and Canterbury’s Johanna Buick will fight for the right to exploit any vulnerability. In the anticipated mud, don’t be too surprised if someone fancied proves vulnerable. And then the next chasing pick could be a big one that features Renae Creser (Wellington), Katrin Gottschalk (Auckland), Natasha Mitchell (Canterbury), Jo Ramsay (Canterbury), Kirstin Foley (Taranaki) all in the hunt. The exact finishing order is going to depend on who copes best with the surface.

Katie vs Paula

The W45 grade, which has suffered for competitors in recent years, is once again lacking in numbers with just five lining up.  There is some strength at the front. Katie Jenkins, who triumphed at the North Islands, can be expected to add the national gold to her collection. She kept herself fresh by not contesting the Wellington centre champs but did run the 5km social race over the same course in an impressive time. Tasman’s Paula Canning won’t make it easy for her, however. If Andrea Harris from Wairarapa can overcome her dislike of the mud, she can be considered the favourite to take third but she’ll have to work to hold off Katherine Fitch and Ruth Humble.

The W50s have also only got five. Canterbury’s Maggie Chorley is the pick of the five and should win with at least a minute in hand over fellow Cantabrian Ariana Summers. Maggie should be second MW overall – she’ll be glad to see Sally Gibbs has moved up to the W55s. Jan Sheppard (Wellington) will be well clear of fourth W50 so can afford to take a risk in a gamble to upgrade a certain bronze to a higher ranking medal.

Sally and Maggie

It’s a starting line up of just five again for the W55s. Sally Gibbs will easily win and in the absence of such W35s like Tina Faulkner, the only MW to beat Sally at North Islands, Sally should be the first masters woman overall. Carolyn Smith will probably be second W55 and Helen Willis third but much depends on the form of Christine Lear. The only kind of running I can find that Christine has done in the last year or two is ultra running, so a 6km race could be too short for her to excel. Or Christine could finish second or third – not first because, obviously, no-one’s beating Sally.

The W60 race will be a good one to watch. There’s no clear favourite and there are four who should be clear of their competition. Margie Peat from Auckland is probably the first seed but even if she wins, she won’t enjoy the easy run to gold that she did at last year’s nationals. Taranaki’s Karen Gillum-Green has entered the W60 grade and will be in close attention. Wellington’s Michele Allison turned in a good performance on this course at centre champs and may well be the favourite for many. Karen Crossan from Auckland shouldn’t catch Margie, especially given their relative times at Auckland Champs, but could get into the medals while Wellington’s Sheryne Coverdale is in a similar position with a shot at a minor medal.

Margie vs Michele vs Karen

The W65 grade has just three entrants and their respective abilities would suggest the finishing order is a foregone conclusion. Canterbury’s Margaret Flanagan will win by over a minute ahead of Kathy Howard from Waikato. Another one or two minutes back will be Taranaki’s Joy Baker. Joy may finish last in this small W65 field but I guarantee she won’t be the last MW overall - not even close to it.

For the MW teams, we seem to have only four centres with full teams. I’m picking Canterbury for the win due to the relative strength of Maggie Chorley and Johanna Buick. Wellington will probably pip Auckland to third.

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Last Updated 21 July 2019