Armstrong wins 2010 Kepler Challenge

Vajin Armstrong, 30, from Christchurch has won the 2010 Kepler Challenge in a time of 5:03:27 on the challenging 60k mountain terrain course on a clear, hot, sunny day - perfect dry conditions.

Beating a field of 415 runners after a 6am start, Armstrong led for the final 5k after overtaking Norman Dunroy. Dunroy, from Dunedin, came in close behind with a time of 5:04:56.

Dunroy had won the title of “king of the mountain” by making it first up the hill from the start at the Lake Te Anau control gates to Luxmore Hut in 1:08:13, a distance of 13.5k to a height of 1,085m, only slightly behind the record set by Martin Cox in 2005 of 1.05. The entire route has a high point of 1,400m.

In third place was Martin Lukes from Christchurch, running his ninth Kepler Challenge, with a time of 5:08:09. Lukes has been second four times and won it three times.

Armstrong, who beat his estimated time, said: “It’s a dream come true. I had grand visions of winning but I knew the reality would be much tougher and extreme and I would have been happy with the top five. When I was in the lead with 5k to go it was exciting but also terrifying. I had to just hang on and pin my ears back and go for it.”

Asked for his winning secret, he started the day with toast and jam and a banana at 5am. He also thanked Lukes, who he ran part of the route with, and who gave him lots of advice. He left Lukes behind with 15k to go.

Dunroy said he would probably come back again next year. When asked why he did it, he answered: “Not sure.”

Lukes said: “I didn’t have much kick left at the end – I think the warmer conditions had an effect. I’m not disappointed with my placing because I enjoy the race so much and it was good to pick up my daughter on the finishing line.”

Norman Dunroy, Vajin Armstrong and Martin Lukes - 2nd, 1st and 3rd runners The winning woman was marathon runner Shireen Crumpton, with a time of 5:46:02.

Crumpton, who was first woman in the Auckland marathon this year, said: “It was a tough distance and longer than I’m used to and therefore hard. The long climb took it out of me but I prefer running in the heat and I ran my own race. I did no specific training but I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t won.”

Crumpton was the leading woman all the way, reaching Luxmore Hut at 1:18:46, only 40 seconds behind the female record. She hopes to come back next year. She previously set the record for the Luxmore Grunt fastest female in 1998 with 2:04:18, which still holds today.

Asked for her secret, she said “The thought of an Aussie behind me, jelly babies, and my lucky Bob the Builder water bottle given me by my daughter.”

Crumpton is training partner of reknowned runner Russell Hurring, who was the race record holder for 16 years, who came in this year in eighth place with a time of 5:45:11.

Vanessa Haverd, second female in, six minutes behind Crumpton, said: “It was a good excuse for a holiday and I’m just glad to have finished the race in one piece and I’m now looking forward to some serious tramping.”

Third female in was Sarah Coghlan, 26, from Queenstown whose longest previous race was a half marathon. She said she hit the wall at 4:30. “My legs were exhausted at that stage,” she said. Asked if she’d do it again, she said: “I’m not sure, ask me in a week.”

A highlight of the day was seeing Russell Hurring, from Dunedin, complete the race for the tenth time in under 50 hours in total. He said: “I’m planning to retire now, and considering taking my ten medals out of their drawer and getting them mounted. I’m pleased I’ve finished and my next challenge is to recover.”

The event was also the finale for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation fundraiser “7 in 7” (7 events in the southern lakes region in 7 days, covering 380k). The fundraiser was led by Malcolm Law, with 27 other fundraising runners, raising funds in memory of his brother Alan who died of leukaemia in childhood. The fundraiser is hoping to raise more than $150,000 to add to $85,000 raised last year.

Steve Norris, chairman of the Kepler Challenge organising committee, said: “It’s been a brilliant day, partly thanks to the fantastic condition of the track, which has been so well maintained by the Department of Conservation. This has really helped the runners perform in conditions that were hot in the lower parts of the route. The even t also wouldn’t be possible without the enormous hard work of the volunteers and the sponsors.”

Kepler Challenge results

(full results)


Vajin Armstrong (Christchurch) 5:03:27

Norman Dunroy (Dunedin) 5:04:56

Martin Lukes (Christchurch) 5:08:09


Shireen Crumpton (Dunedin) 5:46:02

Vanessa Harverd (Canberra, Australia) 5:52:02

Sarah Coghlan (Queenstown) 6:07:22


Luxmore Grunt

On the same day, the Luxmore Grunt took place, a 27k sister race over the first section of the Kepler Challenge, up to Luxmore Hut from the Lake Te Anau control gates and back down the same route.

The male event winner was Matt Pepler who completed the course in 2:01:15, 29 seconds faster than his previous personal best on the course. He said: “I pushed myself hard on a beautiful day.” Nathan Jones came next, coming in only a few seconds later, bleeding on his elbows and knees having fallen twice on the steep downhill. Mathew Broad, last year’s Grunt winner, came in third.

Female winner was Fiona Kokich, who beat second woman Lisa Brignull by just 35 seconds. Brignull won the event in 2007.

Love was in the air for Tatsuro and Aya Toiya, from Hokkaido, Japan, who chose to do the event on their honeymoon. They finished together holding hands in a time of 3:48:56.

Luxmore Grunt results

(full results)


Matt Pepler (Christchurch) 2:01:15

Nathan Jones (North Canterbury) 2:01:46

Mathew Broad (Winton) 2:13:53


Fiona Kokich (Queenstown) 2:31:31

Lisa Brignull (Christchurch) 2:32:06

Genevieve Bourke (Invercargill) 2:34:58

Vajin Armstrong