ASICS Kepler Challenge 2011 Winners

Thrilled to win the ASICS Kepler Challenge 2011 for the second year was Vajin Armstrong, 31, of Christchurch, with a seven minute lead.

Looking amazingly fresh on the finishing line and happy to chat, Armstrong broke into the lead after Luxmore Hut in perfect cool conditions compared with last year’s heat.

Armstrong, whose first name means swift, strong, spirited and heroic, was 2.03 minutes ahead of 2nd place holder Martin Lukes by Hanging Valley in the alpine section, despite Lukes being named King of the Mountain at Luxmore Hut for the second year running, keeping alive the tradition of recent years that if you are King of the Mountain, you don’t win.

Armstrong was in the lead coming up to Luxmore Hut, at a height of 1,085metres at the 13.5km marker, and didn’t hear Lukes coming up behind him. They sprinted together until Lukes shot past him onto a narrow board walk, with no way of Armstrong getting past.

Hoping for under five hours, Armstrong quickly went on to overtake Lukes and won at 5.01.54, beating his time last year of 5.03.27. He said: “I was motivated by thoughts of the enormous support I have from family and friends. I’ll definitely be back next year. Over the final 10k I felt relaxed and solid.”

Smiling broadly, Armstrong said: “Lukes saved me from the King of the Mountain curse so I’m grateful for that. I felt stronger this year.”

Armstrong has won the Kepler Challenge after a turbulent year in which his Christchurch world music business was destroyed by the earthquake and he suffered an ankle injury. Working in partnership with his wife, they are opening their business again just four days after this year’s Challenge.

Lukes , 40, also of Christchurch, and who has won the challenge three times, came in at 5.09.03, his fifth time in second place. Lukes said: “It’s a game of chess at times. My plan was to wind it up in the last 10k but there was just too much work to do from Rocky Point. We were running in marvellous conditions and it’s a fantastic event – the perfect mix of community spirit and corporate support.”

Armstrong added: “This is a great event. Whatever your standard and whatever your personal goal, you can achieve here.”

Third man in was Daniel Clendon, 35, from Wellington, who came in at 5.17.46. First local in was Neville Thorne of Te Anau in a time of 6.12.32.  

Victoria Beck - women's winner ASICS Kepler Challenge 2011 First woman in was Victoria Beck, 29, who came in at 5.51.28. A dentist from Dunedin, Beck suffered a few falls on the way and arrived with bloodied knees but smiling. Beck’s first time in the challenge, she is an experienced duathlon athlete, racing in bike and running events in Europe, as well as coming in 8th this year in the Hong Kong marathon.

Having just finished post graduate university exams, she was delighted to be first woman in.  “Due to studies, I felt under-trained,” she said. “I was relying on having a base level of fitness and didn’t know what to expect, and was aiming for under six hours.”

Second woman for the second year was Vanessa Harverd, who came in at 6.08.03. She was first in 2009. Sarah Coghlan from Queenstown came in third at 6.13.02 for the second year running.

Last year’s first female Shireen Crumpton, who was suffering from an ankle condition before the race, sadly had to retire mid-race. She withdrew at Rocky Point.

Vajin Armstrong - Men's winner ASICS Kepler Challenge 2011