Good times in the 'Naki
By Robbie Rawles on 16th January 2018 Race Previews
At 8am this Saturday the 20th of January runners and walkers will be unleashed from the starting area out onto the trails of the Mangamahoe forest in The Good Home Taranaki Off-Road Half Marathon. For between 1.5 to 5 hours over 600 competitors will wind their way up and down the hills, around the lake and alongside the river as they take to the gravel roads, bridle, walking and mountain biking trails. The majority will be tackling the half marathon course with others completing the Fleming Contracting Quarter Marathon or the Body Logic five kilometer. A quarter of the competitors have been attracted from outside the province including entrants from Canada, Italy, France, The USA and Australia all eager to experience what the Taranaki trails have to offer, hopefully Taranaki is bathed in sunshine so the mountain is visible from the ridges, a spectacular sight on a good day from Mangamahoe. Female competitors outnumber their male counterparts considerably accounting for 63% of the field and age is no barrier to a number of entrants with 21 over 60 including the oldest competitor at 76 years old. For most entrants completion will be the main aim, some to beat their mates home or maybe the time they ran last year, but a few will be pushing to be at the front of the field.
In the woman's event all of last year's podium are back for another crack. Last year's winner Cecilia Flori (pictured above), the Hamilton based Italian, brings an impressive resume of trail running success with her including a stand out third place among a quality international field at the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in 2017, a class act she will be tough to beat. Local athlete Sasha Antunovic will be hoping to shake off a knee injury as she tries to back up her 2nd place from last year and 1st place at the New Plymouth Half Marathon in October, if she is fit for the start line the hills should be of no trouble to her. Waitohu Ngarewa, from Hawera, placed third last year and will fight hard to be in front if things are close in the latter stages. They will be joined by Isobel Ewing of Newshub fame, sources tell us Isobel has been clocking some decent kilometers training in the hills around Wellington so is likely to provide a real challenge for the other ladies.
There may be a few years between them age wise but expect the racing to be close in the men's field with Dougan Butler (pictured above), Calum Sutherland and Clark Ellice all on the start line. Dougan is the only male podium finisher back from last year and after finishing the inaugural event in third he will be determined to push for a higher placing in 2018, current form for the Kaimata farmer is hard to tell but as a two time New Zealand Mountain running champion he brings a proven pedigree and determination to the start line of any event. Recently out of New Plymouth Boys' High School, Calum impressed at The Goat Adventure Run held on the flanks of Mount Ruapehu in December as the first Young Goat across the line beaten only by the evergreen Sjors Corporaal for overall line honours, he is sure to bring a youthful enthusiasm to the pointy end of the field. Ex elite international triathlete Clark Ellice knows what it is like to push himself to achieve the result he wants, he is unlikely to let anyone get away in the early stages and will make others work hard to stay with him, much like Dougan priorities and goals in life for Clark have changed but he brings a strong background of top results as a triathlete to the trails. Others who will be pushing hard and could surprise include locals Nathan Foley, Karl Dravitzki, Scott Van Dyk and Brent Simpson as well as the now Wellington based Shanon Stallard.
As always there is likely to be a wildcard or two throwing an impressive performance out there on the day and with a limited number of late entries still available I expect one or two others to be on the start line come Saturday.