Men’s supported race provides thrilling finale to Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra

3 March 2019

The men’s supported race provided a thrilling finale today to New Zealand’s only ultra-running stage race, the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra.

Wellington runner Paul Hewitson started this morning’s final 28 kilometre stage from Peaks Road in North Otago to Oamaru six minutes behind Jason Rawlings from the UK with a combined time of 29 hours and 30 minutes.

Keen to close the gap Hewitson set a hectic pace that both Rawlings and men’s supported leader Englishman Keith Burrows struggled to hold, eventually storming home in the day’s fastest time of two hours and four minutes to claim second, finishing the event only four minutes ahead of Rawlings after seven stages and 323 kilometres of racing in a time of 31 hours and 34 minutes.

Burrows ran the day’s second fastest final stage coming home three minutes after Hewitson to hold onto his men’s supported lead with an overall combined time of 30 hours and 44 minutes, 50 minutes ahead of Hewitson.

“Today was very hard, the two boys in front went out really hard,” Burrows said. “So I just tried to hand on as best I could and thought if I run this fast they have to finish in an hour and a half which they weren’t going to do.”

“Me, Jason and Paul, we all run together, they’re great guys and we all support each other which makes it all the more special. I’m just pleased that’s its now over and its finished, as I was pushed so hard by the other guys so winning was a lot harder than I expected.”

In a close battle in the women’s unsupported event where runners have to carry their clothing, food and sleeping bags, Queensland runner Sarah Foster finished the final stage six minutes ahead Emily Kratz from the United States but Kratz held onto her overall lead, winning the event with a time of 37 hours and two minutes, 18 minutes clear of Foster.

Kiwi Jamie Stevenson was third in the women’s unsupported event, three hours and 14 minutes behind Foster.

With a combined time of 35 hours Australian Katy Anderson won the women’s supported event by one hour and seven minutes from New Zealander Kelly Sutherland, and was an impressive fourth overall while Sutherland was seventh.

Canadian Maude Ruest was third, four hours and eight minutes behind Sutherland.

The men’s unsupported race was won by former US Special Operations Ranger Seth Campbell who now lives in New Zealand with a time of 35 hours and 18 minutes, 46 minutes ahead of Tim Franklin from Australia. KIwi Mark Cross rounded out the top three finishing one hour nine minutes behind Franklin.

The Anchor Milk Otago Alps to Ocean Ultra started at Mt Cook on Sunday with 120 competitors from 14 countries with 98 making it to the finish line in Oamaru.

Photo credit KRISTY LIND DESIGN:       Englishman Keith Burrows crosses the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra finish line in Oamaru, the quickest to complete the event, winning the men’s supported event in 30 hours and 44 minutes.

Photo credit KRISTY LIND DESIGN: Englishman Keith Burrows crosses the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra finish line in Oamaru, the quickest to complete the event, winning the men’s supported event in 30 hours and 44 minutes.

Local man holds off leaders on toughest stage of Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra

27 February 2018

North Otago’s 67 year old Eric Ross held off the leaders to be first home on the toughest stage of the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, a gruelling 88 kilometres from the shores of Lake Ohau to Loch Laird beside the Waitaki Lakes.

Ross knows the area well having had a hand in the course design of the 323 kilometre seven stage ultra-running event, and put his local knowledge to good use holding off the event’s leaders after starting two hours earlier yesterday morning, finishing the Queen stage of the event 12 hours and four minutes later.

“We were so pleased he held off all the challenges from the super-fast guys that started at 9am yesterday morning,” one of the organisers John Crombie said. “Last year the earlier 7am starters were caught well before the halfway point so it was an amazing effort.”

Ross now lies seventh in the men’s supported category, his combined time after four stages of twenty three hours and forty nine minutes, four hours and 48 minutes behind leader Englishman Keith Burrows who has a 41 minute lead over Jason Rawlings while Wellington runner Paul Hewitson lies third.

The gruelling race defining 88 kilometre stage included two tough climbs of over 800 metres that as well as testing the runners provided some magnificent scenic views as runners took between just over 10 hours to more than 19 hours to complete the route.

In the closest battle in the event Emily Kratz from the United States took over the lead from Queensland runner Sarah Foster in the women’s unsupported event where runners have to carry their clothing, food and sleeping bags, completing the stage in 11 hours and 28 minutes, 17 minutes quicker than Foster.

Kratz now has a combined time of 22 hours and 40 minutes, only three minutes ahead of Foster with three days of racing left.

Men’s unsupported leader Canadian Chris Coolican pulled out with an injured hip and calf during the fourth stage that saw Seth Campbell take the lead in the unsupported category. Campbell, a former US Special Operations Ranger, takes a 46 minute lead over Tim Franklin from Australia heading into the final three stages.

With a combined time of 21 hours and six minutes experienced ultra runner Australian Katy Anderson leads the women’s supported event by one hour and 32 minutes from Kiwi Kelly Sutherland. Anderson lies fourth overall while Sutherland is seventh.

Tomorrow’s stage five is a shorter punchy 45 kilometres that starts at Loch Laird and heads down the Waitaki River Valley.

North Otago’s 67 year old Eric Ross, pictured at the Clay Cliffs 70km into his 88km day, held off the leaders to be first home on the toughest stage of the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean

North Otago’s 67 year old Eric Ross, pictured at the Clay Cliffs 70km into his 88km day, held off the leaders to be first home on the toughest stage of the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean

Burrows storms home on second day of Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra

25 February 2018

Englishman Keith Burrows stormed home 55 minutes quicker than last year’s winning time on the on the second day of the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra to consolidate his lead in the men’s supported category of New Zealand’s only stage race ultra-running event.

The event started on Sunday in wet and windy conditions with 120 runners from 15 countries and after seven stages over seven days and 323 kilometres it will finish in Oamaru on Saturday. Today’s 50 kilometre stage took runners from Lake Pukaki to the secluded Lake Middleton that sits next to Lake Ohau in the Mackenzie Basin.

With the improving weather matching the improving times Burrows has a combined time of eight hours and 49 minutes after two days and three stages to lead Wellington runner Paul Hewitson by 11 minutes heading into tomorrow’s gruelling race defining 88 kilometre Queen stage that’s starts on the shores of lake Ohau and ends at Loch Laird at the top of the Waitaki Valley after two tough climbs of over 800 metres.

“I did see the times from last year, but didn’t know exactly what the terrain was like, but thought I could be up there and be competitive,” Burrows, who is tackling his first ultra-race stage race event, said.

Having moved out from London nine months ago and settled in Auckland Burrows echoed the thoughts of many of the runners in New Zealand for the first time saying the event was a “magnificent way to see the countryside.”

Chris Coolican from Canada stills leads the men’s unsupported event, where runners have to carry their clothing and sleeping bags, by 14 minutes after losing five minutes on today’s stage to good mate, Tim Franklin from Australia, as he struggled with a hip and calf strain.

“Just getting to the finish on Saturday will make me happy now,” Coolicon said. “I came here for spectacular views, to see New Zealand and to meet up with some friends I met racing last year so all of that is going really well. Tomorrow could be a long day for me with my hip and knee, so I think I’ll start off really slow in the interests of self-preservation and see how the days goes from there.”

With a combined time of 10 hours and nine minutes Katy Anderson leads the women’s supported event from Kiwi’s Kerryn Bell and Kelly Sutherland who are locked together 39 minutes behind the experienced Australian ultra-runner.

“I got persuaded by a friend that this would be a fantastic way to see New Zealand, and it is,” Anderson said. “I do have experience with 160 kilometre 30 hour events but this is my first stage race so I haven’t really got any expectations so I am a little surprised to be leading. I just want to enjoy the event and it’s great that we get to run all day and then someone puts up our tent at the end of the day, what more could you want?”

Queensland runner Sarah Foster has been the first unsupported women home on both days so far, with her combined time of 10 hours and 58 minutes giving her a 14 minute buffer over Emily Kratz from the United States heading into tomorrow’s toughest stage of the week.

“I’m feeling ok except for my back and my shoulders that are a bit tender,” Foster said. “Other than that, my legs, feet and everything else in pretty good. Long stages like tomorrow make me a little bit nervous, so I just need to get past the 60 kilometre mark and then I should be fine.”

First across the line today in the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra (Left to right) Keith Burrows (supported), Katy Anderson (supported and Tim Franklin (unsupported).

First across the line today in the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra (Left to right) Keith Burrows (supported), Katy Anderson (supported and Tim Franklin (unsupported).

Surprised leader can’t wait to test herself again in Alps 2 Ocean Ultra

20 February 2018

Queenstown runner Kerryn Bell was surprised to be leading her first ultra-running event last year, the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, and looked set to win the week long stage race until injury saw her mental strength put to the test just to ensure she finished.

“To be leading was a huge surprise, I’d never thought for a moment I’d be in that position,” Bell said as she prepares to run again in this year’s event that starts on Sunday. “My goal going in to the Alp’s 2 Ocean Ultra was to give one hundred percent and finish, and that goal never changed.”

Running in the supported event Australian James Kohler and Bell were the first male and female runners to cross the finish line on the shores of Lake Ohau on the second day of last year’s Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, and both continued to lead until injury struck Bell on stage five of the event and she was reduced to walking to complete the event.

“Obviously the injury was disappointing when I was going so well, but we put ourselves on the line, we’re pushing boundaries and injuries and accidents can happen. It’s how you deal with those and find the positive that gets you back on the start line of the next event.”

With a young family it had been almost 10 years since Bell, a former ironman competitor and New Zealand representative in triathlon, had done any serious training or racing when she ran in last year’s event.

“I was a competitive swimmer for many years and then moved into triathlon and ironman racing in Europe, Africa and Australasia and I ran my first half marathon at six years of age but running has always been my weakest discipline and least favourite.”

But Bell cannot wait for this year’s Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra to get underway again, quick to say she that even though she injured her achilles and had to hobble almost 100 kilometres spread over two days to get to the finish line with the aid of walking sticks last year, just fell in love with ultra-running.

“The whole experience is just amazing,” she said. “Obviously I love running but the Alps 2 Ocean is a total package; the scenery, organisation and most importantly the friendships you make. It’s always tough to get an injury whether you’re up the front or at the back of the pack.”

“Every one of us puts in time and dedication, and we all make sacrifices, financially, socially and everything else, so it’s a real shame when the body fails but you just have to fall back on some mental strength to get through and the support from everyone around you is just amazing and really is very special.”

After having two children and almost 10 years away from sport Bell turned 40 last year and needing a goal saw an advertisement for the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra and entered the next day with no idea what was involved or how she would manage to do it.

“I’d just had surgery for neuromas on both feet and was crawling around on my hands and knees unable to walk, so the Alps 2 Ocean was a good goal to get motivated and run again,” Bell said.

“I love the ease of running, you just need shorts, singlet and shoes. You can run anywhere. I love getting lost in the mountains and I’ve always been drawn to endurance events where I can test both the mind and body. I’m stubborn, and it’s a good trait for running ultras.”

With a busy home life she says her build up has been fun but the training has not been perfect. “My husband travels a lot and our families live at the opposite ends of the country. I work a full time job, the kids do 10 sport sessions a week between them and I coach my daughters touch rugby team, so life is busy.”

So training fits around the family and work with most of her training done after the kids are in bed at 8pm or if her husband is away Bell takes the kids with her.

“They either ride their bikes or if I have hill reps they stand at the top and time me, so it’s not ideal training, but I fit what I can around family and work.”

Bell took four months off after last year’s Alps 2 Ocean to recover from the achillies injury and then built up to a 200 kilometre race. “My training for that first race back was limited, and we had a family holiday in Fiji so I did my five hour training run doing laps of the island in 40 degree heat.”

The 200 kilometre event was in the middle of winter with snow and Bell says she did it to push herself physically and mentally. “I had no idea what I was doing but managed to be the first female, was sixth overall and took two hours off the course record; I learnt a lot from the experience.”

“I’m coming in to this year’s Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra fit strong happy and healthy, so you can’t ask for more than that.”

The Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra starts in the shadow of Mt Cook at 7am this Sunday and finishes a week later in Oamaru in North Otago, travelling through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular alpine scenery.

Photo credit: Kristy Lind Design/Alps 2 Ocean Ultra; Queenstown ultra-runner Kerryn Bell - pictured finishing last years event - can’t wait to race again in this year’s Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra after last year saw her injured while in the lead with two stages left.

Photo credit: Kristy Lind Design/Alps 2 Ocean Ultra; Queenstown ultra-runner Kerryn Bell - pictured finishing last years event - can’t wait to race again in this year’s Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra after last year saw her injured while in the lead with two stages left.

On mission to be youngest person in history to run an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world

19 February 2018

After knocking off four of the world’s most treacherous deserts, 24-year-old ultramarathon runner Jacqui Bell from Brisbane Australia is in New Zealand with her sights set on being the youngest person in history to run an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world.

After last year being crowned the youngest female ever to undertake the four desert ultra-running event challenge in one calendar year Bell will be one of the 120 competitors lining up this Sunday to run in the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra that starts at Mt Cook and finishes 323 kilometres and one week later in Oamaru in North Otago.

Bell successfully ran gruelling 250 kilometre ultra-events in Namibia, the world’s oldest desert located in southwest Africa, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the Atacama Desert in Chile and finally Antarctica, in the process ticking off four of the world’s seven continents.

The Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra will be her longest race yet, and it will be followed by ultra-events in Iceland and then the Grand Canyon in the United States to cap off an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world.

Throughout her young life she has battled with mental health experiencing first-hand what it is like to feel insecure, helpless and make emotionally-charged mistakes saying that before taking on running more seriously she was battling many inner demons eventually turning to running to clear her mind, not knowing it would change her life.

“I needed a massive challenge to help get myself back on track,” Bell said. “My addictive personality had caught wind of everything that wasn't good for me so it (running) was pretty much my last resort to get back to living my best life.”

In 2015 Bell, who works in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, discovered a newfound passion for running and started competing signing up for her first 50 kilometre ultramarathon event aged just 20. She was hooked and then ran in every ultra-event she could until her ambition saw her conquer the four deserts challenge, and now is focused on being the youngest person in history to run an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world.

“I have run on and off since my first ultra-marathon but in the last two years I have really gotten back into it a lot. I have been battling some injuries but find a way around it; I really love ultra-running. The people and the places are the best part.”

Not only was Bell working hard on the trails and in the gym but while competing last year she raised over $17,000 for mental health charity the White Cloud Foundation. She has built strong partnerships with some well-known brands that include Jaybird and Flight Centre, acknowledging that without their support she would not be able to do pursue her ultra-running dreams.

The Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra has attracted competitors from 14 overseas countries with overseas competitors making up almost two-thirds of the 120 entries.

There are 46 New Zealanders racing along with 34 Australians and nine competitors from the United States and Canada. Other countries represented are England, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Tonga.

“I am looking forward to the beautiful landscape in New Zealand,” Bell, who is visiting New Zealand for the first time, said. “I can’t wait to clock off from the everyday stresses of life and get to run every day in the mountains.”

Photo credit: Thiago diz. Racing in Antarctica saw Australian Jacqui Bell knock off her fourth continent in her bid to become the youngest person in history to run an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world.

Photo credit: Thiago diz. Racing in Antarctica saw Australian Jacqui Bell knock off her fourth continent in her bid to become the youngest person in history to run an ultra-marathon on every continent in the world.

Alps 2 Ocean Ultra attracts competitors from 14 overseas countries

12 February 2018

Overseas competitors make up the majority of athletes for the second running of New Zealand's first ultra-staged race that has attracted competitors from 15 countries.

Starting again this year at the base of Mt Cook on Sunday the 24th of February the Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra in one week travels 323 kilometres to Oamaru in North Otago following the off road Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail for much of the journey, with about a quarter of this year’s event going through private farmland.

Interest was so high in the event it quickly sold out with almost two thirds of the 120 competitors coming from 14 overseas countries with Australia providing 34, the largest number of off shore athletes.

Kiwis are well represented with 46 on the start line and there are nine competitors from the United States and Canada. Other countries represented are England, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Tonga

“Last year’s event had 126 amazing competitors from all over world along with 30 volunteers that spent seven days together, sharing some moments, emotions and experiences that will last forever,” Race director Mike Sandri said. “And we’re ready to do it all again this year.”

Technically an ‘ultra-run’ is defined as anything longer than the standard marathon distance of 42 kilometres, but that’s where any similarity ends.

Sandri says that more and more people around the world are taking on races that last for days rather than hours adding that ultra-running is a slightly crazy but highly addictive world.

“At the end of the day it’s all about the people and the incredibly supportive environment that ultra-running inspires,” he said.

“It’s not about me, me, me. You’re all doing something pretty tough and you get to know each other pretty well as you’re together for a week surviving on limited sleep and food and if someone else cries you cry too.”

“Last year there were tears, smiles, fears and there was uncertainty, anxiety and frustration but at the same time excitement. Every emotion you could ever think of was shared; it’s amazing how quickly a year has gone.”

Sandri, who has competed in ultra-running events overseas so knows what the athletes are going through, will once again be there at the start of every day and will greet every single person as they cross the finish line of each stage, often well into the evening.

He shares the excitement, heartaches and pain as each runner finishes every gruelling stage, and gets up again the next day to do it all over again.

Sandri stresses it’s a it’s a very committed team effort who all contribute their time at no cost to the event with a real focus on raising as much money as possible to put back into the local community with a real focus on youth.

“We’ve set up the Alps2Ocean Ultra Community Trust charitable trust with the objective of benefiting the people of North Otago and the Mackenzie Country, with a particular emphasis on our youth,” he said. “Every single person volunteers and gives their time. They all love the sport, love hosting people from around the world and love showing off this beautiful part of the world we are lucky to live in.”

The event has raised over $270,000 dollars a result Sandri and his team are very proud of with $31,000 already going to the Alps 2 Ocean trial and another $25,000 going to local youth to support their dreams.

“It is a real privilege to be able to support our community to help local children reach their goals,” he said. “And it is just the start. We plan to continue to make a difference in people’s lives just as all those who compete during race week do with many of them running for great causes and charities as well.”

The success of last year’s event has seen even more local support from farmers who have opened up more access meaning runners will have less time on gravel roads.

“The local famers have been great. It was all very well to talk to them last year about what we wanted to do but now many have seen it and realise what we’re trying to do and that we are all donating our time and effort so it’s opened up opportunities to improve the course which is great.”

Sandri says it’s clear that ultra-runners all run for many different reasons, all bound together with a shared passion for running and the outdoors and that ultra-running is a personal challenge and often is a life changing experience.

“I just love the whole week. I love the fact so many volunteers are prepared to give so much to the race and we all become emotionally attached and feel the pain the runners go through. I am really fortunate to have some absolutely dedicated and unbelievable people involved to help me run the event.”

He is quick to point out there is a fine line calling Anchor Milk Otago Alps 2 Ocean Ultra extreme as we live in a world where people are doing everything from cliff wingsuit jumps to extreme skiing, with the parameters ranging widely.

“There is without doubt an extreme element that is mental and physical in the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra. We were a bit gracious on the penultimate stage last year regarding time cuts, and this year we will see runners on their hands and knees on some parts. It’s not an easy race. It is hard but it is still achievable and I expect comments this year like I’ve never been so twisted in all my life.” 

Alexandre Lucas and Vincent Hulin of France running through the Mackenzie District with Aoraki/Mt Cook in the background. They were the winners of last year's team race.

Alexandre Lucas and Vincent Hulin of France running through the Mackenzie District with Aoraki/Mt Cook in the background. They were the winners of last year's team race.