Athletics: Scot outstrips strong field to reign supreme

By Peter White


For most of us, Boxing Day is about shopping for a bargain or recovering from over-indulging on Christmas Day.

But for others it is a chance to run 231 metres to the top of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) and down again as quickly as they can, in the hope of being crowned the King or Queen of the Mountain.

The race has been a tradition at the Mount since 1945 and since then only twice - in 1947 and 1982 - has the event not taken place.

Athletes competed in three divisions yesterday in humid, windy conditions - a 4.5km senior race, a 3km under-16 race and a 5.5km Family Fun Run/Walk around the base track.

A strong field of 135 runners lined up on the beach opposite Mt Drury for the main event, with Daniel Jones from Whakatane a hot favourite to take out the men's title after he won last year and also in 2008.

Jones looked strong at the start and ran a competitive race but was undone by a complete unknown in Murray Strain from Edinburgh, Scotland, who blitzed the field to win a hot time of 19m 7s. Jones ended up second in 19m 57 with Tauranga runner Ben Ruth third in 20m 14.

The 29-year-old Scot is here competing in the World Cup Orienteering, which starts in Palmerston North in two weeks, along with his girlfriend Tessa Hill, who finished third in the women's Queen of the Mountain race.

They decided to have a crack at the Mount while on holiday.

"This is a stunning event and we thought we would give it a crack," Strain said.

"We do have some hills and mountains in Scotland to run up, and we have an old volcano in Edinburgh called Arthur's Seat which is the same height as the Mount, so it felt like home up there. The way up today was tough with so many steps because I am used to running on a gradual gradient, so you can pick your own rhythm, but with the steps there is not an easy way to find your rhythm.

"The downhill was fun, nothing too challenging there."

While Hill made a powerful sprint home for third behind Sarah Backlor from Tauranga, they could not get near the winner, Helen Rountree from Hamilton.

The Waikato Hospital casualty nurse is a class act and won her second consecutive title and fifth overall in eight attempts.

This despite going head over heels and losing some skin when she slipped at the first step on the way up. "I love the finish the most," she laughed as she caught her breath on the beach.

"It is really hard and you don't actually know how well you are going because, even the year I set the record in 2009, that was actually the toughest race.

"I was in the New Zealand Mountain team that went to Italy this year and I kind of haven't done much since then, so this was a bit rough and I felt it really badly.

"I will have a rest now and then wait until February when I do some more hard-out training.

"This is such a cool event. It is so well run and the public is great and they are always up the course, cheering you on.

"It is just great fun and a good way to work off your Christmas lunch and de-stress a little bit."

Nathan Walker from Mount College won the under-16 race in a good time of 9m 21s, despite not putting in any extra training.

"We had eco challenge in our multi-sport class, and that was the last time I did a major run, but I did do a little one on Christmas Eve but nothing much," he said.

"The hardest part was the gravel track going up as it was quite slippery, and the concrete steps at the end were quite hard."

However, Walker is more interested in hitting a cricket ball over the fence than a running career. "I want to play cricket for my future. I play in the Mount First XI and just got into the Western Bay Year 10 team."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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