Dougal Thorburn of Wellington will be looking for all the uphill speed he can muster when he defends his New Zealand mountain running title in Queenstown on Saturday.
This year the championships are all uphill and the senior course covers 13.86km with an ascent of 1492m. Thorburn warmed up for the nationals with a comfortable win in the Wellington championship two weeks ago. The 35 year old doctor who competed at the 2009 world mountain running championships will face tough competition from last year's 40-44 masters champion Steve Rees-Jones, Hyell Dinnock, Caden Shields, Jonah Smith, Nathan Tse, Jake Jackson-Grammer, Jason Palmer and David Catherwood.
Rees-Jones was in top form last year in winning the masters road championship outright by over a minute and two months ago was second in the Huntly half marathon. Dinnock recently set a record for the Routeburn Track race and has been training on the course. Tse has performed well in the early season cross country events in Wellington and looks ready to tackle the tough South Island terrain.
Phil Costley was the last athlete to win back to back titles in 2000 in Blenheim and 2001 in Te Aroha.
Sally Gibbs will also be defending her title in the women's 7.6km with an uphill climb of 993m. Gibbs competed at the world mountain running championships in Wales last September defying her age of 52 by finishing a creditable 40th.
Shireen Crumpton, the 2008 champion on Mt Campbell will be seeking another title to add to her 13 titles won across five running disciplines over 13 years. Melissa Moon has twice won consecutive titles.
Jack Beaumont will carry the Southland colours in the junior men's 7.6km. He will be defending the title won last year in the Grampians in Nelson. Beaumont represented New Zealand in Wales last year finishing well up in the junior race for 12th place. Wellington junior champion Rusi Jagose will be chasing hard throughout ready to capitalise on any weakness from Beaumont. However Beaumont has based himself in Queenstown specifically to train and familiarise himself with the course.
Another going for two years in a row is Hunta Sutherland in the junior women's 4km (ascent 448m) who will be pursued by Emerson Deverell, Hannah Miller and Sammy Burke.
Stephen Day who celebrated his 40th birthday last year by finishing 54th at the world championships should win the masters 35-49 ahead of Michael Wray 45-49 winner last year, New Zealand's top trail runner Sjors Corporaal and five time winner of the coast to coast Richard Ussher. Proven mountain runner Colin Earwaker, Graeme Pearson and John Crane should battle out the over 50's title.
Paula Canning second in the senior women last year has opted for the master women 35-49 7.6km. Canning was just nine places behind Gibbs in Wales. Jackie Mexted 35-39 winner last year will be within striking distance throughout as will Mel Aitken, Bridget Deverell, Judith May and three times coast to coast winner Elina Ussher. A strong line up of Sharon Wray, Debbie Telfer, Bridget Ray and Gail Kirkman will contest the 50 plus title.
At stake is a chance to make the New Zealand team to the world mountain running championships in Sapareva Banya Bulgaria in September.
This is just the second time an Athletics New Zealand Championship event has been held in Queenstown. The first, twenty years ago in 1996 was also the national Mountain Running Championships.
All events start at the bottom of the Gondola with the junior women finishing at the Skyline and the other events at the Ben Lomond saddle.