The more the years go on, the more the urban legend of Neil Mayo's Stair Race time will continue to grow.

Whanganui's unique event of the Downer New Zealand Masters Games attracted a massive turnout of 42 brave souls for the 355-step climb up and back down the 100m vertical Durie Hill Walkway this afternoon.

In warm weather conditions, the turnout was well about the 26 entries of 2017 as well as the 33 from two years before that.

While most of the entrants who were started off from the foot of the steps in their 30 second intervals were in the oldest categories, the organisers made an exception for the 2017 overall winner and local Kerry Bennett.


The expat Welshman had set the quickest time two years ago with a 6m 52s effort, but had done some vertical racing training this time out as he set himself the goal of surpassing Mayo's ridiculous 5m 42s record.

Mayo has now retired from active competition and was acting as a race official at the halfway point of the race – on the top of the Durie Hill tower with its windy staircase which the runners must conquer before starting their long descent back down the hill.

The rules are every competitor must put their foot on every step in both steep directions – making it a unique challenge where the limbs scream on the way up and the nerves scream coming down.

In the end, Mayo's golden time came and went on the stopwatch, with a sweating Bennett appearing moments later to eventually finish in 6m 43.22s, having knocked nearly 10s off his personal best but still nowhere close to the record.

Kerry Bennett makes his descent.
Kerry Bennett makes his descent.

"Definitely the heat, yeah," Bennett said of the factor that had gotten to him the most.

"My training started in the Ring of Fire, which is long uphill as opposed to short uphill."

As of press time, Bennett's race was still expected to easily be the fastest overall and win him the gold medal for the 45-49 age group.

He confirmed he will have another crack at Mayo's record in 2021.


"I'll be fitter, thinner, and faster then, even though I'll be two years older.

"Everyone who does this must be mad."

Allan Janes, right, coming down the Durie Hill climb as Emma Rowe starts going up.
Allan Janes, right, coming down the Durie Hill climb as Emma Rowe starts going up.