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Hill and Jiang claim national trail running titles

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Queenstown-based engineers Weston Hill and Nancy Jiang toasted a memorable double at the Crater Rim Ultra in Christchurch today to secure the men’s and women’s New Zealand Trail Running Championship titles respectively, both in course record times.

On a sunny, windless day in Canterbury, the lead contenders revelled in the hard, fast underfoot conditions with Hill seizing control of the 53km endurance test from the early stages to run out a comfortable winner in 4:38:31 and regain the Crater Rim Ultra title he last won in 2017.

For Jiang, who had enjoyed an injury troubled build-up which included a lengthy period incorporating ski touring into her training programme, it was a similarly dominant display as the 29-year-old completed the distance in 5:43:38 to clinch her second national trail running crown in three years.

A healthy field of 187 runners set out on the 53km route from Diamond Harbour at 7:15am and Hill established an early lead, which by the 23.3km checkpoint had opened to a near one-and-a-half-minute advantage over Christchurch-based Scotty Hawker.

The 28-year-old Hill, who had defeated Hawker in the 44km Mt Difficulty Ascent in June, stamped his authority on the race in the middle section and by the 33.2km marker he had opened up a near eight-minute margin on Hawker.

The remainder of the race saw Hill further ram home his superiority on the day to stop the clock in a time more than 20 minutes quicker than the course record of 5:01:23, held by Vajin Armstrong.

Hawker, son of race director Jamie and who last year finished third in the prestigious Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc, completed the course in 4:47:01 to win silver.

Bronze went to Christchurch-based Armstrong, the 2019 champion, in a time of 4:57:33.

"I’m really stoked to pull it off," said Hill, who works as a mechanical engineer and represents Trentham United Harriers.

"There are some fast dudes here and I knew I would have to get it right on the day if I was to win the race.

"The lads went reasonably fast at the start and were testing each other out. We had a steady climb up Mt Herbert and I power-hiked away from the group in an effort to feel whether they would chase me but nobody did.

"I love running on the technical terrain, at Gebbies the gap wasn’t too big, a few hundred metres and from then on I just tried to push it out as much as I could.

"It’s awesome to be national champion. I’ve been targeting this event for a little while. It was disappointing to miss out on this race a couple of years ago when I was away competing in China. The beauty of Covid is that it has meant a few of us have been in New Zealand rather than competing overseas and that made for some great racing."

In the women’s race, Jiang lead from the gun and out-classed the opposition to take a chunk of more than 14 minutes from Mel Aitken’s course record, notched last year. Katie Smith in 6:25:43 shaded a tight battle for silver from Aitken, who was 2:21 further back in bronze.

"I felt really good," said Jiang, despite her hampered preparation caused by a tendon tear in her foot in June.

"I was strong on the climbs and good on the descents - the ski touring must have worked. There was very little wind out there and it was super sunny. I even think coming from Queenstown it was a little hot!

"It is a really good feeling to win the national title and I’m just stoked to be out there running. We are in a really privileged position here in New Zealand."

New Zealand Trail Running Championships Results

Men

1. Weston Hill (04:38:31)

2. Scotty Hawker (04:47:01)

3. Vajin Armstrong (04:57:33)

Women

1. Nancy Jiang (05:43:38)

2. Katie Smith (06:25:43)

3. Mel Aitken (06:28:04)

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