By all accounts I should never have got into running… once apon a time I was going to be a climber, then along came orienteering and I got right into it and I called myself an Orienteer. Orienteering was what I did, Running was secondary and it was just training to be a better Orienteer.
The Avalanche Peak Challenge opened the door for me into the world of running. This seems to have been a different path from most people but the beauty of the Avalanche Peak Challenge was that it was a real and true Mountain running race, a combination of climbing, tramping, and running. What it became for me was the ultimate test of Technical running and in the best place possible to do it.
Unfortunately this type of technical running seems to be dying out and the latest changes to the Avalanche Peak challenge have not only killed off a long line of history but reduced the event to a shorter and less technical event. It was one of the only true remaining “Mountain races” in New Zealand, Mt Lyford hasn’t been run for a few years and the Croesus Crossing seems to be on hold. There also seems to be a lack of these “middle” distance type races, with race organisers going for shorter ones or longer ones and the ~25km seem to be left by the wayside.
Back to the Avalanche Peak Challenge, and I can understand some of the reasoning behind the changes, but I don’t see that by changing the course from the format of previous years doing anything to increase the prestige of the race. For one starting and finishing in Arthur’s Pass removes the journey aspect of the race, Arthur’s Pass is a cool place but it was always nice to lounge about on the grass after climbing up, over and down the riverbed to the Bealey hotel.
The Crow Slide has become “boney’ in the last few years and understandably this is the event directors main worry, but that section is also what set this race apart from the others, the element of danger. I will be honest and I have no idea what its like at the back end of the race, but there has never really been more than 4-5 people on the scree at one time when the most reckless of all (the top runners) come barreling down the hill. Probably there is a large number of runners there later in the race and it only takes one misplaced loose rock to kill someone.
It has always been a hard race and a long day out for most people who have given it a go, and I always feel a bit humble driving back from the traditional post race dip in the Bealey river in Arthurs Pass to the prize giving and still seeing competitors going hard to the finish. In some ways to maintain the prestige of the race maybe there should be an elite category which continues to race the traditional course while the open grades race the format for 2014? This would reduce the difficulty for a large number of competitors, bring about some more prestige and reduce congestion on the Crow slide?
Attached to my bedhead is a note and on that note I placed there about a year ago is the race record for Avalanche Peak. We were tipped off that there might be some changes going ahead with the course in the coming years but we never were consulted and for that I am a little disappointed, I am also a little disappointed that I wont be able to give that record a nudge. The records are a bit hazy as the course has changed over the years, and quite possibly that record was set with the course running over the Waimak bridge and along the road to the Bealey Hotel but none the less it was my target, and I had it set in my sights. I along with a number of past competitors and winners I have talked to will probably be opting out this year (I have found myself a technical running challenge to take part in one week earlier!). Instead of racing along razor back ridges it will be a hard and fast 13km up and down loop reminiscent of some of the “Mountain” races around that are more like what I would call Cross country races on a hill….I hope they spray some dazzle on all those tree roots incase you trip over!