Athletics: Three Keplers on the trot for Armstrong

Christchurch runner Vajin Armstrong described his race as "perfect" after winning a third consecutive Kepler Challenge on Saturday.

Armstrong clocked a time of 4hr 55min 24sec in cool, windy conditions on the 60km mountain terrain course near Te Anau.

Australian runner Tony Fattorini was second, also breaking the 5hr mark, and 41-year-old Martin Lukes, competing in the Asics-sponsored event for the 11th time, was third.

Armstrong (32) led the extended field of 480 runners from the Forest Burn shelter, overtaking Englishman Martin Cox after the Luxmore Hut.

Cox was first up the hill in 1hr 7min 4sec, winning the King of the Mountain title.

Armstrong said he was thrilled with his effort. He stayed relaxed, met all his split times and ran a "perfect race".

He said the race was special because of a combination of the scenery and the company.

Fattorini was also excited to achieve his aim of finishing inside 5hr.

He knew he was not gaining on Armstrong, but kept on going just in case.

In a nice touch, Fattorini's mother competed in the associated Luxmore Grunt as a gesture of support for her son.

Lukes, who was second in both 2010 and 2011, found it particularly cold over the tops. He maintained his third position from the Hanging Valley Shelter through to the finish, recording a time of 5hr 2min 56sec.

Ruby Muir, of Napier, won the women's race, finishing just 20min behind men's champion Armstrong.

Muir (21) led from the Hanging Valley Shelter, finishing in 5hr 37min 55sec. She fell at Rocky Point and arrived at the finish line with bloodied knees.

Dunedin runners were left in Muir's wake. Victoria Beck (6hr 2min 31sec), the defending champion, was second, and Shireen Crumpton (6hr 7min 41sec) was third.

A highlight of the day was seeing Russell Hurring cross the finish line in his 11th challenge on his 58th birthday.

Kepler Challenge organising committee chairman Steve Norris paid tribute to the Department of Conservation, for maintaining the track, sponsors and more than 200 local volunteers.

The Luxmore Grunt, a 27km sister race, was held over the first part of the Kepler Challenge, up to the Luxmore Hut from the Lake Te Anau control gates and back along the same route.

The men's champion was again Australian Stuart Doyle (46), who won in a time of 2hr 8min 25sec, slightly slower than his winning time last year.

Richard Ford (Otautau) was second, and 16-year-old James Hargest College pupil Joel Fletcher was third.

Christchurch runner Jackie Gee won the women's race, with Australian Melissa Clarke second and Sadie Cranston third.