Douglas first to win Routeburn three times

Sarah Douglas clambers her way to victory. PHOTO: ROUTEBURN CLASSIC / MICHAEL BECKMANN
Sarah Douglas clambers her way to victory. PHOTO: ROUTEBURN CLASSIC / MICHAEL BECKMANN
Nearly 400 hardy trail runners took on the 19th Routeburn Classic on Saturday.

Stunning weather greeted the field for the rare opportunity to complete the 32km Great Walk in a single day.

Queenstown-based record holder Sarah Douglas made history by becoming the first runner to win the event three times when she charged to victory in the female category in 3hr 24min 7sec, eight minutes shy of the course record she set in 2014.

"The trail was absolutely stunning out there today with bluebird skies, perfect for trail running", Douglas said.

"I didn’t really have a plan going into the race other than to take it how it came, and I had a lot of fun."

An operation on her feet at the start of the year meant Douglas was not sure if she would be ready to stand on the start line, but a solid month of training leading up to the event gave her confidence that she was fit and strong enough to compete at the level she expected.

"I’ve always put the Routeburn Classic on the calendar because I love distance.

‘‘It’s got a really good mix of technical terrain and flat terrain — plenty of uphill and downhill. I’m stoked to be able to come back and take the win for another year.’’

Australian runner Kelsey Lewis was second in 3hr 28min 49sec, followed closely by Ruby Knight.

Auckland runner Toby Batchelor, who was pipped by David Haunschmidt by 2min for the title last year, claimed first in 2hr 48min 2sec.

"While I didn’t get to race David again, it was nice to get the top spot in a competitive field", Batchelor said.

"The trail is absolutely incredible; it’s one of the best sub-ultras in the country, even the southern hemisphere.

"I just wanted to come and run and see beautiful country, and the fact it’s a race is a bonus."

Australian runner Douglas Golding was second in 3hr 3min 41sec with Louis Schindler a further 5min back.

Among the field was radio broadcaster Dom Harvey, happy to soak up the scenery and an epic back-country trail for a third time.

"This is one of the best experiences ever,’’ Harvey said.

"I love the distance of this event — it’s a challenge but not impossibly difficult.

‘‘You never know what you’re going to get. The last time I raced, it was snowing at the Harris Saddle. And this year, it couldn’t have been more beautiful."

The Routeburn Classic event has been marred in recent years by cancellations in 2018, 2019, and 2020 due to adverse weather conditions, and the 2022 edition was called off due to Covid restrictions.

— Staff reporter