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Daniel Jones and Ruby Muir made triumphant returns in difficult conditions in the Kepler Challenge over the weekend.
Sustained rainfall in Fiordland in recent weeks had forced race organisers to use an alternative route for just the third time in the Challenge’s 32-year history, and the first time since 2004.
The alternative route effectively asked a capacity field of 450 runners on Saturday to complete half the Kepler Track twice, and despite the course being about 6km shorter, it still proved a challenge.
Defending champion Jones led from start to finish in the men’s event, despite coming into the race with an Achilles injury that had forced him to pull out halfway through his defence of the Queenstown marathon title last month.
After missing last year’s race, Muir was made to work hard before banking her sixth Kepler title.
She trailed 2018 winner Nancy Jiang at Luxmore Hut, but was able to make her move before Moturau Hut and hold her advantage through to the end.
“My legs got really tired in the mud, but my energy levels were really good and I was feeling quite positive,” Muir said.
Jones won the men’s race by nearly 20 minutes from Alex Hunt, with Gene Beveridge third, while Muir was 13 minutes ahead of runner-up Caitlin Fielder, with Jiang third.
Englishman Sam Tosh defied the conditions to break the two-hour mark in the 27km Luxmore Grunt, beating home Scott Underhay and Drummond’s Richard Ford.
Queenstown’s Sarah Douglas won the Grunt women’s race from Te Anau’s Sally McMillan-Armstrong and Lucia Vincent.