Though he’s never run the course, a 19-year-old Queenstowner could well become the Routeburn Classic’s youngest winner.
Jack Beaumont is in stellar form heading into Saturday’s annual mountain run over Fiordland’s 32km Routeburn Track.
Not only did he win the New Zealand mountain running championship in Queenstown last month, in his first year as a senior, but he also won the NZ 3000m steeplechase title in Hamilton the week before.
Winton-raised Beaumont turned to mountain running just two years ago when discovering the event on Athletics NZ’s website.
“I thought, ‘I always go to Queenstown in the holidays and I like running up [Skyline Hill], so I’ll give it a shot’.”
He won that year’s NZ junior title, qualifying for the worlds in Wales, where he was the 12th fastest junior.
Beaumont repeated the dose at the champs in Queenstown last year, qualifying for the worlds in Bulgaria, this time finishing ninth junior.
Then last month he won the senior title, again up Queenstown’s Ben Lomond, and qualified for the worlds in Italy in July.
Beaumont says he’s aiming for a top-10 placing: “I could be a wee bit ambitious but I reckon I can get there.”
He’s then hoping to contest the 32km world long-distance mountain running champs a week later, over the same course.
Beaumont, who’ll aim to get to Italy a month or two earlier, has set up a Givealittle page to try to raise about $5000 for the trip.
Having to fund himself to represent NZ is “a wee bit tough”, he admits.
Athletics, he reasons, is the basis of most sports and just about everybody does it at school so mountain running – affiliated to Athletics NZ – “should get recognised a wee bit more”.
He says the key to mountain running is to be super-fit and strong, mentally as well as physically.
“It’s never easy, you’ve just got to be able to tough it out.”
He trains at least two hours daily, covering more than 100km a week.
Asked why he continues with steeplechase, which he’s successfully competed in since school days, Beaumont says it has similarities to mountain running.
“Instead of just running on the flat, it’s the strength thing – it takes a lot more strength to be able to keep running at a fast pace and jump over the hurdles.”
It also gives him a chance to compete at Commonwealth or Olympic Games level, which mountain running doesn’t allow.
While next April’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast are a target, Beaumont’s close to winning a four-year college sports scholarship in the United States, which might rule that out.
He’s vowing to go flat-out at the start of Saturday’s Routeburn Classic.
“The first 20km is pretty much steadily uphill – the course is almost made for me.”
Field throbs with talent
Routeburn Classic organiser Evan McWhirter says the men’s field for this year’s event has never been stronger.
He believes Jack Beaumont is favourite along with his training partner, two-time defending champion and record-holder Hywel Dinnock.
But also in the field are top runners James Kuegler, Grant Guise, Dom Channon and Ryan Carr.
“All of those guys, barring something going wrong with them, will run under three hours – so it’s just a matter of who has their day,” McWhirter says.
On the other hand, he says there’s an air of mystery surround-ing the women’s field, though Dunedin’s Sabrina Grogan, top female at this year’s NZ mountain running champs, will be favoured.
The 15th Classic will again feature a maximum field of 350 runners.
Among them are Queenstowner Mark Douglas, 66, who’s running a record 13th time.
McWhirter is hoping for better weather than last year when the race had to be postponed a day.