By MATTHEW MCKEW
A mammoth race taking in Wanaka’s mountains has been won by a rookie Queenstown entrant.
Ben Cullen claimed victory at the first attempt of running anything more than 65km, winning the ironically named Ultra Easy 104km Sky Race last weekend.
Cullen was around halfway when his partner, Kinga Krupa, told him he was in second place as he passed one of the aid stations.
The midway point in a race that long gives plenty of time to reel in the leader and that’s exactly what the 34-year-old Irishman did over the next 40km.
‘‘I caught him with about 12km to go, went past him and then just hung in.
‘‘Your body wants to stop and give up, but you’ve just got to keep going, it’s a mental game,’’ Cullen says.
The course started in Luggate, followed the river trail to Albert Town then headed into the hills over Mt Iron, Roys Peak, Mt Alpha, Little Criffel, Mt Pisa and back to Luggate.
It was on Roys Peak Cullen had a small wobble, battling strong winds and cold conditions.
‘‘It was really hard, the wind was crazy and it was freezing — the temperature difference’s about 20 degrees,’’ he says, comparing the ground sections with those on the peaks.
Cullen had competed in a 60km ultra marathon before, finishing second, and had got up to 65km in practice but was encouraged by friends at Smiths Run Group to go for the longer distance.
‘‘Anybody can do it, it’s just about being consistent and doing a bit every day, then it all adds up.’’
One of the keys to getting across the line, Cullen says, is eating, despite having zero appetite.
‘‘From Cardrona Road up to Snow Farm I must have had a sandwich in my hand for an hour, just eating it like a little mouse, your body just doesn’t want to eat, you feel nauseous and sick, but you know you have to eat it or you’ll run out of energy.’’
Crossing the line first was well beyond his initial ambition of just finishing, but now he wants to beat his time of 12 hours 23 minutes and 40 seconds next year.
He hopes his running inspires others to explore ‘‘the amazing mountains around us and set goals that they don’t think they can achieve’’.
‘‘With long distance running you get to see places most people don’t or they have to go on a three- or four-day hike to see — but you can run it in a few hours.’’