Round 8 of the AV XCR ’17 series saw competitors travel to the Anglesea Family Caravan Park, offering a picturesque racing backdrop, with a variety of surfaces and undulations to test runners throughout the 42.2km “Ekiden” relay event.
The Ekiden concept hails historically from Japan, with the first Ekiden taking place in 1917, covering 508km from the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, to the modern capital of Tokyo. A nationally popular event in Japan, the national university championships often draw crowds exceeding 1 million spectators along the New Year’s festival Hakone route, with network television covering the event live.
Athletics Victoria’s event differs slightly from the traditional stage race, with runners starting and finishing each leg at the same point, taking in some of the best views of Anglesea whilst traversing challenging uphill sections, sometimes lasting up to 600 metres in length.
The Premier division men’s competition was a close affair, with Essendon, Box Hill, Geelong and Knox all swapping leads throughout the race. The race begun with a blistering leg from Rio Olympian Liam Adams, swapping his usual marathon distance for a more conservative 9.8km leg (32:23), tagging teammate Mitch Brown with a 34 second lead on the field.
Brown held Essendon’s lead through the 8.8km leg (30:09), however Geelong’s Harry Smithers had closed the gap substantially, embracing his inner mountain goat across the hills, Smithers clocked 29:30, pulling back some 39 seconds.
Peter Kerr (Geelong) swapped his usual Australian triathlon kit for the navy blue of Geelong, pulling the team into the lead over the back section of the course (28:39), Kerr changed ahead of Knox’s Nathan Percy, who had run the equal 2nd fastest time for the 3rd leg (28:18) to keep Knox in the mix.
Knox’s 4th leg involved a trump card of sorts, with 3-time Olympian Jeff Riseley narrowing the gap to Geelong’s Nick Wightman over the 6km loop, Riseley’s time of 20:23 proving the fastest of the day.
After 32.5km of racing, Knox and Geelong were locked in a proper stoush for the Ekiden title, as mere seconds separated Knox’s Mark Richards and Geelong’s Jarrod McMullen. Richards changed with David Friend in the lead by less than 30 seconds, whilst Mitch Thompson of Geelong closed much of the gap on Friend down over the final 4.6km leg, less than 10 seconds separated the two teams after 42.2km of racing, as Knox claimed a narrow victory after an enthralling afternoon of racing.
The Women’s competition involved fewer lead changes, yet still featured an exciting two-team chase in the final stages. Early stages of the race pitted Frankston, Geelong, Glenhuntly, Western Athletics and Knox against each other.
Kiah Fry of Frankston made the most of the hilly loop, developing a lead of over a minute on the trailing Geelong and Glenhuntly teams. As Frankston lacked the numbers to complete the relay event, the ensuing legs saw Glenhuntly build a healthy lead through Anna Saw, Amelia Aslanides and Rebecca Beagley. However, Knox’s strategical arrangement of runners threatened to pay off late in the day, combining Australian representative Melissa Duncan’s pace with Katie Gamble and Kate Seibold’s experience, Knox began to reel back Glenhuntly.
At the final change Knox remained in 2nd, with Glenhuntly’s making a mad dash for the finish line. Glenhuntly’s Dana Dekkers kept calm under pressure, as Knox’s efforts throughout the second half of the race couldn’t quite close Glenhuntly’s dominant early lead. Western Athletics finished 3rd, an encouraging result, marking the first Premier division relay medal for the club.
A day of fortunate weather conditions ensured the challenging course was enjoyed by all competitors throughout the day, with thanks to Brett Coleman and his local Geelong team, proving instrumental in set up, course marking and marshalling throughout the event.
With only two events left in the XCR’17 series, the penultimate round is the Burnley Half Marathon on September 10, a great lead in to the Melbourne Marathon on October 15, pre-entries close Midday September 6, with entries available on the day at a higher rate.