All you need to know about this year’s race

This year marks the centenary of the Ballantyne Cup — one of the club’s oldest trophies. We would have held the centenary last year but, well, COVID. So here we are celebrating 100 (and 1) years instead. The Shirley Barton Trophy (for women) and the Ballantyne Cup (for men) are handicap trophies. For shorthand, I will call the combined race the Shirley Ballantyne. It sounds like the name of a dubious cocktail. Apologies if I have just defamed anyone’s dear aunt.

A new venue

For many years the Shirley Ballantyne was run on the banks of the Hutt River during cross-country season. Recently, we have experimented with holding the race at a different time of year and over a different distance. This year we are trying something completely new — a road (footpath) course on the quiet, leafy, northern streets of Miramar. Nestled just to the south of the hills of Mapuia and Centennial Parks the streets can often be well sheltered from the prevailing northerly. It is also a part of Wellington that we don’t often explore.

This year’s Shirley Ballantyne is scheduled to be the perfect speed test three weeks before Road Relays.

There is also a green space, Miramar Park, that is good for warm-ups and which the J Team and friends may enjoy. There are hills up to Mt Crawford for those who are on a steady diet of elevation in the lead-up to Road Relays.

The race favourites

There is an art to winning handicap trophies that involves a delicate peak in fitness and speed that the handicapper cannot see coming. Club handicapper James Turner has very a recent formbook to judge most club members because many have competed in the Wellington Road Champs and Needle Relay in recent weeks. But there might be an athlete out there who has been in secret altitude training and on a steady diet of EPO for the last six months and is ready to unleash their devastating form on Shirley Ballantyne. If you know who this person is, please reveal them in the comments.

Because anyone with an ambition to win a handicap trophy needs to outwit the handicapper with a string of false poor results, the handicapper is the very worst person to ask for some pre-race picks. Nevertheless, that is what I did. I contacted  James Turner and asked him for the oil on who would win the Ballantyne and Shirley Barton trophies. His picks were divided into two groups; those who are rapidly improving and may not have yet reached their peak, and those crafty buggers who have an established history of repeatedly outwitting him.

In the first group, he named Alice Sowry, Jorge Murcia, Gordon Pal, Karl Jackson, Genevieve Coffey and Floor Kaars Sijpesteijn. This is certainly a roll-call of dramatically improving runners. The question is, have they played their cards too early, or is one of them still holding one more ace?

In the second group, he identified Nigel Roberts, Bev Hodge, Paul Rodway and of course Matyas James. James Turner knew the deception and craftiness of this group of rogues before he took on the handicapper’s mantle, and yet they have continued to plague him throughout his term.

A third group of runners to keep an eye on are those looking to cement a spot in an A Team for NZ Road Relays – a good race on this course will, for any runners currently ranked in those 7, 8 or 9 spots, certainly catch selectors’ eyes. 

Race details

Date: Saturday 10 September.

Distance: 6km

Venue: Miramar Tennis Club, on Darlington Road.

Time: 1:30pm for a 2pm handicap start.

The course

The new 6km course follows a three-kilometre loop on the quiet, mostly-residential footpaths in Miramar. 

The race starts at Miramar Park and heads north along Darlington Road. At about 300m, you come to a pedestrian crossing over Camperdown Road. Continue straight ahead along Darlington Road, (obeying the road pedestrian crossing rules).

Shortly after this, the footpath climbs very gently, then bends south and descends back down again.

At 1.2km Darlington Road ends and intersects with Weka Road and Miramar North Road. You want to cross the Weka Road intersection, turning right into Miramar North Road.

As you go past the famous Miramar Rangers clubrooms you will begin a short sharp climb for 150 metres, before the road levels off and then climbs again for another 100m.

After that, you have a steep downhill before running past Weta Workshop. You will come to a roundabout at the end of Miramar North Road. You need to cross here onto Park Road, following the directions of the race marshall, before turning left into Puriri Road.

From there you have about 600m of fast, flat running along Puriri Road, left into Darlington and back where you started (3km in total). And then another lap!

The pub

I talked to the president of the Miramar Tennis Club, which is kindly hosting us for the afternoon. He says you cannot go past Double Vision on the other side of Miramar Park for a post-race drink, snack and debrief.