Hannah Gapes (John Paul College) powers to a convincing victory in the Senior Girls race at the 2021 NZSS Cross Country Championships. PHOTO by Nesport Photography - more photos at www.nesport.co.nz
Hannah Gapes was confident that she could win, but she surprised herself just as much as her competitors with the ease of her victory in the Senior Girls race at the 47th New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in Hawera this past Saturday.
In cold, wet conditions overhead and a heavy, muddy course underfoot, John Paul College, Rotorua year 13 runner Hannah blitzed the field to win by almost a minute to second placed Bella Earl (Whangārei Girls' High School) and with Chloe Browne (St Cuthbert’s College) finishing third.
“I had a plan to go out hard, but I was expecting people to come with me, but they didn’t, so I just kept going and extending my lead,” she said.
Hannah quickly established a lead on the first lap of two. She led by 25 seconds after the first 2km lap and more than doubled that by the end.
Was she aware she was so far ahead?
“I am the NZ U20 5000m track champion [from earlier this year] so I had raced against some of the other competitors, and I knew pretty much how they would run their races. My plan was to push hard from the start and see what happened.
“I had quick looks behind when I was running around the corners and when I was going through for the second lap and I looked back and I couldn’t see anyone. I was thinking to myself have I gone out too fast, am I doing this wrong?
“Then when spectators started clapping me in and congratulating me over the last 600m I knew I had done it!”
How did the conditions come into it?
“I compete in the Tough Guy and Gal Challenge event - which is an extreme mud run. So I was kind of prepared and confident going into it, I like the mud I guess!”
Conditions changed on race eve.
“I wanted a speedy run on a fast course, and it was looking like it the day before when we were walking the course. But then overnight forecast rain arrived and the whole course changed, and it turned into a mud run.”
Hannah had two John Paul College teammates competing in her race, with Poppy Martin finishing 32nd and and Jessica Lamb 50th. There were 98 starters in the Senior Girls race and a total of 748 runners from 130 schools taking part, competing in six races on Saturday.
Hannah backed up her win with another strong run in the team’s relay on Sunday, an inter-regional event. Competing for Waikato-Bay of Plenty, she stormed through in the last leg to lift to team from eighth to third. Auckland A won and Southland were second.
“I gave it all on my 2km relay leg. It was really exciting for the team because none of them had ever won any national medals.”
A New Zealand secondary schools cross country team has been selected after this weekend, but this is a paper team only as the ongoing covid climate (pre-Wednesday this week) has meant that our athletes will not be competing in Australia like that they have in past years.
Hannah thanked her coach Jason Cameron for helping her do so well this weekend.
“My coach Jason prepared me really well for this, his smart training coaching is preparing me to compete for the future and is definitely what has helped me. He lives in Rotorua and runs with me which is also really beneficial.”
Hannah is part of a five-strong training squad. Her favourite run in Rotorua is in the Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest.
This is Hannah’s third major race win in the past six months, having won the NZSS Senior Girls 1500m title last December and then backed that up with the NZ U20 Women’s 5000m win.
She said her 1500m win was borne out of disappointment at missing out on gold in the Senior Girls 3000m race two days prior.
“I came second in the 3000m and that made me determined to give it my all and it was a shock for me to win that race.”
She backed that up with third in the 1500m in the New Zealand Championships before winning the 12-lap race.
“I prefer the long-distance events, and if you make a mistake in the 1500m it can go very wrong, so I had been training for the 5000m. That was similar to the cross country in that I took an early lead and kept extending it as the race developed – that is kind where the plan for the cross country came from.”
Hannah said the competitive nature of her rivals is helping to bring out the best in her, many of them being upper North Island based too.
When did Hannah discover she could run fast?
“I was always really active growing up and I played as many sports as I could. The cross country was part of the primary school programme and I fell in love with winning and the thrill which comes with it.”
Running is her main sport, but she still plays tennis in the summer and does some mountain biking, and she used to play hockey and do rock climbing.
Despite the selected NZSS team not going to Australia, Hannah has some big cross-country races coming up that she is back training for.
“I have the North Islands in two weeks in Taupo and then Nationals coming up in early August in Dunedin and that leads on to selection for the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, next February.”
The NZSS Track and Field Championships are back in Taranaki this year, in Inglewood and scheduled from 3-5 December.
The other contenders at the start line could have been forgiven for not knowing who Maeghan Casey was.
She only took up running three months ago – but she already has two major College Sport Wellington titles to her name.
Last Wednesday she won the College Sport Wellington Regional Senior Girls Cross Country title, in her first ever competitive cross country race. In March she won the Senior Girls 3000m at the CSW Regional Track and Field Championships, in her second race on the track.
It is fair to say that the year 13 St Mary’s College, Wellington, student with a rowing background has taken to her new sport with gusto.
Wednesday’s cross country race saw her beat a competitive field of seasoned runners, winning the 4km distance by 8 seconds to second placed Eliza Squire (Wellington East Girls’ College), with third placed Katelyn Sceats (Wellington Girls’ College) a further 9 seconds back in third.
Not knowing what to expect, she said the best course of action was to take the frontrunning approach.
“My idea was to get out in front and then try and hold my place, rather than try and catch up to the leaders, “she said, “so from early on I did that and managed to stay there until the end.”
“I was hoping I wasn’t going to burn myself out, because I didn’t know what pace everyone else was going to be running at. I just kind of went for it and hoped I would have enough energy left!”
Next up is the 47th New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in Hawera on 19 and 20 June.
What prompted her to suddenly take up running at the start of her final year in school?
“I decided to sign up to run at the school athletics day. This was then rained off, so I was asked if I wanted to give the Wellington girls zone meet a go, so I thought I’d go and I finished second in the 3000m.
“I was then offered a run at the regional meet, so with the [rescheduled] school meet in between, I entered that and managed to win there. This was quite exciting for me as I didn’t train with anyone.”
Having her own running spikes for the first time also helped. “In the first race I was wearing my ordinary shoes, then for the school meet I borrowed someone else’s spikes and then I bought my own in time for the regionals.”
Next she went to the North Island Secondary School Track and Field Championships, again not knowing what to expect, finishing mid-table in the SG 3000m. “I didn’t really have a strategy for that race. I just went out really fast and burned myself out by the end.”
Of note, the winner of that same race, Penelope Salmon (Baradene College), broke a 36-year old NISS meet record.
It was about this point that Maeghan was asked by coach John Cope if she wanted to start training with a group of runners, so she joined the Olympic Harriers club.
Starting the winter running season for Olympic Harriers, she made her off-track debut in early May as part of the Olympic Harriers Women’s U20 team that won the University Relays at Queen Elizabeth Park.
She ran in her new track spikes in that event, prompting her to call into the sports shop on the way home that afternoon to buy her first pair of cross-country spikes – footwear that propelled her to victory last Wednesday in her first proper off-track race.
Maeghan may be new to running, but not to competitive sport.
“I have rowed since year 9 and I am a single sculler.”
“This year at Maadi Cup I won the B final [ninth overall] in the U17 Single Sculls. I also came second in the same race at the North Island Club Championships.”
She has also played football in the past and was her school’s second XI goalkeeper until recently.
Her new sport of running has opened future possibilities.
“I was thinking of trying to go to university in the States for rowing, but now running could be an option too if I train hard for the rest of this year.”
She is now training with a group on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, while she is also going out for a couple of runs by herself. Living in the northern suburbs she nominates Mt Kaukau as a favourite training ground.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand