Next week Kathryn Ward hopes to become the first person to complete 20 editions of Le Race when she lines up for the 100km race from Christchurch to Akaroa.
Ward only missed the inaugural race in 1999 but has been a stable fixture in Le Race ever since.
The 100km classic over the Port Hills to Akaroa is an imposing task for any seasoned cyclist, and Ward’s incredible series is even more remarkable because she entered her first race at the age of 42.
“I had been a competitive runner in the past, but I didn’t think I was fit enough for Le Race when it was first raced,” says Ward.
“The following year I did the Taupo cycling race and thought “wow this is fun” so I entered Le Race.”
Ward remembers her first Le Race well because of her introduction to the final part of the Summit Road. “I had run the Summit Road part to Duvauchelles, so I thought I knew what to expect, until I hit that final section and realised that the hardest bit was still to come.”
Despite her remarkable 19 completed efforts, Ward has never tasted victory, only to come agonisingly close in her fourth attempt when she finished second in the 45-54 year category.
Since then, she admits that things have not gotten easier as the years have progressed.
“My best time was around three hours and 53 minutes, but these days I’m a lot slower. Last year, was really bad when I was doing the flat bit mostly on my own in the wet because nobody wanted to work together,” says Ward who has countless tales of thrills and spills from her 19 previous efforts.
Even three punctures in one race and some major crashes have not stopped this road warrior from abandoning Le Race in all her years on the route.
“What keeps me coming back? Because the race is so hard,” laughs Ward, who has a firm belief that you have to test yourself and your limits.
“I think you need to go as hard as you can, for as long as you can, to stay young at heart and to stay mentally energised,” says Ward who loves a challenge and is already aiming to be the last woman standing in the Taupo race as well.
“There is one other lady left in my category and I want to keep going until I am the last one left.”
One person who hopes that Ward will call it a day soon is John Christie, who has completed 18 editions of Le Race, one less than Ward.
“He tried to convince me to sit out one year, but that made me only more determined to keep him behind me as long as I can.”