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History Repeats at Christchurch Airport Marathon

Tuesday 4 June 2013, 11:12AM
By Michael Jacques
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CHRISTCHURCH

They say history never repeats. But at the Christchurch Airport Marathon the winners of the feature full marathon were an exact repeat of the same race 14 years ago.

In 1999 two runners with vastly different background stood on the podium at the prestigious Christchurch Airport Marathon. Phil Costley, a dedicated Kiwi cross country and road runner, was at the peak of his career and almost unbeatable on home soil. Liza Hunter-Galvin was a former teenage standout who had taken an American university track and field scholarship and came home for her first win over her new-found marathon speciality.

Costley and Hunter-Galvin were both dominant winners in 1999. But their paths since have been vastly different and yet oddly similar. Costley went on to win more than 30 national titles and represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games and then became a world class veteran runner. Hunter-Galvin remained in the USA, represented New Zealand at two Olympics, but then sabotaged her career with a positive drug test, before returning to the sport purely for enjoyment that eventually led to her also becoming a world class veteran but also the winningest runner in Christchurch Marathon history.

 

First Four Time Winner

Lisa Hunter-Galvin finally stepped out of the shadows of her controversial career to become the first person to win four Christchurch Airport Marathons and the first person to win three on consecutive occasions. But it didn’t come easy.

Dunedin’s Victoria Beck was the early aggressor, opening up a two minutes lead through the first half of the race. Hunter-Galvin, however, used her experience to strike on the hardest part of the race.

“At about halfway I realised I was starting to hold Victoria,” she would say later. “I wasn’t really trying to catch her, she was slowing down. So I picked it up a bit & caught her at 25k.”

Beck, however, wasn’t finished and several times tried to pull away again.

“I caught her but then she started throwing in surges trying to get rid of me. I could see she was hurting so I sat back for a while and then at about 30k, in the head wind, I picked it up.”

The Texas-based-Kiwi established a one minute lead quite quickly, but then started to struggle herself.

“Man, that last 10k was so tough. I’ve never hurt so much. I wanted it so bad. I was talking to myself, using all sorts of mind games. I was talking to my kids and my family, just trying to find something to keep it going. Honestly, if Victoria has passed me in the last 5k I would have just stopped and walked. I was just empty.”

More than two thousands spectators saw this for themselves as Hunter-Galvin crossed the finished line, took two wobbly strides and slumped to the ground where she lay for several minutes, then sat for a few minutes more, before being helped away to the recovery area.

Behind the brave winner Victoria Beck had reduced her loss to just 1min 24secs to hold third in 2hrs 51min 51secs. But she had been watchful of a late run from little-known Nelsonian Klaartje van Schie who claimed third, 1min 40secs further behind in 2hrs 53min 31secs.

Crowning a Career

The 2013 Christchurch Airport Marathon was an illustration of the timeless distance running maxims of age before youth, experience over enthusiasm and endurance over speed.

Liza Hunter-Galvin and men’s winner Phil Costley are both aged 43.But while Hunter-Galvin lined up determined to win, Costley wasn’t sure how he’d go.

The Nelson school teacher is something of a legend on the New Zealand distance running scene. As well as more than 30 national titles, he had won the Christchurch Marathon twice and the half marathon once prior to today. But this time around he wasn’t quite sure how he’d go.

The Costley family was one of those affected by the flooding in Nelson during autumn. It forced his withdrawal from the Rotorua Marathon and then interrupted training further when he strained a muscle ripping ruined carpets out of his house.

“The last six weeks or so, my training wasn’t flash.” he admitted. “But I thought I could probably get top five and maybe win the veterans race, so it was worth running.

Costley is renowned for his willingness to race regardless of form, competition or circumstance. And when he saw today’s humid and windy conditions he decided to ignore the competition and run his own race.

Early leader was defending champion and race favourite Sam Wreford from Timaru. But unbeknown to his competition, Wreford was suffering from a stomach bug and had been vomiting only 48 hours before the start line.

Wreford was joined at the front by Timaru training partner Jesse Gibbs. “We went through halfway in about 1hr 14min,” said Wreford later, “which isn’t that fast but I was feeling pretty bad so I knew it wasn’t looking good.”

Part of Wreford’s problem was the surging pace being set by an eager Jesse Gibbs, who several times established a small lead only for Wreford to reel him in. This was had a bad effect of both leaders and when Phil Costley caught them both at the 28k mark he knew straight away that the goal of top five was shaping up as a chance to win a third Christchurch Airport Marathon title.

“When I caught them I could see Sam wasn’t looking great. Then when your competition asks your advice about what to do… well you start feeling good about your chances.”

Wreford had revealed his stomach dilemma and simply asked Costley what he would do. “I just told him there was no point in ruining yourself for a bad day.”

Wreford eventually withdrew just before the 30k mark, explaining later, “I want to have a good run at the Gold Coast Marathon in July and Phil said save it for then. It was good advice. There was no point in killing myself for fourth place or something. I’m disappointed, but it was the right thing to do.”

With Wreford out of the equation, Costley turned his attention to Jesse Gibbs. But the Timaru 21 year old wasn’t looking too good either and Costley soon found himself alone at the front. But also mindful that he himself wasn’t in top condition.

A steady north west wind between 28 to 40k slowly sucked the life out of the entire field today and Costley was no exception. So with a clear lead going into the final 5k, he eased back and enjoyed a win that had something of a crowning quality to what has been a long and prestigious career.

Costley was happy to take the win, but quick to put it in perspective as the slowest winning time in Christchurch Marathon history.

“When we were standing on the start line this morning, if anyone had said that I would win, and that I would win in 2hrs 35min, I’d have said they were crazy,” he shrugged.

“It was bad luck for Sam, but I’m wrapped to win. The Christchurch Marathon has played a big part in shaping my career. This is my third win here and I’ve won the half marathon too. It’s a great event and I’ll always support it.”

Behind Costley, Hasting’s veteran Ross McIntyre also paced himself in tough conditions to pass Jesse Gibbs in the final 5k for second place in 2hrs 36min 53secs. Gibbs showed some grit that will one day combine successfully with more experience, but had to be content for now with fourth in 2hrs 41min 18secs.

Two for Two

Wellington 1500m specialist, Hamish Carson, has only run two half marathons. But they have both been noteworthy. In February he won the national half marathon title in his debut at the distance, and then today he chopped almost three minutes off that time to see off more favoured contenders.

Up against a stacked field that included most of New Zealand’s top talent plus four Australians hoping to run fast enough to make their national team for the world half marathon championships, Carson wasn’t tipped to do much more than score a new personal best time. But the 24 year old sat at the back of a big bunch of 12 runners through halfway, and then followed moves from pre-race favourites Hugo Beamish (Wgtn) and Australians Brady Threlfall and Nathan Hartigan.

“At 15k there were five of us,” said Carson. “But I still wasn’t expecting a sprint. I was just hanging on.

Into the long home straight Beamish, who with a 13:47 5000m best was also expected to have good finishing speed, started the sprint. But it was Carson who finished it, blowing by all five to win by five seconds in 1hr 06min 05secs.

Despite the Aussie onslaught, Kiwis filled the top three placing as American-based Beamish and 21 year old Aaron Pulford finished almost side-by-side, with Hartigan and Threlfall another five seconds back.

“I’m pretty happy with that, said an understated Carson at the finish. “The second half back into the wind was really tough. I was just hanging on and luckily my 1500m speed came through in the finish.”

Local Denies Defending Champion

Christchurch runner Alex Williams didn’t need a big sprint to claim an upset win among women in the Christchurch Airport Half Marathon.

The women’s race over the 21.1k distance was meant to have been an all the way win for Auckland policewoman-come-jockey-come runner, Lisa Robertson. But the defending champion didn’t feature as first Tauranga’s Sally Gibbs and then Christchurch’s Alex Williams pushed the pace from start to finish.

Gibbs, who at 49 is one of the fastest veterans in the world, led through halfway. But Williams had been saving something for the head winds over the final 8k.

“Sally really pushed the first half. I closed in on her after about 10k, and then at 14k I was feeling pretty good so I pushed it hard.”

“I was really hurting in the last 3k. I was afraid to look back, just in case Sally was still right behind me,” she said after stopping the clock in a personal best time of 1hrs 16min 25secs.

In second place Gibbs was the only person not surprised about the upset winner. The day before she had predicted Williams would upset Roberston and was also pleased to beat her own personal best time with 1hr 17min 03secs. Robertson claimed third 27secs later, ahead of Auckland’s Alice Mason.

Third Time Lucky

Christchurch up and comer, Daniel Balchin, is an example of persistence and patience. In 2011 the 22 year old placed third in the 10k event. In 2012 he moved up to second. This year he finally cracked it with a run that was the most dominant of the day.

Pre-race favourite had been former Christchurch Airport Half Marathon winner, Mark Bailey. Bailey, fellow Christchurch runner Brett Smith, Te Aroha’s Wayne Guest and Wellington’s Glenn Hughes chased Balchin through the early kilometres. But it was all in vain as the Canterbury University student cantered away for a comfortable win in 30min 54secs. Smith came through for second place 38secs behind, while Bailey claimed third.

Surprise Record Breaker

Despite windy conditions, Christchurch’s youngster Nicki McFadzien clipped four seconds of the women’s race record for the Christchurch Airport 10k.

In yet another race where the pre-race favourites were toppled, the 10k had been billed as a battle between Aucklanders Dannielle Ingham-Trevis and Lucy van Dalen. Trevis had a vastly better 10k best of 33min and also won the half marathon here in 2011. But the 21 year old Christchurch runner was too strong in the final 5k, crossing the line in a new record of 34min 31secs.

Behind her, Ingham-Trevis did well to limit her loss to 44secs. Auckland’s Penny Peskett filled third in 35min 26secs, while another Christchurch 21 year old, Reubyn Bisschops, trailed only 18secs further back in fourth.

 

Entries Continue to Climb

More than 4700 runners and walkers from 13 countries lined up for the 33rd Christchurch Airport Marathon. While that wasn’t a record entry, it was a continuation of the climb back from Canterbury’s earthquake woes.

This year’s Christchurch Airport Marathon marked the 1001st day since the first earthquake struck in 2010. Earlier that year the event has enjoyed a record entry of 5800 participants. The second more destructive earthquake in February 2011 almost forced organisers to cancel that year’s event. But they rallied around to stage the event in Lincoln and were pleasantly surprised when 3300 people lined up.

“That was a big eye opener for us,” says race director Chris Cox. “It illustrated how much this event means to the community.”

In 2012 the event moved back to the City on a fast, flat and scenic course around Christchurch Airport, and 4300 people turned out. “We knew then that the event would continue to bounce back,” says Cox.

“This year we’re up to 4700 and hopefully next year we’ll be over 5000 and back close to those record entries of 2010.”

For full results for the 2013 Christchurch Airport Marathon see:  www.christchurchmarathon.co.nz.