With the biggest ever field and the national marathon title up for grabs, record racing will be the order of the day at this weekend’s Armstrong Motor Group Wellington Marathon.
More than 5000 runners and walkers from 13 countries and all ends of New Zealand will line up at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Sunday for the 28th Armstrong Motor Group Marathon Event.
Established in 1986 by the Wellington Marathon Clinic, for more than 20 years this race was a popular but modest mid-winter event attracting less than 1000 entrants. But in 2003 a shift to Westpac Stadium and a scenic and fast waterfront route has seen the event grow by more than 500 percent.
Runners this year have come from Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Samoa, Scotland, Singapore and U.S.A. But the event this year revolves around Kiwis as they race for the New Zealand Marathon championship.
Local Looking for First NZ Title
Favourites for the classic 42.2k distance include Auckland’s Stephen Lett and Wellington’s Dougal Thorburn. Lett has the faster best time of 2hrs 26min and has national titles over 10k and half marathon to his credit. Thorburn has a faster half marathon best that Lett, but a slower full marathon best of 2hrs 28min. But the local doctor has course knowledge in his favour and has won the half marathon race here before. But he also has the added motivation of having never claimed a national medal.
The favourites, however, will need to watch for a handful of hungry dark horses. Last year’s half marathon runner-up, Palmerston North-based Australian Chris Sanson, is looking at a medal in the longer race. As is Wellington’s Daniel Clendon, who came from fifth to second in the final few kilometres of the 2012 Armstrong Motor Group Marathon and in 2010 he won the event outright.
Another former winner lining up again is Wellington veteran Grant McLean, who won the full marathon here on five consecutives occasions from 2005 to 2009. The 45 year old, who is favourite for veteran honours, still holds the course record at 2hrs 31min 38secs from 2006. The battle for national honours, however, is expected to take the record well below 2hrs 30min.
First Timers Favourite Among Women
At the other end of the scale, womens’ favourite Shireen Crumpton is lining up at the Armstrong Motor Group Wellington Marathon for the first time. The 42 year old has won more than a dozen national titles, but has never raced here at the country’s second biggest marathon event. If she wins, she will also write history.
The Dunedin nurse has three New Zealand marathon titles to her name already, having won in 2005, 2009 and 2010. Only Napier’s Jillian Costley has been as successful (1987, 88, 90), so if Crumpton can win in Wellington she will have more national marathon titles than anyone in New Zealand’s esteemed marathon history.
Organisers are expecting 5200 runners to line up at Westpac Stadium on Sunday. Along with the feature Armstrong Motor Group Marathon the event also features the Shoe Clinic Half Marathon, the adidas 10k and the Classic Hits Kids’ Magic Mile.
Among half marathoners all eyes will be on American-based Kiwi, Liza Hunter-Galvan. The former Olympian is unfortunately best remembered for a positive drug test in 2009 for the blood-booster, EPO. In recent years she has attracted media attention by returning to win the Rotorua Marathon and Christchurch Marathon, but this is the first time she has entered the Wellington event where she will be chasing the 2008 race record of 1hr 17min 49secs set by Nelson-based American Belinda Wimmer.
Bridesmaids Looking to Break Through
Wellingtonians Tim Hodge and James Richardson will be looking to shake-off bridesmaid tags in the men’s half marathon. Hodge was second here last year and in 2010. The Canadian-born Richardson was fourth last year and second in 2011.
The grim reality is that one of them will remain the bridesmaid while the other becomes the victor of the regions premier half marathon. Hodge would have to be favourite following a strong sixth place at the recent Christchurch Half Marathon in a personal best time of 1hr 07min 32secs, compared to Richardson’s best of 1hr 10min 54secs.
Something for Everyone
Race director Sally Anderson is thrilled with the record turnout for this year’s Armstrong Motor Group Wellington Marathon.
“Running and walking is on the up and up in the last few years,” says Anderson. “But the Armstrong Motor Group Marathon Event has been growing for almost a decade because we cater for runners and walkers of all age and ability.”
Among the thousands, spare a thought for Rotorua’s Mike Tennant, who is in the middle of a mega-marathon challenge to complete a marathon in every week this yearas he raises money for the Hospice charity.
One runner who knows a thing or two about marathons is Christchurch’s Stan Gawler. The 83 year old has been a runner all his life and has a best time set in 1966 of 2hrs 29min 15secs that would still go close to winning the national title here on Sunday. Forty six years later he still races to win, although this time he lines up as favourite for the men’s 80-plus category. If Gawler conquers the 42.2k distance yet again he will become the eldest ever finisher at the Armstrong Motor Group Wellington Marathon.
Sunday’s Armstrong Motor Group Wellington Marathon kicks off at 6:30am with the Full Marathon Walk. The Full Marathon Run, which doubles as the national championship, starts at 7:30pm. The Half Marathon Run and Walk start at 9:00am, the 10K Run and Walk at 9:15am, and the Kid’s Magic Mile at 9:25am. Late entries will be taken at Armstrong Motor Group on Cambridge Terrace on Friday and Saturday. For more information see www.wellingtonmarathon.co.nz.