Christchurch’s SBS Marathon Event is poised to become another great recovery story for the earthquake-ravaged region. After February organizers of the annual Queens Birthday Weekend event didn’t think the event would go ahead or if running would register on the community’s collective priorities. But with less than two weeks to go the new Lincoln University venue has attracted more than 3000 starters.
For 30 years Christchurch SBS Marathon has been the South Island’s premier marathon event. But with February’s earthquake closing the Town Hall venue and ruining much of the traditional Avon River and Hagley Park course, this year’s 31st running of the event was under threat.
However, public support prompted organisers to push ahead with the event, which will be based this year in Lincoln on Sunday June 5.
“This event means a lot to me,” says Race Director Chris Cox. “I was a participant for many years before I took over organising it 16 years ago, so it has been a big part of my life. But I’ve been astounded by just how much it means to other people.”
Cox says people were stopping him in the streets and at airports asking if the SBS Marathon would go ahead and while the expected 3500 starters isn’t close to 2010’s record 5823 participants, Cox is pleased with the response.
“Following the earthquake the SBS Marathon was like the rest of Christchurch,” says Cox. “We didn’t know what was next. Lincoln University and township were really supportive of relocating the event there, and now Christchurch is getting back on its feet, which means the SBS Marathon is back on its feet too.”
Cox says the support this year is a mark of the event’s stature and the support for Christchurch in general. “The amount of people who are travelling to the event from around the country despite Christchurch’s problems is overwhelming,” he says. “There is still close to 100 people coming from Australia even.”
Cox has also been impressed with the support from elite runners: “Normally we have a substantial elite support programme that ensures the best runners line up. But with the challenges this year we haven’t had the budget for this. But the top runners are coming anyway.”
“Past winners such as Phil Costley and Dale Warrander were among the first to sign up. Kate Seibold from Australia, who won the back in 2007, had entered prior to the earthquake but contacted us in March saying she is still coming. It’s been incredible.”
First and foremost, however, the SBS Marathon Event is a community event. Along with the classic 42.2k marathon this festival of fitness includes a half marathon run and walk, a 10k run and walk and the Kid’s Mara’Fun, which features 2.5k and 5k distances for children under age 15.
“We have always felt the event should reflect the community,” says Cox. “So that means providing something for people of all age and ability.”
Cox says that the event this year will also reflect how recent events have affected the community: “We’ve worked with SBS Bank to make this year’s event benefit New Zealand’s Urban Search and Rescue search dog programme, who we felt were among the unsung heroes of the earthquake.”
Race day will see several Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) handlers and search dogs actually participating in the event. SBS Bank Riccarton manager Matthew Mark will team up with a veteran search dog named Boo, who belongs to USAR Search Dog Association president Tim Drennan. But any participant can raise money for this great cause by signing up as a sponsored USAR runner or walker by visiting www.sbsmarathon.co.nz.
The USAR involvement will also be a salute for many local runners lost to the earthquake. One such is former SBS Marathon race director Brian Taylor, a prominent Christchurch teacher, administrator, runner and coach who died in the collapse of the CTV building.
“Brian was a close friend and the Chairman of the City of Christchurch International Marathon Trust that oversees the event,” says Chris Cox.
“He was the guy who actually talked me into taking over as race director 16 years ago and a great champion of the event since it was founded in 1981. In 1990 he even coached his wife Prue to win the woman’s marathon. So we’re dedicating this year’s SBS Marathon to Brian’s memory.”
Entries for the 2011 SBS Marathon Event are still open. Race day in Lincoln is Sunday June 5. For details visit: www.sbsmarathon.co.nz.