Almost 4000 runners from all ends of the country will shrug off Christchurch’s earthquake woes for a few hours when they line up on Sunday for the annual SBS Marathon Event. Among them some of the country’s best distance runners.
SBS Marathon race director Chris Cox is beaming. Three months ago, following the February 22 earthquake, the annual Queens Birthday event looked unlikely to go ahead. But public pressure made Cox and his crew look hard for an alternative course. This weekend’s Lincoln University SBS Marathon has attracted almost 4000 starters and some of the first to sign up were some of New Zealand’s best.
“You have no idea how pleasing this is for us,” says Cox. “Normally the SBS Marathon Event runs a substantial elite support programme to attract the best runners. But this year they came to us with their support for the event and for Christchurch.
Former SBS winners, Phil Costley and Gabrielle O’Rourke, were among the first to sign up following February 22.
Costley won the Full Marathon in 1999 and 2004 and the Half Marathon in 1991 in what was then a national resident record of 62min 41secs. The secondary school teacher moved from Christchurch to Nelson late last year and wanted to return to the event as a show of support for the region.
Similarly, Wellington’s Gabrielle O’Rourke won the Full Marathon in 1994 and the Half Marathon in 1998 and 1999. At age 44 she is favourite this year for the veteran women’s half marathon, but still gives the youngsters a scare.
At age 41 Phil Costley still finds himself outright favourite for overall honours in this year’s SBS Full Marathon. A year ago he managed third place and first veteran in a new veteran record of 66min 01secs for the Half Marathon. This year as well as the overall win he’ll be looking at Jack Foster’s legendary record of 2hrs 22min 48secs set in the inaugural event back in 1981.
Veterans also feature prominently in the women’s Full Marathon, alongside a touch of controversy. Favourite is 2006 winner Kate Seibold-Crosbie from Australia, but all eyes will be on former Olympian Liza Hunter-Galvan in her marathon comeback following a two-year suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.
Hunter-Galvan, New Zealand’s fifth fastest female marathoner, won the SBS Marathon in 1999 but says that at age 41 she has no big goals in her first time back, saying, “I don't know that I will ever train or run like I used to; my perspective is not what it was. I am running for me now and anything I do will be good enough for me.”
The match-ups continue in the Half Marathon, with former Cantabrian Jason Woolhouse taking on two-time SBS Half Marathon winner Dale Warrander. Both Kiwis are based in Australia, with Warrander on the Gold Coast and Woolhouse in Melbourne.
Warrander won the SBS event in 2004 and 2006, but suffered through injury to eighth place last year. But his fifth win in the Rotorua Marathon recently means he is in good shape. Woolhouse, originally from Timaru, returns to familiar roads. But the SBS event hasn’t been kind to him. Last year he failed to finish the Full Marathon due to cramps, so he’ll be looking to make amends in 2011.But they will need to watch up and comers such as Dunedin’s Dougal Thorburn, who was fifth last year, and Wellington champion Stefan Smith, who is debuting over the Half Marathon distance, and Christchurch’s own Matt Ingram, who was fourth in 2007.
Another runner looking for the top step of the podium is SBS Half Marathon bridesmaid Fiona Crombie, who was third in both 2008 and 2009. But the Commonwealth Games rep faces a new challenger in 20 year old Taranaki sensation Danielle Trevis, who already has a best time two minutes faster than the 28 year old Crombie after winning the Auckland Half Marathon last year in 1hr 13min. Others in the mix should be Rotorua’s Sarah Biss, who was second in the 2010 SBS Full Marathon, and Christchurch’s Alexandra Williams.
While Chris Cox is excited by the elite racing, he points out that ffirst and foremost the SBS Marathon Event is a community occasion, saying, “We have always felt that big events should reflect their community, so that means getting the community involved.”
As well as the feature Full Marathon and Half Marathon events there is a 10k and Kids’ Mara’Fun. Cox says the amount of people inspired to run the event because of their earthquake experiences is staggering.
On February 22 Lyttelton’s Helen Williams promised that if she got off the Bridal Trail alive she would train for the SBS 10k.
Auckland policeman Darren Heaven has been in town as part of the earthquake recovery and decided to do the SBS Full Marathon.
Large school groups will once again be a feature of the event and many entrants are running to raise money for the event’s official earthquake recovery charity, the Urban Search and Rescue dog training programme, which will have several dogs and handlers participating in the event.
Starting the event on Sunday will be Christchurch Deputy Mayor, Ngaire Button, who will then participate herself.
Race day is Sunday June 5 with the Half Marathon and Full Marathon first to start at 9:00am. The 10k event is 9:15am, and Kids; Mara’Fun at 12:30pm. All races start and finish on South Drive inside Lincoln University.
Entries for the 2011 SBS Marathon Event are open until Saturday. For further details see: www.sbsmarathon.co.nz.