Almost 4000 runners from 13 countries shrugged off Canterbury’s recent woes and challenging g weather to line up for the SBS Marathon in Christchurch today. But it was international athletes who carried off the spoils.
Following the disaster of February 22 organisers weren’t sure they could stage the 31st running of the South Island’s premier marathon event. The traditional Christchurch Town Hall venue and inner city route is unusable. But public support saw them put together an alternative race at Lincoln on the outskirts of Christchurch.
Race Director Chris Cox says they were overwhelmed by the support for the annual Queens Birthday Weekend event. “Everyone from top runners to first timers to locals to visitors to volunteers to councils to sponsors has been great. We knew we couldn’t expect our usual turn out of close to 6000 runners, but to get almost 4000 was well above what we’d expected.”
The racing didn’t quite go as expected either. In the feature full marathon event former Christchurch star Phil Costley, was expected to notch up his third win at the SBS event. But in an exciting race that saw the lead exchanged four times in the final 10k, the end result produced a surprise winner from Singapore.
A year ago Ying Ren Mok was a former triathlete trying his hand at serious running when he managed a respectable 11th place in the SBS Half Marathon event. So no one expected him to be such a threat today. As expected, Costley established himself at the front of the race through the first lap. But Mok stayed close and at the 30k mark actually moved ahead into the lead.
Costley faught back, passing the Singapore runner and looked to have the race won. But Mok came back again. They ran together for a kilometre and then Costley tried to pull away again, only to have Mok lift the pace even more. This time the 41 year old Nelson school teacher had to bow to the younger legs of the Singapore runner.
Ying Ren Mok actually came to Christchurch hoping to break the Singapore national marathon record of 2hrs 24min. But the cold, windy conditions meant record running was unlikely. But Mok still managed a respectable 2hrs 26min 34secs, saying, “It was very hard. It was windy and Phil was strong. I had to run very hard to win, so I am happy.”
In second place an exhausted Costley held on to second place and first veteran in 2hrs 29min 30secs. In third place Christchurch’s Blair McWhirter claimed third place and the Canterbury provincial marathon championship.
The woman’s full marathon race also went off shore when American-based Kiwi Liza Hunter-Galvan shrugged off a controversial last few years to win her first race following a two year suspension for performance enhancing drugs. The 41 year old has lived in San Antonio, Texas for 20 years. In 1999 the SBS Marathon was the first major win of her career and despite facing more than her share of negative reaction about her entry, Galvan wanted to re-start her career with the same race.
First, however, she had to beat 2006 champion, Kate Seibold-Crosbie from Australia. The 36 year old has been in great shape recently, winning the Australian mountain running title just a week ago, and was returning to Christchurch looking for her fastest ever marathon.
Indeed, it was Crosbie who led the early kilometres. But Hunter-Galvin caught her after just 5k. Crosbie held for a couple of kilometres, but with legs still feeling the effects of the previous weeks Australian mountain running title she conceded defeat and was eventually forced to withdraw at the halfway mark.
This left Hunter-Galvan with an unchallenged lead. But the former Arthur Lydiard athlete kept a strong pace all the way and at 41 years of age eventually finished one minute faster than her winning time of 1999.
“It’s great to win here again,” said the Auckland-born runner. I won here in 1999 when I was just starting to get serious, so I thought coming to Christchurch when I’m trying to rebuild my running, and when Christchurch is trying to rebuild itself was quite fitting.”
Another fitting winner was Australian-based Dale Warrander, who won the SBS Half Marathon for the third time. Warrander won here in 2004 and 2006, but moved to the Gold Coast two years ago where he runs a successful personal training business. He put that expertise to good use yet again with a resounding win at Lincoln today.
Warrander came into the race not sure of his form following his fifth win at the Rotorua Marathon just a month ago. When another Australian-based Kiwi, Timaru-born Jason Woolhouse, led out hard from the start the field quickly split. Woolhouse and Warrander were the co-favourites but Warrander admitted to being worried as he struggled to hold the younger runner in the opening kilometres. But by the 5k point he had gathered himself and reeled in the early leader.
“Jason took off right from the gun,” said Warrander later. “I tried to stay close, but he was really cranking along. But about 5k he just slowed down and we caught him quite quickly.”
A loose lead group that included Dunedin’s Dougal Thorburn, Christchurch’s Brett Tingay, Canadian James Richardson, and Wellington champion Stefan Smith all bunched up behind Woolhouse. “The pace just dropped away,” said Warrander. “But I’d just got going so I didn’t want to muck around, so I just went to the front and kept doing what I was doing.”
What Warrander did was romp away to a three minute win over Dougal Thorburn and Brett Tingay, with Woolhouse struggling home in fourth. Warrander stopped the clock in an impressive time in the blustery and wet conditions of one hour six minutes 14 seconds, saying. “I felt ok so I just pushed it along to see what would happen. It’s a pit it was windy because it’s a fast course. I’d love to come back next year and have a crack at a fast time for the full marathon.”
Another runner keen for a crack at more fast times is Auckland’s Danielle Trevis. The 20 year old emerged last year as an exciting new prospect with a win in the Auckland half marathon and in Christchurch turned out to be the only New Zealand-based winner. On the Lincoln course she led from start to finish, finishing among the top 20 overall in a fast time of 1hr 13min 37secs.
“I felt good,” she said after winning by almost six minutes. “The wind made it hard, but it’s still a good time so I’m happy.”
Behind Trevis, Christchurch’s Fiona Crombie shrugged off illness to claim second in 1hr 19min 34secs, just 20secs clear of a close race for the remaining podium spot. Experience won out in the end as 44 year old Gabrielle O’Rourke, a two-time winner of this event 15 years ago, headed off Rotorua’s Sarah Biss and Christchurch’s Alexandra Williams, with just 30secs between the three.
In other races Dunedin’s Callan Moody and Dunedin’s Shauna Pali won the 10k event, but the event also had stories within the race. With Christchurch just starting the rebuilding process the SBS Marathon faces uncertainty over returning to the traditional central city course. But the support at Lincoln this year illustrated that the event has a permanent place in the heart of the region.
People like Lyttelton’s Helen Williams competed in the 10k after promising herself she would while running for her life on Bridal Path during the February 22 earthquake. After helping in Christchurch since the earthquake, Auckland Policeman Darren Heaven decided to run the full marathon in support of the region. Indeed, everyone in the event ran in support of the Urban Search and Rescue dog training programme, which raised close to $10,000 as the event’s official charity.
Regardless of where Christchurch’s marathon will be based in 2012 the event will be held on Sunday June 3.