From Christchurch to Kenya to Timaru to Texas and Ellerslie

Tuesday 5 June 2012, 8:47AM
By Christchurch International Airport


The new-look Christchurch Airport Marathon was a huge success today, with almost 4500 runners from 12 countries toeing the start line and runners from Kenya, Timaru, Texas and Auckland taking the spoils.

A year ago the Christchurch’s marathon didn’t know what was next. In the aftermath of February 22 organisers had pulled together a make-shift event out at Lincoln, but like the rest of the region they didn’t know what might be next. But with the help of new sponsor, Christchurch International Airport, they rallied to bring the event back into the City for an exciting venue within the Airport campus.

Race Director Chris Cox says they have been overwhelmed by the support for the annual Queens Birthday Weekend event. “After the earthquake issues of the last two years,” said Cox, “it would have been easy for this event to fold. But everyone from top runners to first timers to locals to visitors to volunteers to councils to sponsors has helped pull things together.”

“Obviously the Christchurch Airport Company has been a big part of the promotional push, but events live and die by the support of their participants. And despite Christchurch’s ongoing issues runners and walkers continue to support this event. Last year we managed about 3700, so to get almost 4500 this year shows we’re on the way back to full strength.”

One runner keen to get to full strength is Kenya’s Kip Kemei. Prior to March 2012 the 21 year old had never raced outside the Rift Valley in Kenya. Since coming to New Zealand he has been unbeaten and run faster in every race.

In Christchurch today he led the half marathon event from start to finish, passing the 10k mark in 30min 30secs before winning as he liked in 65min 01sec. “It was a nice run and the spectators were very supportive,” he grinned after being hugged by an overjoyed Kenyan compatriot who happened to be watching.

Behind the Kenyan, New Zealand cross country and road champion, Stephen Lett (Akld), battled with Half Marathon rookie Matt Harris (Wgtn), with Harris passing Lett 500m from the finish, only to have Lett sprint past in the final 100m to claim second in 67min 57secs to Harris’ third placed 68min 01secs.

Lett was content with what he called “an ok run,” but was profuse in his respect for the winner, saying, “When we saw him coming back after the turn around, he just looked so easy and comfortable.”

Kemei has been in New Zealand since March, where he has been based in Wellington training with New Zealand representative triathlete Martin Van Barneveld. Since arriving he has won Wellington’s Round the Bays Half Marathon, the Rotorua Half Marathon, Huntly Half Marathon and now the Christchurch Airport Half Marathon. But he says even more enjoyable than the winning running has been his experience with New Zealand and New Zealanders.

“I have very much enjoyed New Zealand,” he says. “My visa runs out soon, but I hope to have it extended. I would very much like to live here.”

Another runner on the rise is Auckland Police woman, runner and professional jockey, Lisa Robertson.  The 29 year old has been the fastest improving runner on the national scene in the last two years, winning the New Zealand 10k title and the Auckland Marathon last year. But she lives a busy life with duel careers as a Policewoman and jockey. This weekend she worked early on Saturday, and then raced at Ellerslie before flying to Christchurch where she won todays Christchurch Airport Half Marathon.

The featherweight but fleet-footed 29 year old didn’t have it easy. “I was running with Sarah Biss (Rotorua) for the first 10 or 12k but I was feeling good and decided to push it. I went past her, but almost straight away I was wondering if it was the right thing to do. But my main goal today was to run fast. Sure, you want to win, but I was willing to risk losing if it meant I got a fast time.”

Robertson needn’t have worried. Biss was unable to match the increase in pace and the Aucklander ran solo to the finish line, eventually stopping the clock in an impressive 1hr 15min 35secs. Biss held on well for second, 46secs behind. But the real race was for third place as Christchurch youngster Nicki McFadzien battled it out with fellow Cantabrian Alexandra Williams, Dunedin’s Victoria Beck and Canadian Anne-Marie Madden. Just 50secs separated them at the finish, with McFadzien claiming the final podium place in 1hr 17min 32secs ahead of Beck, Williams and Madden.

While younger legs dominated the women’s Half Marathon, experience was the order of the day in the women’s Full Marathon with American-based Kiwi Liza Hunter-Galvin and Wellington’s Gabrielle O’Rourke illustrating that form doesn’t fall after 40.

Both runners have a long history with the Christchurch event. O’Rourke won the Full Marathon in 1994 and the Half Marathon in 1998 and 1999 and managed third in the half distance again last year. Hunter-Galvin, who has lived in Texas for the last 20 years, had her first big win in Christchurch back in 1999 and then returned in 2011 to win again. The 42 year old's career hasn’t been without controversy; her win last year was her first race following a two year drug suspension. But her runs in Christchurch have been a turnaround of sorts that sees her focusing more on enjoying her running than racing.

Today, however, the 42 year old found some competitive spirit to hold out Wellington’s 44 year old Gabrielle O’Rourke. The two had tussled in Rotorua last month, with Hunter-Galvin coming out an easy winner. In Christchurch the race was much closer. Race favourite, Hunter-Galvin, ran from the front. But O’Rourke stayed close throughout and was just a minute back with 10k to run. But strong winds in the last 5k saw Hunter-Galvin move away to win by 1min 42secs. Wellington’s Angela Leck was a surprise third place in 3hrs 01min 41secs.

Hunter-Galvin was delighted with her third Christchurch Airport Marathon title. “I really enjoyed it. The wind in the last 5k was like running into a wall, but the course and the support from people was great.”

The men’s Full Marathon tossed up an impressive winner in Timaru specialist, Sam Wreford. One of the first to congratulate him was Kenyan half marathon winner Kip Kemei, who had been a training partner when Wreford went to Kenya earlier this year for a concentrated period of high altitude training.

Wreford came home from Kenya in the best shape of his life and lined up for the Christchurch Airport Marathon with thoughts of challenging the race record of 2hrs 15min 12secs set by Canterbury distance running legend Tom Birnie back in 1982. He hit his stride right from the gun and with Rotorua’s Steve O’Callaghan for company they ripped through halfway right on record pace.

O’Callaghan, who had previously finished second at both the Christchurch and Rotorua Marathons, fell back soon after and would eventually struggle home for fifth place. But Wreford pushed on and was still on record pace at 30k. But it was about then that a strong southerly front blew into Christchurch, and running alone into the wind over the final 5k Wreford’s record hopes slipped away.

What didn’t slip away was an impressive win and a personal best time. Stopping the clock in 2hrs 17min 30secs, Wreford was content with the win in what was a useful stepping stone to bigger things. He also wryly revealed that he was quietly pleased to finally beat the best time of his coach and 1960 Olympic marathon bronze medallist Barry Magee.

Behind Wreford, Gold Coast-based Kiwi Dale Warrander put injury behind him with a well-paced race that saw him move through the field to claim second place in 2hrs 22min 42secs. Three minutes further back Christchurch’s fast-improving Blair McWhirter finished third for the second consecutive year, although this time clocking a personal best time of 2hrs 25min 42secs.

In other races Dunedin’s Callan Moody and Dunedin’s Paula Whiting won the 10k event in 31min 51secs and 34min 35secs respectively. But the event also had stories within the race. Wellington 60 year old, Mike Stewart, provided a highlight when finishing his 497th Full Marathon in 5hrs 44min.

In 2013 the 33rd Christchurch Airport Marathon will be held on Sunday 2n d June.