NZ’s Fastest Marathon Shaping Up As Fastest Ever
For 40 years the ASB Christchurch Marathon has been renowned as New Zealand’s fastest course. But with so many of the country’s fastest stuck at home right now, 2021 has the potential to be the fastest ever!
In 2021 the ASB Christchurch Marathon plays host to the national marathon championship and with Covid-19 seeing the cancellation of marathons all over the world, many of New Zealand’s fastest are racing at home. In the past twenty years no home-grown marathon has seen more than one or two of our most talented take to the start. But in a welcome return for the sport here, more than half a dozen of the country’s top-10 are lining up looking to run fast in Christchurch.
And Christchurch is the place to run fast. Established in 1981, the famously flat and fast course is renowned as the fastest in the country. Inspired by the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games marathon, when Great Britain’s Ian Thompson ran the second fastest time ever (2hrs 09min 12secs) and New Zealand’s Jack Foster claimed silver with a New Zealand record (2hrs 11min 18secs), the annual event traditionally produces the fastest home-grown times. But with the best so often running overseas, this is the first time the race records set by Tom Birnie (2:15.12 in 1985) and Naenai Sasaki (2:35.00 in 1982) have been under threat for more than three decades.
Alice Mason knows Christchurch’s fast streets well. The Rotorua doctor has won the half and full distance here, most recently in 2019 when freezing cold wind and rain possibly cost her the 39-year-old race record of Japanese Olympian Naenai Sasaki. She ran 2hrs 39min that day, which was the fastest by a New Zealander at home since 2005 when Shireen Crumpton win Christchurch in 2hrs 37min. With the event held now in April the weather will be kinder and Mason is chasing a sub-2:35 time and her fifth consecutive national title. Although Auckland’s Kelly Parlane will be hovering close by if the favourite should falter.
The men’s race is shaping up as the best marathon on these shores since the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Marathoners have always run fast in Christchurch, but seldom have so many of our best turned up in one race on New Zealand soil. Favourite is undoubtedly former multisporter and mountain runner, Daniel Jones, who since taking to marathons full-time has got his best time down to 2hrs 16min. The Wellington has won every major marathon in the country except Christchurch, but it’s the time as much as the title that he’ll be chasing and Tom Birnie’s race record will be under threat.
Jones will need to be on his best form, however. He’ll be chased hard by Wellington Scottish clubmate, Nick Horspool, who has a best of 2hrs 18min. Locals, however, will be watching hopefully for fast-rising Cantabrian, Andy Good, another former national mountain running champion who recently won the Buller Half Marathon in a fast 1hr 05min, which is faster than Jones’ or Horspool’s best over the half distance. Behind them former national champion Blair McWhirter (Chch) and Queenstown’s Nick Sunseri are tipped to pick up the pieces if any of the favourites bite of more than their body can chew.
“With national titles up for grabs and so many top runners on Christchurch’s fast course,” someone is going to come up with a really classy time,” says race director Chris Cox.
“New Zealand’s best do their fastest running overseas these days, so if there is any sort of upside to covid it is seeing so many of them lining up at home again.”
The upside for the ASB Christchurch Marathon itself is that it can go ahead at all. Caught in the middle of New Zealand’s lockdown last winter, the event was cancelled for the first time in its 40 years.
“It’s been a tough year,” says Cox. “Financially it has left the event very exposed, but ASB stood beside us and the year off actually gave us some time to re-think what we do and plan for the future.”
“The result is a return to our preferred route for the first time since the earthquakes, and the shift from Queens Birthday Weekend to mid-April should see more settled weather. Both of these things will hopefully see us start rebuilding to the record participation we enjoyed prior to the earthquakes (5800 in 2010).”
It will be a while before internationals return, but more than 4000 runners and walkers an all ends of New Zealand will line up at the Christchurch Town Hall next Sunday. And the ASB Christchurch Marathon is more than just the fastest show in town. With options including the Full Marathon run, Half Marathon run and walk, the 10k run and walk and the Kids’ Mara’Fun, this is a festival of fitness with something for everyone.
The 40th ASB Christchurch Marathon is scheduled for Sunday 11th April. Entries are still open. For info and online entry visit: www.christchurchmarathon.co.nz.