Fast Times & Sun In Christchurch
Christchurch dawned warm and clear with not a breath of wind this morning as 3827 runners and walkers from all end of New Zealand lined up for the 40th anniversary ASB Christchurch Marathon.
It was a long time coming up too, with the cancellation of the 2020 event during last year’s Level-4 Lockdown delaying the 40th celebrations by almost a year. But it was worth the wait, because for the first time since the 2011 earthquake the Christchurch Marathon was back to the traditional concept with the Town Hall venue and iconic two-lap course around Hagley Park and the Avon River.
No one was happier than race director Chris Cox, whose organising team had seen the race grow non-stop to 5800 participants prior to the earthquakes. “Much like Christchurch itself, this event has been through some tough times since 2011,” said Cox.
“The 2011 earthquake hit only a few months before the 2011 race. But rather than not hold it, we rallied around and held the event at Lincoln, and then we spent four years running by the Airport, before finally getting the OK to re-kindle the central city event. But then we faced all sorts of compliance and financial issues that almost ended the event frankly, but we struggled through for three years only to suffer last years covid cancellation. So to be finally back running the traditional concept after the tribulations of the last decade is a big thing for us. We refused to let the Christchurch Marathon die and Christchurch has refused to let us let it die!”
The winners of the feature full marathon, which doubled this year as the New Zealand Marathon Championship, followed suite. Wellington’s Dan Jones and Rotorua’s Alice Mason simply refused to let the warm conditions kill their ambitions, with both runners having come to Christchurch’s fast, flat course looking for a fast time but having to battle temperatures that rode into the 20s.
Mason has a winning habit in Christchurch, having won the full marathon in 2015 and 2018 and the half marathon in 2018. In 2021 she went at it like never before. Setting off at a pace that even left the first female half marathoners in her wake, the 33-year-old doctor went through halfway 2min clear of Auckland’s Kelly Parlane in 1hr 17min 25secs, which gave her a real shot at breaking the 1982 race record held by Japanese Olympian Naenai Sasaki of 2hrs 35min.
Despite the new 7:30am start time, however, temperatures had risen to 22-degrees by 9:00am and with no one to push her, Mason drifted off the record pace in the final 10k but held on for a comfortable win in 2hrs 43min 51secs.
“With this course and the conditions, I just wanted to try and run really fast today,” she said after finishing. “We set off at 2:29 pace, which was probably optimistic but I just wanted to have a go and see what happened.”
What happened was her fourth win at the Christchurch event and a fourth consecutive national marathon title. Behind her Kelly Parlane actually closed on the winner in the last 10k to claim second in 2hrs 46min 08secs. Wellington’s Ingrid Cree filled third in a personal best time of 2hrs 53min 30secs.
Wellington’s Dan Jones and Christchurch’s Andy Good also lined up looking for fast times this morning. Jones has run 2hrs 16min previously and Good had run a half marathon best of 65min at Buller in February but was racing for the first time over the full 42.2k. And it was Good who took the race to Jones, blazing through 10k on pace to break Tom Birnie’s 1985 record of 2hrs 15min 12secs, with Jones struggled to get into top gear.
At halfway Good was 2min clear in just over 68min. He was still ahead through 25k, but by 30k the tide had turned and Jones’ experience over the distance and wiser pace strategy on such a hot day was coming to the fore. At 35k he moved up to Good’s shoulder and then surged past and from there the winner was never in doubt as Jones galloped away to win in 2hrs 23min 36secs. Behind him, Good held on to second place despite severe cramping in 2hrs 28min 22secs, just 46secs clear of Dunedin’s Jonah Smith.
“Oh mate, that was hard,” grinned Jones on the finish line. “I didn’t feel good at any stage today, so I just concentrated on doing what I could. So it was good to be able to come through in the end.”
The men’s half marathon was billed as the race of champions, and it was, but it very nearly produced the surprise of the day. Previous winners, Oska Baynes and Daniel Balchin were the favourites and were amongst a tight lead pack through 5k of Baynes, Balchin, Chris Dryden and Rotorua’s Mike Voss. But it was Voss who started pushing the pace in the second 5k, only to fall back around the 10k mark when he stopped to tie a shoe lace.
Oska Baynes wasn’t going to miss an opportunity and started pushing hard to make Voss work even harder if he wanted to get back. Chris Dryden was the first casualty at 14k, and Voss eventually caught Bayne & Balchin again only to have Baynes push even harder to force a small break with just 2k to go. Balchin dropped away as Voss gave chase, but Baynes was not to be denied and leapt across the finish line punching the air with 10secs in hand in 1hr 04min 59secs. Voss was a bemused second place wondering about an opportunity lost, while Balchin held on for third in 1hr 05min 23secs, 26secs ahead of Dryden.
The win continued Baynes record as the most be-medaled male in the Christchurch Marathon’s modern history, with two half marathon titles (2016 & 2021), the full marathon title (2019) and the 10k title (2015). Only 1980s star Tom Birnie (five wins) has more, although the 11 wins among women of 1984 Olympian Mary O’Connor is the stuff of legend.
Another legend in the making today might have come in the womens half marathon when middle distance star, Katherine Camp, stepped out only a few weeks after winning the national 800m title to win over the 21k distance. Camp followed marathon winner, Alice Mason, through the early kilometres and then settled into her own pace. But she had to call on her track speed in the final kilometre to hold off former full marathon winner Hannah Oldroyd by 14secs in 1hr 18min 31secs. In a tight race, third place Angela Waters was third in 1hr 19min 28secs just 40secs clear of Wellington’s Esther George.
In the 10k event, Wellington-based Japanese runner Hiro Tanimoto notched his second Christchurch win in 29min 59secs, after having won the full marathon in 2015 when he first moved to New Zealand. Among women, Ruth Croft dominated with a time of 32min 44secs. Both times were race records.
Of the 3800-plus people behind the front runners, standouts included Olivier Lacoua who finished his 100th marathon in 4hrs 54min in his quest to raise $50,000 for Red Cross.
Also putting their best foot forward was principal sponsor, ASB, who donated a native tree for every finisher (3200 of them) to native restoration charity, Trees That Count, for replanting in Canterbury.
This year was also the first event following the shift in race date from the traditional Queens Birthday Weekend to mid-April. “The amazing weather today really did confirm the success of the shift from June to April,” said race director Chris Cox. “The atmosphere and enjoyment for everyone from participants to the 300 volunteers on the course was incredible.”
In 2022 the 41st Christchurch Marathon will be held on April 10th. Results for 2021 can be seen at https://results.timingsports.com/christchurchmarathon/2021