Gold Coast Marathon goes the distance

Gold Coast Marathon runners

Tim Baker | June 22, 2022

Image supplied by Gold Coast Marathon

The Village Roadshow Gold Coast Marathon is back and it’s not just the runners who are celebrating.

The Gold Coast will welcome back the world’s top marathon runners in July, as the Gold Coast Marathon makes a welcome return after a three-year, COVID-induced hiatus.

With some 20,000 runners expected to compete, including a strong international field  from South-East Asia, Japan and New Zealand, the Marathon will also deliver a welcome boost for Gold Coast hospitality businesses.

The last time the Gold Coast Marathon was staged in 2019 it generated $30 million for the city and attracted over 26,000 entrants, including 3678 international runners. It’s a long way from the 891 runners who took part in the marathon, half marathon and fun run in the very first Gold Coast Marathon back in 1979.

“We’re very excited. It’s great to be back in the major events business,” says Gold Coast Marathon CEO Cameron Hart. “We have some really high calibre elite athletes, some of the top Japanese and US athletes, and most of the top runners in Australia are using the Gold Coast Marathon as a lead up to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the World Athletics Championships.”

There are also some significant changes to this year’s program, the most important of which is the running of the half marathon and marathon on separate days. “With the half marathon on the Saturday and the full marathon on the Sunday, this will allow us to start the full marathon earlier,” says Cameron. “We’ll start the marathon at 6 am, so runners will be starting in darkness but there’s good street lighting, and we can run more of the race in really good marathon conditions before it warms up. Having this earlier start allows us to finish the event earlier, so there’s less disruption to the city with road closures, and we’ll be all over and done by lunch time.”

With marathon, half marathon, 10 km run, wheelchair marathon and 10 km course, 5 km fun run, and 4 km and 2 km junior dash, there’s something for everyone in a weekend of running the whole family can enjoy. “We try to make the event as attractive as possible for the runners,” says Cameron. “It’s a coastline course, it’s the flattest part of the city but it’s also the most scenic. We promote it as a flat and fast course. We pay a lot of attention to detail in servicing athletes.”

Gold Coast Marathon Ambassador Pat Carroll is a four-time winner of the event, spanning a remarkable 13 years between his first win in 1984 and his fourth. Pat still trains athletes for the event, with his Brisbane running group, and has worked with over 200 athletes in preparation for the 2022 GC Marathon.

Pat Carroll and Michael Shelley

In 2011, Ethiopian Goitetom Tesema blitzed the women’s marathon in 2:30:08, the second fastest time for a female in the history of the event.

2008 Gold Coast Marathon women’s medallists: New Zealand’s Shireen Crumpton (1), Queenslanders Rina Hill (2) and Roxie Schmidt (3).

“I think it’s sensational,” says Pat of the return of the marathon that launched his running career. “The Gold Coast was very good to me. Apart from the marathon, I’ve won the half marathon, the 10 km, and I placed a few times.  I think I’ve been on the podium seven or eight times.”

Now, Pat’s using all that accumulated experience to help others get the best out of themselves. “I like to work with people over six months or more. You start off with a light workload and build up,” he says. But his job isn’t finished on race day, when he organises pace setters, identified by helium balloons to help his runners stay on schedule for their desired times.

“It’s definitely the premier event timewise from an elite perspective. If you want to get a Personal Best the Gold Coast is the place to do it,” he says. “The fastest marathon race in Australia is the Gold Coast. It’s a flat course – why make life harder than 42 km?”

And, Pat says, the appeal of the Gold Coast Marathon to runners from all over the world remains strong. “For me, I’m biased, because I’m a Queenslander. I never get bored of getting down to the Gold Coast. We’re very fortunate to have such a beautiful holiday destination on our doorstep.”

Highlights and milestones along the Gold Coast Marathon’s rich history are many and varied, since well-known local baker and Rotarian John Goldstein led the successful launch of the first race back in 1979. Victoria’s Eric Sigmont and Lismore’s Mary Murison took out the inaugural men’s and women’s events respectively, earning themselves return flights to Hawaii for the Honolulu Marathon.

In 1981, Surfers Paradise Surf Club hosted the event’s first carbo-loading party where enormous bowls of pasta ruled the night before the race. Despite increasing numbers of highly-fancied international runners, local athletes continued to hold their own in the esteemed company. In 1986 Benowa “super mum” Margaret Reddan won her fourth consecutive Gold Coast Marathon. And in 1987 Miami High school teacher Laurie Adams defied predictions of a Japanese blitz on the event, taking out his second race win.

But the Japanese charge well and truly arrived in the ‘90s, with Japanese runners dominating the men’s and women’s event for several years. Race veteran Pat Carroll came back in 1997 to record his fourth victory, while in the 2000s African runners began to assert their dominance. Kenya’s Nicholas Manza set a new race record in 2011 while his compatriot Silah Limo improved upon the record, registering the fastest marathon ever in Australia in 2014. Yet another Kenyan Kenneth Mungara bettered that record again in 2015, at the age of 41, while Ethiopia’s Abebech Bekel set a new women’s marathon record in 2017.

Wheelchair athlete Richard Nicholson kept local pride alive by winning his second consecutive Gold Coast Marathon in 2013 after three half-marathon victories. And Kurt Fernley set a new wheelchair marathon record in 2016.

In 2014, the Gold Coat Marathon became the first Australian marathon to receive the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Road Race Gold Label, putting it in esteemed international company as a truly world-class event.

Another race ambassador, and Australia’s great female distance runner, Benita Willis, is also busy training athletes for the return of the marathon, through her Lace Up Running group. While Benita will sit out the race herself due to pregnancy, she’s just as excited to help others achieve their goals.

“I’ve got a lot of people running, people coming from quite a lot of countries, as well. It’s been such a hard couple of years, I think it’s really exciting,” she says. “They don’t just come to run but to catch up with people they haven’t seen in a while. It’s a big social event as well as running the marathon. It’s one of those places you can come and race and have a holiday afterwards. It’s always such an enjoyable weekend.”

Benita generally works with her runners for a minimum 12-week training period, sharing her vast experience, and providing support and guidance on race day. “If you’re a first-time marathon runner, don’t start too fast. You’ll have a lot of adrenalin at the start and you’ll feel like you want to start fast, but save it for after the 30 km mark,” she advises. “The majority of people I work with have got jobs and families, and they’re really busy people.

I love to see people achieve their goals, people who get up at 4:30 or 5 to train and then get their kids to school and go off to jobs.”

Wheelchair racer in the 2010 Gold Coast Marathon

1997 marathon week results cover

Junior runners in the 2011 Gold Coast Marathon

The Gold Coast Marathon also represents the climax of the Bravehearts 777 Marathon which invites runners to take on the gruelling challenge of running seven marathons across seven states (as well as virtually) over seven days. The Bravehearts 777 Marathon is one of Bravehearts’ major annual fundraising drives to support vital counselling and support services for victims of child sexual abuse, as well as prevention and education programs across the country.

“Over the last eight years, we’ve had more than 1,800 people run to protect children either nationally or in their own state for both our physical and virtual Bravehearts 777 events, raising more than $1.9 million for Bravehearts’ programs and services, and this year we’re hoping to raise more than $250,000,” says Bravehearts’ CEO, Alison Geale.

The ASICS Sport & Leisure Expo, Australia’s largest free admission sports expo, will again kick off the Gold Coast Marathon, with more than 25,000 visitors expected at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre at Broadbeach from Thursday 30 June to Saturday 2 July. The 2022 event will feature more than 60 exhibitors in footwear and fashion, the latest in fitness technology, nutrition and wellbeing and all-important race day information for competitors.

But for all the elite athletes and big names from overseas, at the heart of the Gold Coast Marathon’s appeal is a family-friendly environment that caters to all abilities. “It’s a great fit for families to get away for the weekend. It always falls in school holidays, it’s great to for kids to see mum or dad racing and there’s 2 km and 4 km races for the kids. It’s a great family opportunity,” says Pat Carroll.

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