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Round the Bays started small

LAUREN PRIESTLEY
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
Don Walker
JASON OXENHAM
LOOKING BACK: Don Walker is the longest serving member of the Auckland Jogger’s Club and has been involved in organising Round the Bays for the last 41 years.
Round the Bays
ROAD RUNNERS: Ports of Auckland Round the Bays participants can make use of the road now that it is closed to traffic for the event.

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What were you doing in 1972?

Don Walker was organising the very first Round the Bays fun run, which has now exploded into the largest mass participation event in New Zealand.

Up to 80,000 pavement pounders have taken to the waterfront in the Ports of Auckland Round the Bays for more than four decades and Mr Walker says the event is here to stay.

"It'll be here forever. That's not wishful thinking, either. It's an Auckland fun day and it will never go."

The 72-year-old remembers what it was like organising the first official run all those years ago - without computers.

The idea came from Auckland Joggers Club founder Colin Kay and the club has been organising the event ever since.

Bib numbers were handwritten by Mr Walker and fellow club members in his handbag manufacturing factory, he says.

Race entry was $1 and everything was sent by post.

"Computers just hadn't been born at that stage. It was all done by snail mail. It took weeks and weeks, but we had to start somewhere."

He says the Auckland Joggers Club predicted a relatively small turnout of about 300 people.

"We were really fishing. We had no idea of the interest."

Entries started flooding in and eventually there were 792 official competitors for the event. Freeloaders turning up meant more than 1200 ran on the day.

Mr Walker says the organising committee was astonished.

"We were just beside ourselves. We couldn't believe the numbers."

The first run started at the Auckland Town Hall with runners winding along Tamaki Dr and finishing up at St Heliers. The course remains the same but it now kicks off in Quay St.

Tamaki Dr was not closed for the first run because the expected number of participants would have fitted on the footpath, Mr Walker says.

"It was absolute chaos. They had to run on the road, whether they tried to or not, dodging the cars. It was just a nightmare."

Mr Walker says the event was originally dominated by males. He was Auckland Joggers Club president from 1975 to 1977 and actively sought female members, so he's been pleased to see the increase in women jogging over the decades.

"It was so unusual to see a woman jogging back then. It just wasn't done."

The event now includes families, groups of work colleagues, walkers, prams and wheelchairs.

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In 1986 children were encouraged to take part and later a staggered start was introduced to allow racers to get away before the onrush of the mob.

However, he says the event is not meant to be a race.

"Competition's just not in the sport of the day. It's about running within yourself. You are competing with yourself."

Mr Walker says being involved with the event has kept him young. He has been a member of the joggers club for nearly 50 years and used to jog four times a week. He's had two hip replacements but still walks with the club weekly.

"It has been the best thing in my life. We used to call it ‘time on your legs'. I'm going to live to over 100."

Ports of Auckland Round the Bays is co-owned by the Auckland Joggers Club and Fairfax Media, owner of the East & Bays Courier.

Registration fees will be donated to a raft of nominated charities including YMCA Camp Adair, Auckland Cystic Fibrosis, Choice Foundation Stand Tall Programme, Variety, Make-A-Wish NZ and Fairfax First Books.

Register: roundthebays.co.nz.

- Rodney Times

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