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Mountain to the sea

JO MOIR

Last updated 12:01 07/07/2012
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JONATHAN CAMERON
Taranaki Mountain to Surf Marathon
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Max and Gerald Dravitzki.

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A natter between two Taranaki brothers resulted in the region establishing it's marathon in 1979.

The germ of the idea came from a local harrier club meeting. Barry and Gerald Dravitzki quickly turned it in to reality.

At first, Gerald had his doubts because of Taranaki's terrain and prevailing winds but after watching the Boston event, the Mountain to Surf was born.

Gerald thought the start should be at the entrance to the National Park at North Egmont with a finish at Waitara's Marine Park.

He based the course on the Boston marathon, which starts at a high point and includes many undulations before finishing near the sea.

The marathon holds special significance for the Dravitzki family.

Brothers Gerald, Max and Barry were part of the original measuring and marking team, Gerald won the first race and has completed 15, Max has successfully completed 30 of the 33 races and his son Matthew recorded the the fastest time over the course.

The beauty of the Mountain to Surf is that it's a course designed by runners for runners.

During the 1980s, marathon runners were all trying to run the fastest time possible and the Mountain to Surf provided a course for fast times.

Both Gerald and Max, now 68 and 67 years old respectively, admit the course isn't actually that much faster, if at all faster, than a flat course such as Hamilton.

"There's a lot of undulations and they really take it out of you," Gerald said.

"You look at the people at the end of that race and they're run ragged. Max will tell you that. The race will sustain through the years because it's a real challenge to do it."

There will be a new challenge this month when the event goes on the open market for an event organiser to take over the annual operation.

Bayleys Real Estate has sponsored the race since 2007 and co-owner Neale Parkinson has been race chairman for the last five years. Prior to that his wife Fiona was in charge.

Before that it was Graham Cochrane who sat at the helm for 17 years.

Previous organisation of the marathon has been 33 years of passion and a good dose of blood, sweat and toil for all those involved, says Parkinson.

"Putting it together every year is a bit of a military operation."

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Energy City Harriers owns the event and a dedicated group of volunteers have ensured its success over the decades.

"Despite the event losing none of it's popularity, as participation numbers testify, it is a challenge for the volunteers, who all have busy lives of their own, to grow it beyond the level it is," he said.

"While the marathon is up for sale we won't be looking for any money up front.

"We would like to work alongside whoever takes on the race and support them. The aim is to collect a modest royalty from every participant to ensure money continues to go in to local athletics," he said.

The infrastructure and knowledge behind the successful event are already well established.

Bayleys would like to continue their naming rights sponsorship, although Parkinson acknowledges sponsorship will be a topic for discussion with the new event owners, who may have their own thoughts.

Each year the event does make money and a significant chunk goes to Taranaki Child Cancer and supporting harriers and local athletics.

Locally Child Cancer has already received $46,000 over the years, with $5000 raised this year alone.

New Plymouth District Council chief executive and former national marathon runner Barbara McKerrow fully supports the race's future.

Having competed at a national and international level for both New Zealand and Australia, McKerrow knows what it takes to run a fast time.

"For a serious runner wanting a good time on their records, the mountain to surf has the reputation for that," she said.

"It's harder to achieve than people think, though, and you have to be very fit to do well on the course because it's hard on the legs."

Running is now done for health and happiness rather than competition but McKerrow credits the Taranaki marathon with inspiring her to take up the challenge of running.

"I started running in the 1980s and was just jogging around the park really when my husband and friends started training for the mountain to surf," she said.

"It inspired me to take it on and the third marathon I ran was the mountain to surf. It was the first time I broke three hours."

The third time McKerrow competed in the race she won it after placing third the year before when she entered it as a training run and unexpectedly finished on the podium.

"I was training for the Christchurch marathon and foolishly decided to do it as a training run but found myself going for it and finished third. It ruined me for Christchurch," she said.

At her peak in the 1980s, Barbara was clocking more than 160km a week.

Looking around the world any successful major sporting event is professionally run by some form of management.

"It's hard for volunteers to build to that level and I don't see any reason why this race can't become a real iconic event on the calendar," she said.

"Taranaki is a beautiful place and nowhere else is a race run with the mountain and surf concept."

There was a perception Taranaki was just that little bit too far to travel to.

"It just needs a bit more marketing and selling as something more than just a race but an entire weekend in Taranaki and showcasing what we have."

McKerrow says there are so many people who have put time, energy and passion into the event and they've been rewarded with the fantastic race they've created.

"I used to take running advice from people like Max and Gerald and they're really inspiring to have involved with the event."

Although the original course measured and marked by the Dravitzki's and their running buddies has had a few changes along the way, the principle of what they set out to achieve has remained.

Refinements were made to eliminate the National Park start and Big Jim's Hill end which proved too steep and hard on the legs.

An 850m loop in Inglewood down to the sale yards was introduced.

Both Gerald and Max have set some fast times on the course over the years.

"We're very proud of those times and a lot of them will last until Jesus comes," Gerald said.

Although the event is heading in a different direction, the brothers stand by their belief that runners have been spoilt by the high standard of organisation volunteers have provided over the years.

"The challenge for the new organiser will be to maintain that standard," Gerald said.

"We're very proud of the event we started and all of the best runners in the country have run it.

"We and a lot of others have put on an event that's enriched the lives of so many people and that gives you a really good feeling."

- Taranaki Daily News

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