Westport gears up for marathon

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 17:19 08/02/2013
Ted Lennon
DEIDRE MUSSEN/Fairfax NZ
ON THE SIDELINE: Westport's Ted Lennon, 83, has helped at the Buller Gorge Marathon for 20 years.
Lionel O'Donnell
DEIDRE MUSSEN/Fairfax NZ
HELPING OUT: Lionel O'Donnell helps fill water bottles for the event.

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The Buller Gorge Marathon is a labour of love for Westport.

Most residents have a role in the town's biggest event of the year, which kicks off tomorrow morning with about 2200 entrants running or walking the marathon, half-marathon or four-person relay.

''We couldn't do it without the support of the community,'' race director Dennis Straker said today.

Competitors and supporters double the town's population of about 3800 for the weekend.

Straker, an insurance broker, has worked fulltime on the event for the past three months. He is its sole paid worker.

Each year, community groups, schools, businesses and individuals band together to ensure the marathon's runaway success since its inception 31 years ago.

''As the event has grown, the community involvement has grown too,'' Straker said.

On Thursday, primary and high school children helped to fill many of the 20,000 bottles of water and sports drink that will be on offer for runners and walkers at water stops along the course.

Today, volunteers converged on Victoria Square to spend the day setting up the finish line, marquees and food stalls.

''It's a big day for the town,'' said volunteer John Burt, 71.

''Saturday night after the race is better than New Year's Eve here.''

He and friend Ted Lennon, 83, were yesterday busy erecting the finishing chute and putting cones out.

Lennon has been helping for the past 20 years and has run or walked the half-marathons 20 times.

''It's good giving something back to an event I've enjoyed.''

He is now on the sideline waiting for a knee replacement after his right knee gave out a day before last year's marathon.

Some of the groups swinging into action tomorrow include the Girl Guides, Brownies and Air Training Corps, which will serve at water stations.

Rotary and Lions club members will be at the start line and doing marshalling, fire cadets will help to set up the course and clear the highway afterwards, and the Salvation Army will be on a food stall.

Promoted as New Zealand's most scenic marathon course, the event attracts entrants from all over New Zealand and from overseas and is a financial winner for Westport.

Straker estimates it pulls in more than $1 million, including accommodation, food, petrol and entrance fees.

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- The Press

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