Marathon has a long history in Southland

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Placegetters from the 1909 Southland Marathon.

IF the last mile (1600m) of a marathon is a mile too far, blame King Edward VII in 1908.

Until then the marathon was 25 miles (40km). But organisers of the 1908 Olympics agreed to royal wishes for the start to be at the Windsor Castle apartments, with the finish in front of the royal box at the stadium.

The distance happened to be 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195km. Marathons have been that distance since.

A bit less than a year later the next official 42.2km marathon was run, and it was in Southland. The start was Riverton, where a handful of officials including the starter, Riverton Anglican Vicar Reverend James Morland, saw off 14 runners on the journey to Invercargill.

Southland in July can be bitter. From contemporary reports, it was. The course was gravel road except where it was mud. And the mud was still frozen. Not ideal conditions to race the first full-length marathon in the southern hemisphere.

For the record, the race was won by David Stewart in 3:22.30, with E A Allen second in 3:24 and J Alsweiler third in 3:41.30. The winning time was not brilliant by today’s standards, but the starters were really setting out into the unknown, which may explain why only seven finished.

There was little chance of back-to-back wins, as the race was not staged again until 1953. But since then, it has become a regular feature of the Southland running calendar.

The Ascot Park marathon, and associated Shoe Clinic half-marathon, 10km and 5km events start on Sunday at the Stead St Wharf and follow the Te Araroa walkway beside the estuary and includes a circuit of the lagoon.

Race records, set on the Riverton to Invercargill course, stand at 2:12.20 for men by John Campbell when he qualified for the Olympics and 2:37.58 run by Gabby O’Rourke.

Now to this year. Favourite would have to be last year’s winner Jerome Lagumbay. This will be his sixth Southland Marathon with two wins to his credit. Will this be a three-peat?

Late entries for all events will be taken until 5pm on Saturday at the Invercargill clubrooms, Surrey Park. No entries will be taken on Sunday.

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