The men’s race at this Saturday’s Air New Zealand Hawke’s Bay International Marathon could well be a home coming celebration, with leading contenders Daniel Wallis and Will O’Connor returning home to take on the race as well as catch up with family and friends.
An impressive 17th on debut over the marathon distance at the 2016 Chicago Marathon, Daniel Wallis grew up in Hawke’s Bay and attended Napier Boy’s High School – in fact his ties to the school are very much central to his passion for running.
“I grew up in Hawke’s Bay and went to Napier Boy’s High School, which is where I began running and was coached by Deputy Headmaster Bruce Smith. It’s during that time that I really grew to love the sport.
“I’ve spent most of the past 10 years in Colorado, which is where I went to University and where I met my wife. Since December I’ve been training and racing the road-circuit throughout Europe and the UK. I have a Dutch agent and run for a club in London - Belgrave Harriers, so I spent most of my time between the Netherlands and England. By the time I get to New Zealand it will be the 12th country I’ve been to in five months, so it’s been a pretty full on season.”
Wallis says the lure back to Hawke’s Bay is both for the nature of the course, and the call to visit family and friends – and given the race is the day before Mother’s Day, his own mum Karen is a big part of the reason for coming ‘home’.
“I’m running partly because my Mum is doing the 10km and has been training really hard. She has always supported me, even when it means I am only back once a year at most, so I want to come back to support her and share the experience together. I don’t get to see my family much, so it will be nice to be back together with Mum, Dad (John) and my sister (Grace), even if it’s just for a few days.”
Wallis is downplaying his chances on Saturday, but it is that relaxed frame of mind that might set him up for a good day on the 42km course from Marine Parade to Sileni Estates.
“I’m just coming to have some fun. It’s been a long season for me and I’m due some rest, but I’ll use this as a bit of a training effort and see how it goes out there. I think this will be the first time in about 10 years that I have run a race in Hawke’s Bay.”
Wallis knows that the atmosphere at the Air New Zealand sponsored event that takes runners out of town and through the local countryside and wineries will be somewhat different to Chicago.
“I have run some pretty amazing races around the world, but nothing compares to Chicago. There were over one million people along the course, and at times the sound was deafening. I was running by myself for most of it, so when the crowds erupted it really did give me a massive surge of adrenaline.”
Other contenders include another old boy in Will O’Connor (St John’s College), who has recently made the shift from triathlon to long distance running and is experimenting with a run/walk theory this Saturday. The Massey University student has just submitted his PHD in sport and exercise and is looking to improve on his 6th place last year, when by his own admission, he had a ‘shocker’.
2016 runner-up Chris Sanson (Manawatu) returns to see if he can go one better and does so on the back of a solid performance in Rotorua, where he finished second in 2:27:11 - a personal best time. The tough nature of that run and just one week in between means Sanson will be taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the race on Saturday.
Auckland based Luke Hurring is another to watch, the former Canterbury University runner comes from a track background initially, but has extensive marathon and long distance experience to his name too.
Like many, his reasons for coming to Hawke’s Bay are as much about the destination, as they are about the actual race.
“I have not spent much time in the Bay, and so the event had immediate appeal when it was first launched as a destination, and my sister and her family moved to Napier this year so it was a great chance to get down and visit them.
“Compared to my former competitive years I have very modest goals for the event based on the training I have done, and really I just want to enjoy the event. In saying that I do enjoy running hard, and I'm sure I'll get a bit competitive once I'm out there.
“I've heard the course is not as easy as it sounds, but I'm a bit of a wine geek so I’m looking forward to the prospect of running through some vines. I'll be bringing the family down and we will be looking to catch up with family and friends and get to know the region as much as we can over a couple of days.”
The full Air New Zealand Marathon gets underway from Marine Parade at 9:00am on Saturday morning, with other events starting earlier in the morning from different start lines, but all making their way to the finish line and the wine and food festival at Sileni Estates Winery.