New Zealand’s scenic Queenstown Marathon attracts 10,000 runners

Runners participate in the Queenstown Marathon in Queenstown, New Zealand on Nov. 21, 2020. (Xinhua/Lu Huaiqian)

Runners participate in the Queenstown Marathon in Queenstown, New Zealand on Nov. 21, 2020. (Photo by Ross Mackay/Xinhua)

 

More than 10,000 runners pounded the picturesque tracks of Queenstown on Saturday in one of the largest sporting events in Oceania amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Queenstown Lakes District met a boom weekend as the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Queenstown Marathon brings thousands of participants and many more supporters, family and friends to the region for this Saturday’s seventh hosting of the event.

Expat Scottish runner David Haunschmidt (Tauranga) and Great Britain 50 km rep Hannah Oldroyd (Christchurch) proved quickest on the day, with Tauranga based Haunschmidt winning the men’s race in 2:39:40 while Oldroyd repeated her 2018 victory in 2:55:12.

The weather treated the early finishers reasonably kindly, with the forecast rain largely staying away. But as the day progressed Lake Wakatipu became a sea of white caps and the wind buffeted and at times helped the runners over the final 5km around the gardens and lake front before they earned the solace of the final sheltered run through town to the finish line and the thousands of waiting family and friends on an otherwise bright and warm day at the Recreation Grounds.

Despite international border closures, this year’s Queenstown Marathon still attracted around 10,000 people to the start line, according to Race Director Nicole Fairweather.

There are four races in this year’s Queenstown Marathon including full marathon, half marathon, the 10km, and 3km Kids Run.

When numbers were compared with last year’s, the COVID-19 pandemic had not had as great an impact as initially feared. There was a record number of runners at the 2019 Queenstown Marathon, with 12,667 participants, making the race one of the largest sporting events in New Zealand.

It is understood that over a quarter of the runners were international participants, with over 40 countries and regions represented on the various start lines.

However, due to the COVID-19 border restrictions, this year’s event saw the participants being majorly domestic runners. But the decrease in the number of international runners had been replaced by domestic demand. Domestic entrants were strong for the seventh annual event.

“The strong numbers are a testament to the popularity of the race, its world class reputation as being one of the most scenic marathons on the planet but also the attraction of the wider region and all it has to offer visitors, many of whom make it an annual weekend away with friends or family,” said Fairweather.

The event, which organizers billed as one of the country’s “largest marathon events” and “World’s Most Beautiful Marathon,” attracted thousands of spectators every year.

Queenstown, one of New Zealand’s top visitor destinations, is nestled on the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges.

Set between the backdrop of the world renowned Crown and Remarkable mountain ranges, and taking in the best highlights of the Queenstown Lakes region, the 42.195 km course is made up of 70 percent of hard-packed trails and 30 percent of on-road surfaces.

“I can see why they say it is one of the most beautiful marathons to do. It is truly amazing. Soak up the awe inspiring mountains, pristine lakes and stunning country. I just enjoyed every pace on such an amazing course. Pretty awesome. I can’t wait to come back next year,” said Lisa Wang, a Chinese full marathon female runner flying over from Auckland.

Just like in previous years, the event is again popular with female runners who make up 61 percent of entries, as thousands of visitors look to plan a long weekend of adventure, food and wine around their running activity.

Among the 10,000 runners, Clasina van der Veeken, an 89-year-old grandmother, is the oldest entrant, while some youngest kid runners in the 3km Kids Run are only five years old.

Thousands of runners were helped along by over 600 Skyline Volunteers handing out over 10,000 bananas. Gloria was one the volunteers who served at one water station of the course. She handed the water to the exhausted runners and kept cheering them on. “Good job!” “Keep going!” “You can do it!”

“It’s a long and hard course, for some runners 42.195 km, and you’ll be the only people they see for miles. Get up, get excited, and keep them moving. You’ll be part of the inspiration that keeps the runners moving,” said Gloria.

“Our Skyline volunteers are the heart and soul of our event. It is they who welcome our visiting runners and walkers, it is they who support them on course at aid stations and work in customer facing roles at registration,” said Fairweather.

Queenstown Lakes District Council Mayor Jim Boult emphasized just how important such an injection of spending will be to the wider local economy, with 65 percent of the current entries coming in from outside the Otago/Southland region.

Just under 10 million New Zealand dollars estimated economic benefit from that influx of thousands of visitors will contribute directly into the local economy, making it the second-biggest weekend of the year after New Year.

“In these tough times it is always heartening to see our favorite events, like the Marathon, coming back and giving our district a much-needed boost,” said the mayor.

The event supports many charities, while close to 40,000 New Zealand dollars will be donated to official charity Queenstown Trails Trust, according to the organizer.

COVID-19 alert and strict lockdown had made it difficult on whether the event would go ahead this year. Fortunately, New Zealand relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions by moving from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 1 on Sept. 21, thanks to early success in controlling COVID-19. At Alert Level 1, everyone can return to work, school, sports and domestic travel, without restrictions. However, border restrictions and good hygiene are required. (1 New Zealand dollar equals 0.68 U.S. dollar)   (Xinhua)

Runners participate in the Queenstown Marathon in Queenstown, New Zealand on Nov. 21, 2020. (Xinhua/Lu Huaiqian)