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Buller Gorge Marathon 2023

11 Feb 2023

John Palmer

Once again Maryanne and I have made the annual pilgrimage to Westport to take part in the 40th Buller Gorge Marathon weekend. Over the years we have competed in the full marathon, half marathon and in the latter years as part of a team doing the marathon relay.  Last year the event was cancelled owing to Covid and being in the traffic light system. Westport had also been devastated by severe flooding, so the cancellation of the event was probably a blessing to locals as many were displaced from there homes by the flooding. This year proved an interesting trip with the cancellation of ferry sailings owing to the Kaitakai being taken out of service owing to engine problems.  Some of the earlier sailings were cancelled and we thought that ours might follow the same fate, but an email had us on a different boat at an earlier sailing time – check in time 5.30am for a 6.30am sailing.

We made it to Nelson to stay with friends and travelled to Westport on the Friday morning.  We then proceeded to pick up our race numbers only to find that there were only two people dealing with this and by the time we managed to get ours the queue was very long and stretched out the door of the building.

Race day dawned fine and it looked like the day was going to be hot as the temperatures the previous week in Nelson and Westport had been very warm. At the 2021 event we were asked for feed-back from the 10km and we along with other competitors suggested an earlier start time than the 11am time.  This obviously feel on deaf ears as race start time for 2023 was again 11am.  Walking down to the start the temperature was very warm and getting warmer as the morning progressed.

The Heritage 10km is run on the new Kawatiri Coastal Trail which consists of a 2.2 metre wide flat gravel path, timber boardwalks and a swing bridge which was interesting to cross as there was plenty of movement with the number of runners and walkers on the bridge.  In 2021, I along with a large number of competitors, had to walk across the swing bridge as it was too difficult to try and run with the sideways movement of the bridge.  We were told at the start that there would be marshals at the swing bridge who would only allow 10 people on at a time for safety reasons but this didn’t happen as the marshals just stood there and didn’t control numbers. The marshals were there again this year and on the way back I was stopped and asked to wait until the swing bridge emptied of competitors. The temperature was very hot during the run and there were parts that were in the shade given by the trees along the side of the path which was some relief from the heat.

I knew that I was probably going to struggle as in early December Maryanne and I caught the dreaded Covid and though I managed to get over it fairly quickly, I found it difficult with a lack of energy when trying to exercise. It took a long while for me to finally be able to run some distance and not feel afterwards like I had completed a marathon. At 7km into the run I ran out of puff and with the heat sapping my energy as well, ended up running and walking the last kilometers to the finish.  Coming off the path and going over the bridge, I spotted Maryanne who was walking the 10km making inroads to my lead over her.  At about 1.5kms to go I was passed by her but managed to run the last part (albeit slowly) to the finish just behind her.

The prize giving was a disaster with the scheduled start time long gone (and the band playing on just like on the Titanic) until an announcement was made that they were having issues getting out the results as there had been a timing issue.  This was met with disbelief from many in our group as we wondered how there could have been a problem as there were starting mats at the start and finish lines.  Eventually the prize giving got under way with results garnered from somewhere.  There was the odd discrepancy when the recipient of a performance prize said that they didn’t win their age grade or someone else would dispute the result.  They finally got the performance prizes out of the way and then thanked everyone for coming and that was it!! In past years there have been a selection of major prizes handed out, but not this year to every one’s dismay.  

The results that we finally managed to get to see are different than what Maryanne and I had on our watches. The results show I managed to run/walk 1:21:52 for the 10km and Maryanne walked the 10km in 1:21:27. Also from WRW competing this year were Liz Morrison who took part in the 10km in a time of 1:26:08 and Anne Stewart who ran 1:20:20.

Next year is the 41st running of this event and is to take place on Saturday 10th February 2024.

John Palmer