Mountain to Surf Marathon turns 40

Words by Natalie Hampshire
Mountain To Surf Turns 40 Photo by Paul Elkerton

40 years and 42 kilometres

It started as a search for a “half-decent course” by local running enthusiasts. Now the Novotel Mountain to Surf Marathon is celebrating its 40th anniversary with runners entering from around the world.

The marathon, which is one of the longest held marathon events in the country, is taking place on Saturday 2 March 2019 and will give a nod to its history by finishing in the original location of Waitara. The course begins at Egmont National Park at approximately 460m above sea level and finishes at the Marine Park in Waitara at sea level.

Olly Jowsey, Athletics Taranaki executive officer and a member of the 2019 organising committee, says it’s exciting to see the marathon reach this milestone and to acknowledge its success by returning to the original course finish.

“This is a special occasion, and to recognise that we’ve invited a lot of past winners to run again, as well as giving medals to every person who crosses the finish line.”

Turning 40 has inspired the design of a new logo and the addition of a 5km run/walk around Waitara. However, the most exciting change is the support from local sponsors, with Novotel the new principal event partner and official accommodation, and The Frontrunner New Plymouth sponsoring the half marathon.

The marathon event is also the Taranaki Marathon Championship event so will bring out the best of our local distance runners, along with an invite extended to all previous male and female winners. Finishers of all events on offer will receive a medal. The event is also proud to work with Gabby’s Starlit Hope Charity.

“The glory days”

The marathon was created in 1980 by a group of local runners during what original event creator, and course record-holder, Gerald Dravitzki describes as “the running boom”.

“My brother Barry mentioned to me that local guys were looking to run their own marathon but they couldn’t create a really good course because of Taranaki’s undulating nature and Westerly winds. I said I’d seen the Boston Marathon which starts at a high level and goes over undulations, falling to lower levels, and Barry said: ‘Why not?’,” says Gerald.

The result was a course that became renowned for its quickness, which is a desirable feature to marathon runners who are looking to get a personal best (PB).

“Those were our glory days,” Gerald says. “It was probably the best course in New Zealand, and there was excitement that we had the best runners coming to give it a shot.”

Gerald holds the record for the fastest run in the Male 40, Male 45 and Male 50 category and has run 50 marathons in his lifetime. At 75 years old, Gerald still goes out running with his fellow enthusiasts on Saturday mornings, followed by cake, cream and coffee.

The longest-running competitor

Next year’s event will mark 35 years of running the Mountain to Surf Marathon for Dennis Kowalewski, who humorously describes his passion for the marathon as a “sickness”.

Dennis did his first Mountain to Surf in 1985 and says the local element keeps him coming back.

“It’s a lot of people that you know, and because it’s local, I can get up early in the morning and milk the cows, do the run then come home and milk the cows again.”

Although he makes it sound like it’s all in a day’s work, Dennis describes passing the finish line as a great sense of relief.

“It’s a relief that you’ve got there – it’s a good feeling. It’s hard to explain, but you see a lot of people along the way that don’t finish, so you count yourself lucky.”

Running’s in the blood

Louise Kowalewski is a two-time Mountain to Surf marathon winner. As the name suggests, Louise is Dennis’ daughter, and she says her parents are her inspiration.

“I grew up watching Mum and Dad run and used to love running in across the finish line with them. I love a challenge, so decided if Mum and Dad can do it, so can I,” says Louise.

She describes the event as “a real family affair”.

“I love going back to meet Dad – getting to finish the last couple of kilometres with him and Uncle Owen each year is pretty special. He always has a massive smile at the end because he’s knocked another one off.”

Last year she won the marathon 10 months after having her first baby. This time around, it’s been six months since her second baby, so it’s about doing the best she can.

“I would love to get a PB but I can’t expect that with only two or three days a week training, two kids and a husband [laughs], so as long as I can stay injury free, finishing will be a great achievement.”

A rewarding experience

“Just do it,” is Dennis and Louise’s advice to those considering entering the Novotel Mountain to Surf Marathon.

“Everybody should run at least one marathon in their lifetime. It’s a great feeling to say you’ve done it,” Dennis says.

Gerald has a similar sentiment, saying that marathon running appeals to anyone who likes to do a job well. “I think anyone can do it if you put your mind to it,” he says.

To find out more about Novotel Mountain to Surf Marathon events, go to www.mountaintosurf.co.nz or follow the build up to race day on the Facebook page ‘Mountain to Surf’.

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