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The Gold Coast Airport Marathon – A golden running experience

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon – A golden running experience

When looking for a mass marathon to run, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is often overlooked in favor of Boston, New York, London, or Melbourne by Asian runners (with the exception of the Japanese who have adopted the event as one of their own). This oversight potentially deprives runners based in Asia of one of the most fulfilling marathon experiences one could get from a mass marathon event in this region.

First, the Gold Coast itself is a built up tourist strip stretching from Coolangatta to Southport, south of Brisbane in Queensland. It’s one of Australia’s premier holiday playgrounds and is always exciting to walk down the famous Cavill Avenue and along the beachfront, at almost any hour during the day or evening. The Gold Coast is full of famous tourist attractions such as Seaworld, Movieworld, and Dreamworld, which makes it a special tourist destination.

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon began as an obscure Australian marathon around 36 years ago. Then, it lacked the glamour that the Sydney, Melbourne, or Adelaide Marathons offered. In the dire-hard marathon days of the 1980s, the Gold Coast Marathon was considered to be a place that was too hot to run a fast time, and thus shunned by many local runners. However with great persistence over many years, the organizers began to attract top Japanese runners who gave the event prestige. Participant numbers have gradually grown, especially under the platform of the running festival developed which now offers over 2 days a 2 and 4KM junior run, a 5.7km run, and a 10k championship on the Saturday, and a wheelchair 15k, and half, and full marathons on the Sunday. The marathon now also incorporates a number of championships such as the Australian Marathon Championships, and Australian Defense Forces Championships which makes it an even more prestigious race, from the elite point of view.

Coupled with the IAAF “Gold Label” certification, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon could now be technically considered to be alongside world marathon events such as New York, Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin, and Chicago in terms of organization. The race this year attracted talented runners like 2.06 marathoner from Stephen Tum Kenya, and compatriot Gebretsaddik Adlhana from Ethiopia. They were accompanied by other sub 2.10 performers like Arata Fujwara of Japan (2.07), and Stephen Kiblwot of Kenya (also 2.07),  Halle Gemeda of Ethiopia (2.08), Hirokatsu Kurosaki of Japan (2.09), Cyrus Njul of Kenya (2.08), Ahmed Baday of Morocco (2.09), Erick Mose of Kenya (2.09). Also in the marathon field were the two joint race record holders (2.10.11) Yuki Kawauchi (2013 winner), and Nicholas Manza (2011 winner).

The women’s field was also impressive with the appearance of Mulu Seboka of Ethiopia, a 2.23 marathoner, Pamela Chepchumba of Kenya, a 2.25 marathoner,  Golteom Tesema, also of Ethiopia, a 2.26 marathoner, Yebrhual Melese and Emily Samoel, also 2.26 marathoners, Lamel Sun of China, a 2.27 marathoner, and Asami Kato and Chlhlro, of Japan, both 2.29 marathoners.

The presence of such highly acclaimed runners makes it an elite marathon, but the beauty in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is that it is just as much a mass participation event, where the organizers have done their best to make this marathon, not just a run, but a total experience.

Surfer’s Paradise over the Gold Coast Marathon weekend turns into “Runners Paradise”, where the Gold Coast most probably has the highest per-capita running population in Australia. Walk around the tourist precincts of the Gold Coast and you will see so many “marathoners” from all over Australia and Asia. The town becomes an expectant and exciting place to be with the knowledge the big event will wind itself around the streets of the Gold Coast.

Participants must collect their race bib from the Gold Coast Exhibition Centre next to Jupiter’s Hotel and Casino, where a massive running expo is going on. You can buy just about anything to do with running, seek advice from the experts, and talk to the organizers of a number of marathons within the region, such as Malaysia’s very own Penang Bridge and Malaysian Women’s Marathons. You can get your Gold Coast Marathon APP that gives you course tips, split times during the race, and immediate results, or connect with the Pat Carroll pacers who will help you reach your time goal during the run, who incidentally did an invaluable job for more than a thousand runners during the race.

On race day itself, the trek out to the start was made easy through the bus shuttle which delivered most of the 5,000 plus participants out to Southport for the start (this is in addition to almost 10,000 half marathoners who started before the marathon), and back to their hotels after the finish. Although there was a little bit of confusion with some of us trying to get out to the start, the service was good and promises to be even better next year with the light rail in operation which will take participants right up to the race complex.

The race complex itself is massive and presented some challenge to find the starting line. Although signs were scarce, one of the thousands of enthusiastic volunteers were very happy to give directions. The start was actually almost a kilometer walk from the shuttle bus, but had a great festive atmosphere about it, with yes adequate toilet facilities for all participants, which is something so important before a marathon.

The seeded start was easy for runners to assemble in and wait for the gun. Each participant’s start area was signified on the bib, that each runner was allocated according to past performance. Compared to many other mass marathons, the waiting time wasn’t overly cold, and most people got over the starting line within 5 minutes of the gun going off.

After leaving the starting complex and running across the Southport Bridge into Surfers Paradise the participants were greeted with onlookers who cheered on every runner. This was made easy, as each bib also contained a first name and all day most participants were encouraged by the excited crowd by name. This made a big difference to many who struggled through the 42km course. The author estimated that there may have been more than 50,000 onlookers cheering the participants along the course.

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon course is primarily an out and back course, so this made it possible for all the runners to see the leaders, and from the on-looking point of view see runners more than once during the marathon.

Aid stations were adequate, where it was relatively easy to get a drink along the way. If one was missed, the next one was not too far away to compensate. Each station was manned by enthusiastic groups of volunteers who did their upmost to support the runners. The volunteer crews were great, and the author heard many runners thanking them along the route.

Bands were playing music all along the way which made the whole marathon festive as well as challenging. Although in some past years it has been known to be slightly hot, this year provided almost perfect weather for the marathon, with the temperature around at 10°C at the start and rising to 20°C for most finishers.

The finish was also well organized. However, the only problem is that friends and family could not witness you finish and be outside the finishers complex outside.

The course is not a hard one. It’s basically flat and should be fast, although this has not been reflected in the results and race record which was broken by Silah Kipkemboi Limo in 2hrs 09min 14secs., with American Jeffrey Eggleston 2nd in 2hrs 10mins. 52 secs, and former record holder and winner 3rd in 2hrs 11 mins 27sec.

The author expects that this new record will very quickly tumble and the race record will be down in the 2.6s in the not too distant future, especially with the Commonwealth Games coming very soon.

The women’s race was won by Asami Kato in 2hrs 28mins 21 secs., followed by Rika Shintaku in 2hrs 30min 37 secs, and Tsehay Desalegn Adhana 3rd., in 2hrs 31min 41secs.

In the veterans results, the male 40-44 was won in 2.21 (10th in 2.51), 45-49 won in 2.39 (10th in 2.53), 50-54 in 2.48 (10th in 2.59), 55-59 in 2.45 (10th in 3.26), and 60-64 in 3.22 (10th in 3.42).  The women’s 40-44 age group was won in 2.42 (10th in 3.22), 45-49 in 3.03 (10th in 3.29), 50-54 in 3.22 (10th in 3.55), 55-59 in 3.28 (10th in 4.07), and 60-64 in 3.36 (10th in 4.46).

Marathon Course

The Author making his way through the course

Bib with name and designated start area

Running expo

Malaysian Womens Marathon Booth at Expo

The start

One should note that Malaysia’s own Maggie Kim Hong Goh came 7th in the women’s 50-54 age group, showing that Malaysians can get good results in mass marathons like the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.

This year’s Gold Coast marathon had around 5,617 participants with 10 runners breaking 2.20, 19 under 2.30, 197 under 3.00, 819 under 3.30, 2013 under the 4 hours, and a staggering 3175 under 4.30, according to gun time.

These statistics indicate that the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is more a mass participation event than an elite marathon at this stage.

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon is an excellent event for any ASEAN marathoner who wants to experience one of the great mass participation events of the world, reasonably close to home and cheaply. The Gold Coast marathon offers both of those aspects.

The only drawback that the author has received from past participants is that the weather may get a little hot (a dry heat different from Malaysia or Thailand which tends to be much more humid). However this can be compensated for by taking on plenty of fluids during the race, and the exuberant crowd that cheers on the runners each year.

The streets around Surfer’s Paradise are a little narrow in some parts, leading to some runner congestion particularly around  3.30-5hour runners, however this allows for close and even physical contact through “high-fives” with the cheering crowd.

“High fives” along the way

Wiiner Male Category- Silah Limo

Winner Female Category- Asami Kato

Pacer

Some volunteers at the finishing complex

Malaysia’s Maggie Kim Hong Goh at the finish

 

Organization was fantastic.

But it is not for organization alone the Gold Coast Airport Marathon deserves five stars as a running event. It is the support of the crowds alone that makes the Gold Coast Marathon one of the premier marathons of this region.

This gives an insight into what the coming Commonwealth Games may be like, and the current marathon course is likely to be picked up to become the official Commonwealth Games marathon course.

For those who travel overseas for marathons, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is definitely one that cannot be missed. It will be one of the best running experiences of your marathon career.

See you at the starting line in 2015.

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