Former Olympian shrugs off past's negative labels before big event.
Liza Hunter-Galvan, who won last year's Christchurch Marathon, says she is not motivated by proving a point to any of her hecklers who label her a drug cheat. "Labels do not define a person."
I made a mistake, I paid for it and I believe I am a better person for that experience. Liza Hunter-GalvanLiza Hunter-Galvan has endured her fair share of ups and downs in her running career.
The Kiwi, who has lived in Texas for the past 20 years, reached the upper echelon of marathon running when she wore the silver fern at the Athens and Beijing Olympics.
She clocked a best time of 2h 29m to be among New Zealand's 10 fastest female marathoners.
But a positive test in 2009 for the blood-boosting drug EPO cast doubt over everything she had done.
The former Olympian chose last year's Christchurch Marathon as her first major race after a two-year drug suspension.
She shrugged off media attention to claim her second Christchurch Marathon title and is looking forward to going back-to-back tomorrow in the broken city.
The former student of the late Arthur Lydiard is not motivated by proving a point to any of her hecklers who label her a drug cheat.
"Labels do not define a person," said the 42-year-old. "I have had many in my life; good, bad and indifferent. I don't label myself that way. I made a mistake, I paid for it and I believe I am a better person for that experience. My motivation does not come from how some people choose to label me."
Hunter-Galvan knows her days of competing with the very best in the world are behind her but she is motivated by the same things she always has been.
"I enjoy the simplicity and sense of freedom from running. Additionally, I have teenage children that I run with and for. I have found that running has provided opportunities to build and develop our lifetime bond.
"The day I choose to no longer compete is the day you will find me at Everest Base Camp, enjoying Machu Picchu or cresting Kilimanjaro."
Before she hangs up the running shoes for good Hunter-Galvan's battle with Gabrielle O'Rourke on a new course starting from and finishing at Christchurch Airport is expected to be one of the event's features.
The pair finished one-two at the Rotorua Marathon and the 44-year-old O'Rourke was one of the most vocal about her rival's entry last year.
"I was quite miffed that a plan had been made to enter Christchurch prior to the end of the suspension," explained the Wellington runner.
"The race was just a few days after this and it was all a bit much to take in at the time."
O'Rourke has also enjoyed considerable success in Christchurch, winning the full marathon in 1994 and the half marathon in 1998 and 1999.
She is hoping to give the Olympian a good challenge. "Liza ran really strongly in Rotorua and finished way ahead of me. I'm sure she is capable of running much faster in Christchurch on a good day.
"If conditions are right I'd like to try for a sub 2:50 time, otherwise it turns into a race for a placing. Anything can happen in a marathon so anyone who toes the start line is in with a chance."
Hunter-Galvan admits she goes into the event not knowing how she'll fare. She has been impressed by the strength of the locals to bounce back from the earthquakes.
"The people of Christchurch have proven themselves to be incredibly resilient, they exemplify the Kiwi spirit. Sometimes we have no control over what happens around us, but we have to continue to keep on living life.
"Events such as the marathon enable people to set goals and to strive for something that is in their control. The community spirit is tight knit and supportive. Bad events can bring out the best in people and Christchurch is a fine example of that."
Another runner returning to the site of past successes is Dale Warrander. The 38-year-old has won the Christchurch Half Marathon three times, including last year at Lincoln.
But Christchurch's full distance is the only major full marathon that has eluded him. He won't have it easy.
Former Rotorua and Christchurch marathon runner-up Stephen O'Callaghan (Rotorua) is hoping to go one better back in the Garden City, as is Christchurch's fast-improving Blair McWhirter, who was third last year and second at Rotorua.
Australian Vlad Shatrov is also looking for his first sub-2:20, but Warrander points to Timaru's Sam Wreford as the most likely challenger.
With more than $25,000 up for grabs, including $1000 bonuses for any winner who can break the race records of 2h 15m 12s for men (Tom Birnie, 1985) and 2h 35m for women (Naenai Sasaki, 1982), the Christchurch Airport Marathon has once again attracted the country's best runners.
In 2010 organisers had the biggest ever entry for the event at 5800 starters. After the earthquakes 2011 dipped to 3300, but organisers are expecting 4500 tomorrow.
"Bearing in mind that six weeks out from the event last year we were looking at cancelling it altogether ... we were pretty proud of what we achieved," said event organiser Chris Cox, who finished third in the Christchurch Marathon 15 years ago in a time of 2.29.00.
"We are delighted to have Christchurch Airport as a sponsor for this event and we think the out and back course will be a good challenge and a fast course for the elites.
"I get emails from people saying thanks for continuing for this event because it's great to have something to work towards. When life is hard people just want normality. Running offers a great escape. We are looking forward to another great event and to keep building on the wonderful legacy of the Christchurch Marathon."