Poland’s Wojciech Kopec will start this year’s Pak’nSave Whanganui 3 Bridges Marathon as the hot favourite, with the course record also under threat.
Kopec finished 23rd in the New York Marathon in 2021 and has a personal best (PB) time of two hours, 17 minutes and 22 seconds.
That is 10 minutes faster than the current course record of 2:27.26, set last year by Rotorua’s Michael Voss.
Event organiser Paula Conder, of the Wanganui Harrier Club, said she was expecting around 1000 people to take part in this year’s event, which includes full, half and quarter-marathons, along with a five-kilometre race, 5km relay and a 1.2km race for kids.
The organisers often got emails from scammers posing as athletes, saying they would take part if money was transferred to them, Conder said.
At first, she thought Kopec’s email was the same, although he didn’t ask for any funds.
“It’s all legit - we looked him up, and he’s a very, very good runner.”
Kopec will be joined in Whanganui by his fiance Joanna Rybacka, who has a half-marathon PB of one hour and 25 minutes.
She is likely to be pushed by Whanganui running great Sally Gibbs, who ran a time of one hour and 24 minutes at last year’s Cambridge half-marathon as a 60-year-old.
Last week, Gibbs broke the world record for a 10km race in her age group.
The half-marathon course record for females was set in 2013 by Nicole Goldsmid, who ran a time of 1:26:45.
As well as competitors from across the country, runners from Norway, Singapore, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States will line up.
The event began in 2004 with 197 competitors.
Conder said the club aimed to increase participation, but taking it to the next level would necessitate a change to the course.
“At the moment, we have four laps,” she said.
“To make it bigger, we would need to be a two-lap or even a one-lap race.
“We have this lovely new bridge up at Ūpokongaro and, ideally, it could be part of a loop. Having cycleways on both sides of the [Whanganui] River would be great.”
While the city had issues with accommodation capacity, the race could “foot it” with events like the Rotorua Marathon in the future, Conder said.
At present, the course runs along the Whanganui River, taking in Pākaitore, Kowhai Park and the Dublin St, City and Cobham Bridges.
The full and half-marathons are courses certified by Aims (Association of International Marathons and Distance Races), meaning competitors can use their time to enter bigger international events.
The full marathon is also a qualifying race for the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships, hosted in 2024 by the Sydney Marathon.
Money raised goes back to the Wanganui Harrier Club to keep club fees low and assist members with travelling to meets.
Conder said some entrants had participated every year since the event began.
“We are becoming more of a destination.
“Everyone who comes from out of town says it’s a wonderful venue with a beautiful river.
“I’m not sure we would ever get to the size of some of the overseas marathons which have 50,000-60,000 people, but with the right course, we could get to that 10,000 mark.”
Online entries close at midnight on Sunday, December 3.
The event is on Sunday, December 10. The first event - the full marathon walk - gets under way at 6am.
Mike Tweed is an assistant news director and multimedia journalist at the Whanganui Chronicle. Since starting in March 2020, he has dabbled in everything from sport to music. At present his focus is local government, primarily the Whanganui District Council.