Scenery draw for marathoners

Competitors in the Queenstown International Marathon get distracted by the view. Photo: Ross Mackay
Competitors in the Queenstown International Marathon get distracted by the view. Photo: Ross Mackay
Sabina Piras and Daniel Jones shape as the leading contenders for the Queenstown International Marathon this weekend.

But getting to the tape first is only part of the motivation.

Piras (Christchurch) and Jones (Wellington) have been lured south by the spectacular scenery.

The course leads runners from Millbrook in Arrowtown to the finish line in the heart of Queenstown.

Jones comes to Queenstown as the defending champion and loves the trail-based course and racing experience.

''I am always chasing the win but, in Queenstown where it's more scenic and trail based, time isn't the concern. I'd rather enjoy the experience and race hard against people.''

Jones has enjoyed a stellar season since his win last year, going on to win the 60km Kepler Challenge, the Hawke's Bay Marathon, posted a personal best of 2hr 16min 15sec on the Gold Coast and recently took on a 150km ultramarathon event in China.

Among the contenders Jones must deal with is Auckland road running specialist Jonathan Jackson, who despite being on debut in Queenstown is likely to shadow Jones for much of the early going.

Jackson will be hoping he is on the top step, after runner-up finishes at the ASB Auckland Marathon (twice), third in Rotorua and Christchurch, he is a little tired of looking up during prize giving.

Thirty-year-old Piras is another newcomer to Queenstown. The United States-born structural engineer says the timing was perfect to race in Central Otago.

''I have heard that the course is really beautiful and now I am in Christchurch it is just a hop and skip away,'' she said.

''I have done Hawke's Bay twice and loved that event and, given this is put on by the same organisers, there was no hesitation in coming down.

''I am definitely aiming for top two and, while I know it is not a super-fast course, I want to test my fitness and see how I feel. You won't have the same speed as you would on a road race, but it is a great test of endurance on that terrain.''

The top end of the womens field looks very even, with any number of contenders, but one is likely to be Dunedin-based Australian physiotherapist Margie Atthow.

Central Otago based runner Daniel Balchin heads up a strong field in the half marathon. He is returning in search of a third win in a row.

''The Queenstown race will end the road racing season for me this year, and I'm hoping to end it on a high,'' Balchin said.

'' Lowering my course personal best is one of my goals this year. Hopefully, the weather conditions will be favourable.''

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