Exciting racing and great conditions are forecast for the Australian Half Marathon Championships on the Sunshine Coast this Sunday. A $25,000 time-bonus also adds a huge incentive for the Australian elites but the times they are chasing are the Australian all-comers records.
In the men’s race, experienced 33-year-old Collis Birmingham (VIC) will need to be at his best to stop the winning streak of 22-year-old Jack Rayner (VIC). Birmingham, a dual Olympian and third fastest Australian over the 21.1 kilometres, was second Australian behind Rayner at the Gold Coast Half Marathon on July 1.
Birmingham is happy with his recent training, while Rayner has continued his unbeaten form with another two 10km road event victories. Also chasing the national podium will be the likes of Nic Harman (WA), Hugh Williams (ACT) and Dylan Evans (TAS).
Kenyan William Chebon Chebor, who was second behind Rayner on the Gold Coast and ahead of Birmingham, has the fastest personal best in the field of 1:00:49 set in 2010. He will ensure the pace is on and could help one of the Australians get a big payday.
Organisers are offering a $25,000 incentive to the first Australian male or female who breaks the Australian record. The men’s record is the sensational time of 1:01:11 set way back in 1994 by Pat Carroll in Sydney. The women’s is 1:09.00 by Lisa Weightman in 2010 on the Gold Coast.
Birmingham, who ran 1:03.12 to win on the same course last year and has a best of 1:00.56 in Japan in 2013, is not ruling out the record.
“Jack’s going great,” Birmingham said. “I’m definitely hoping to be more competitive than I was at the Gold Coast (1:04.28).
“It’s a great time, it’s not a simple task. But Jack’s in career best form so why not have a crack. I’ll try and draw on some of my experience also.”
Having only run over the distance twice before, the lack of experience is what is making Rayner sceptical about his chances of challenging the record. He won on the Gold Coast in 1:03.12 to beat Chebon Chebor by 16 seconds.
“I’m aware of the record but probably out of reach for me this year,” Rayner said.
“I’m aiming go under 63 minutes and get a PB. If we chase the record on 61 min pace we’ll probably blow-up, which is not the better option.”
Rayner, is coached by Nic Bideau and trains with Melbourne Track Club. He is growing in self-belief and has big plans for the Half Marathon.
“I got a lot of confidence out of winning on the Gold Coast. It was only my second half. I don’t have the same experience as Collis and Chebon Chebor but I definitely want to do more in the future and hopefully get selected for the Commonwealth Games Half Marathon in Cardiff in October.”
After the winter road season he is hoping for a ‘track breakthrough’ at Zatopek in December.
Victoria will start as favourites for the men’s team title on Sunday.
Diver starts as favourite for women’s title
Two-time world championship marathon representative Sinead Diver (VIC) is in career best form. She will start as favourite for the women’s national title and a better shot at the $25,000 incentive than the men.
Diver was the first Australian in the Gold Coast Half, when she was second in a personal best 1:09.53. She is only the third Australian woman to dip under 70 minutes. The target time for the $25,000 incentive for women is Lisa Weightman’s 69:00 set in 2010 on the Gold Coast.
This season Diver, 41, set a 10km personal best of 31:59 in winning the Launceston 10k. She has also won the Lakeside:10 and Sydney Harbour 10k.
Diver is happy with her preparation and looking forward to a fast race at the Nationals.
“I'm feeling good and training has been going well so I'm excited to get out there and race,” the mother of two said.
“Hopefully the conditions will be favourable as I'd like to aim for another sub 70. The race starts at 6am so temperature wise it should be fine, but you never know with the wind.”
Diver started running in 2010 to improve her fitness after the birth of her eldest son and has gone on to be a formidable talent. She has a lot of respect for the scorching time set on the Gold Coast by Weightman that same year.
“I think the record is a tall ask, as 69 is almost a minute faster than my PB. Also, I believe this course is a bit tougher than Gold Coast so I think it's more realistic to aim for a sub 70. I haven't lined up any pacers but I'm hoping a few guys will be running at my target pace and if so I'll aim to sit with them.”
Other contenders include Casey Wood (SA) who ran 74:47 at the Gold Coast Half, former Australian steeplechase champion Marnie Ponton (NSW) who placed third at last weekend’s City to Surf in Sydney, and young Queenslander Samantha Phillips who is showing great improvement.
The Victorian women will also start as favourites for the Team event.
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia