News & Updates
Mark all set for 40th Rotorua Marathon
When Mark Gray made his Rotorua Marathon debut as a 15-year-old boy in the mid-Seventies his very presence brought about an age-rule change in the iconic race.
Now some 46 years on the Papamoa-based occupational therapist hopes to create another slice of race history as he pursues a 40th ‘lap of the lake’ on Saturday 17 September.
Mark was a member of Onehunga Harriers in Auckland when he opted to take the start line for his Rotorua Marathon debut.
“There were no other people at the club my age at the time and as most of the guys at the club were training for the Rotorua Marathon, I decided to enter the race,” recalls Mark. “That first experience was pretty daunting. I was alright up until around 25km but then it was zombie mode and I finished in around 4:02.”
However, as Mark recalls his presence at the age of 15 brought about a lot of criticism about whether people of such a young age should run the marathon and the following year the rules were adjusted to restrict entry to those aged 16 and above.
Mark returned the following year, ran a much improved 3:34 and he was quickly hooked – and he has gone on to complete a further 39 Rotorua Marathons.
In the first half of the 1980s he dipped under three hours on three separate occasions – recording his PB of 2:55 in “1982 or 1983” so what has been the enduring appeal of the event?
“There’s always been something special about the Rotorua Marathon,” adds Mark, a dad of two grown up daughters. “It was regarded as the toughest marathon and numbers kept growing and growing. It seemed to have a special magic which other marathons don’t have.”
Mark later developed into a top-quality race walker winning a national 50km race walk title just one month after race walking the 42.2km distance at the 1986 Rotorua Marathon in a sub-four-hour time – a moment he describes as his favourite experience in the race.
However, for the vast majority of his previous 39 appearances in the historic race, Mark, who represented New Zealand at the 1991 World Team Race Walking Championships, has completed the event as a runner and it was after securing his 30th finish his gaze switched towards reaching the landmark of 40 Rotorua Marathons.
For this year’s event he plans to race with a friend and has relatively modest plans to complete the challenge in around five-and-a-half hours but whatever happens on September 17 he intends for the 2022 edition to be his last.
“It will mean a lot to achieve 40, especially when so few have achieved that milestone, but this will be my last one and I might target shorter races in future,” explains Mark, 61.
“But whatever happens I’ll come back and see people at the race because I’ve made some amazing friends here. Everything I went on to achieve in athletics started at Rotorua. It was the catalyst for everything.”
To enter the Rotorua Marathon – full-distance, half-marathon, 10km or 5.5km go here