Traralgon Annual Marathon, 1968 - 2000
1968 - the first Traralgon marathon
Barry Thompson’s preview in the local Express newspaper before the first Traralgon marathon correctly tipped Barry Sawyer of St Stephen’s Harriers, the recent Tyabb Marathon winner, as the race favourite,
It appears race numbers had already been allocated, as the field was identified and rated by Barry. Jim Crawford was also a favourite with 25 marathons under his belt.
Neil Ryan, the 1966 Victorian country champion, also in the field, became a DNF.
Gippsland entrants were Warragul’s Geoff Watt, Trevor Ellis and John Lyon, both from Yallourn, and Traralgon Harriers Rex Perkins, Richard Jeffrey, Chris Collins, Leigh Thompson and Robert Wood.
In Barry Thompson’s after-race report the parochial ‘Express’ headline screamed, “Valley runners dominate country marathon section.”
Barry’s report said,
“In his first attempt at the classic distance Morwell runner Darrell Blewett on Saturday became Victorian Country Marathon Champion for 1968 when he lead the country starters in the state open title.”
“The youngest runner to complete the course, 17-year-old Chris Collins of Traralgon ran 3.26.47, while the oldest entrant, John Poelsma of Moe (aged 64) clocked 3.50.11. Two junior Traralgon Harriers, Leigh Thompson and Robert Wood dead-heated for 17th place six seconds under the 4-hour mark.”
Eighteen of the 34 starters finished the race, including four of the five Traralgon Harriers. Rex Perkins ran too hard early, had a collision with a milepost, and was forcibly retired with the “staggers” at the 21-mile mark and taken to the Central Gippsland Hospital. He was discharged later that night.
Under the heading “Marathon As An Annual?” the Journal wrote,
“The winner was Barry Sawyer of the Stephens Harriers (sic) . . . Second in the open section was Colin Eaton, of the Oakleigh Club, and third was Jim Crawford, a top international runner.”
Following a detailed race report that analysed Richard Jeffrey’s potential, and praising all involved, the Journal posed the question of the marathon continuing:
“President of the Athletics Club in Traralgon, Mr Barry Thompson, said that all competitors were full of praise for the event.”
“With the standard and success of the race this year it is possible that this marathon could become an annual event, said Mr Thompson.”
The final placings were: Barry Sawyer (SSH) 188.8.131.52, Colin Eaton (Oak) 184.108.40.206, Jim Crawford (SMH) 2.40.09.1, Darrell Blewett (Mor) 220.127.116.11, Les Linsell (Hob) 2.48.09, Rod Hill (Mor) 2.54.00.5, Geoff Watt (Wgl) 18.104.22.168, Richard Jeffery (TH) 22.214.171.124, Mike Hubbert (RH) 3.02.19.5, David Kitt (Ben) 3.02.27.9, Graeme Smith (Ben) 3.09.20.6, John Mason (Mor) 3.09.52.9, Mike Browne (SMH) 126.96.36.199, Chris Collins (TH) 188.8.131.52, Russ Dower (Ben) 3.28.06, John Poelsma (Moe) 184.108.40.206, Leigh Thompson (TH) 220.127.116.11, Robert Wood (TH) 18.104.22.168.
The DNFs were Neil Ryan, John Visser, Graham Davis, John Lyon, Rex Perkins, Ken Groudge, Malcolm Hill, Max Holmes, Doug McLeish, Harry Logan, Roger Ellis, Bob Dixon, Trevor Ellis, Alan Ashmore, Geoff Major and Peter Mason.
1969 – wet, wild and windy
In its second year the marathon was moved to May 30. The June 2 Traralgon Journal reported that extremely cold wet conditions took a heavy toll on the Saturday event. Only 14 of the 34 starters finished.
Champion distance runner and local, Ian Wheeler won in 2:27:49 – outstanding in the extreme rain and cold windy weather. Ringwood runner Gerry Van Ploeg was second in 2:40:08, with Martin Thompson third in 2:43 17 in his first Marathon.
The ‘Journal’ photo showed a hypothermic Martin Thompson, with his sister Dale wrapping a blanket around him at the finish line.
Traralgon runners finished first, third, sixth (Chris Collins), eighth (Joe Fleischer) and twelfth (Leigh Thompson, in his second Traralgon Marathon).
Jim Crawford, Chris Collins, Geoff Watt (the father of Olympic gold-medal cyclist Kathy Watt), and the ageless John Poelsma also finished their second Traralgon Marathons.
Despite the conditions John Visser and Max Holmes returned to conquer the event that defeated them in its first year.
The Traralgon Marathon was declared “established” and the Harriers hoped for record entries next year. But 1970 was to be a standout event for other reasons!
1970 – a record-breaking year
Olympian Derek Clayton caused great excitement when he entered the 1970 Traralgon Marathon, moved to June.
Clayton set a world best time in the Fukuoka Marathon in December 1967 of 2:09:36.4. In a classic race likened to the original breaking of the “four minute mile” it was the first marathon to be run under two hours and ten minutes.
Clayton bettered this time in Antwerp, Belgium in May 1969, running a minute quicker in 2:08:33.6. This time stood for almost 12 years.
A dual Olympian, Clayton represented Australia at the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympics.
In a recent interview with a member of the Traralgon Harriers, Derek said, “I probably did the Traralgon Marathon as a training run – certainly not for money! Athletes made no money then. I ran marathons for training, and as marathons were not hugely popular then, I was happy to promote it and help support it.”
Of his Olympic Games appearances, Derek explained that as a big person (188 cm and 73 kilograms) he perspired freely, and even when taking drinks he lost body fluids. He said he preferred (to run in) the cold.
“My memories of the Olympic games are not that good. Mexico (in 1968) was ridiculous – they said altitude was not an issue, but it was.”
“I was in great shape, but with my size, heat was an issue, and it was run at 2 pm. I ran 2:27, with the winner running 2.19,” he said.
“At Munich (in 1972) I handled it well - it was a terrible problem for all the athletes, but I stayed focused and dealt with it. (Members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian organization Black September, a militant group. By the end of the ordeal, the group had killed eleven Israeli athletes and one German police officer.)
“But (I was not able to deal with) the heat,” Derek said.
“The race again started at 2 pm. I was realistic, but didn’t handle the heat. I didn’t feel good, even before we left the stadium. A cool change was forecast, but didn’t arrive until one hour later (after the race). The winner was Ron Hill.”
“I prefer the cold, and the hot conditions were pure bad luck. I have no thoughts of bitterness – I thought I was the best runner.”
“I retired before the Montreal games, because the marathon was again going to be run at 2 pm.”
The 1970 Traralgon Marathon result sheet described “Fine sunny weather – light following wind on return.”
Despite Derek’s liking for cool conditions, running for St Stephen’s he won easily in 2.13.39, setting a course record that still stands, with no athlete coming within 10 minutes of that time since. It was then also the fastest time run in Australia.
Laurie Wells was second in 2:32:07, with Richard Jeffery the first local home in fifth place, with a time of 2:35:02.6 – faster than eleven of the winning times of later years.
Ian Wheeler did not finish; Leigh Thompson finished his third, Martin Thompson, running injured, his second, while John Bermingham appeared on the scene, along with 14-year-old Len Rumble (this was his second marathon) and Garry Henry, 15.
Phil Lear of South Melbourne Harriers won the first of his two Traralgon Marathons, ahead of New South Welshman Julian Scott, with Geoff Duffell running a 2:34:56 PB for third.
Other Harriers to add to their race tally were, in finishing order, Martin Thompson, Richard Jeffery, Ian Wheeler, Graham Davis, Rex Perkins and Leigh Thompson.
With no DNFs, other Harriers to finish were Bruce Inglis, aged 16, in a PB; Geoff Lont, and Keith Williams aged 17.
Locals who began to establish formidable reputations in running circles were John Duck, John Eyre, Alan Ashmore, David Laws (only 14 and with a PB), and Shaun Coffey, 16 years with a PB time.
The ‘marathon man’ Jim Crawford ran slower than in the inaugural event five years earlier, but still broke three hours.
1979 – a husband and wife win at Traralgon.
Martin Thompson won the 1979 Traralgon Marathon and also the VCMC in conditions the Journal described as “ . . . atrocious, with hail, rain and freezing gales taking their toll of the field.”
The Journal wrote,
“An even louder cheer went up when the wife of the winner won the women’s section.”
“The couple are Martin and Linda Thompson, former regular Harriers who have been running with success overseas and returned just in time for Saturday’s events.”
It would be interesting to know where else, if at all, a couple has won dual marathon titles.
Martin led all the way to finish in 2:33:44, and won a trip to New Zealand to compete there. Ian Cornthwaite, who would wait another twenty years to win outright, in 2000, took the junior title.
Other locals to finish were David Laws, Rayphe Collins, Laurie Edmondstone, who was to become a long-time Harriers coach, in his first marathon, Richard Jeffery, Jim Timmer-Arends, also running his first marathon, and the omnipresent Leigh Thompson.
1983 – a big year
With marathons increasingly popular, 142 entrants finished the 1983 Traralgon event, possibly the largest field so far.
With Ian Potts winning, Ian Cornthwaite, Rayphe Collins and Laurie Edmondstone had gained experience and speed to fill second, third and eighth spots, while Linda Thompson won her second women’s title.
Legends endured – Phil Lear (a noble sixth), Richard Jeffery, Michael Whiteoak, Jim Crawford, and second woman Dawn Parris (who later became a national and state ultra-marathon record holder) all ran good races. Rob Zwierlein, a local, was to triumph in national ironman events.
Sandy Drummond, Geoff “Swaggie” Wilson, Colin Inglis – one of the formidable Inglis running family, Maffra’s Ashley Kelly and Shirley Kelly (who went on to win in 1994) - were all locals. Dot Browne, a VAAA strength for many years, was one of a dozen or more “Croydon Crawlers” club members who, along with South Melbourne and other city clubs were great supporters of Traralgon.
Ken Matchett, still setting 80-years-plus world age group ultra records, was a team mate of Dot, as was Stan Miskin, another ultra legend, and both competed in many Harriers’ events for many years.
Pheidippides Goldenberg, a long time competitor, competed in 1983. He ran a faster time in 2006, supporting our local event for many years in between.
1987 - Rob Gilfillan begins his run of three victories
Rob Gilfillan ran 2:27:18 in 1987, finishing ahead of Ian Muir and Andrew Thomas. Max Carson from Prairie, near Eaglehawk, was sixth, and returned to win in 1995, running a slower time.
Harriers who finished near the top of the field were Paul Francis, Laurie Edmondstone, Bob Knight, Bruce Salisbury, Morgan Tucker – beginning his steady ascent through the years to his ultimate top ranking – and Ian Heafield.
Interesting, Ian’s splits were 20:15, 41, 81, 1:25:30, 2:10:14, 2:27:15 for the 5, 10, 20, half-way, 32 and 36 km marks, with a final time of 2:57:06, to break the three hours. Very consistent – how do they compare with yours?
Further back Sandy Drummond, Richard Jeffery and Ian Cornthwaite crossed the line together. Other locals were Ray Sutton, Bernd Ritzer, Ross Simpson, Bill Caddy and Lance Thomas, all well-known Harrier members.
Shirley Kelly, still building to her 1991 PB, finished ahead of Bill Berry, Bill Rutherford, husband Ashley Kelly, Ray Ellis (already in the 50-plus age group, and a centurion – 100 miles [160 km] in 24 hours), Geoff Wilson and David Warren
Legendary Australian ultra marathoner George Pardon ran 3:09:14 in the 60-plus age group. Moe’s John Briet, a 24-hour record holder was eleventh in 2:48:08.
And fifteen years after his first of two Traralgon Marathon wins, Phil Lear still finished in the top dozen, breaking three hours.
Bob Knight, one of the 37 sub-three-hours runners in 1987, later began a delightful tradition when he and Debbie set up breakfast at their driveway entrance in River Road, where the course ran on its way to Toongabbie. The runners may not have appreciated coffee, eggs and bacon, but for the marshals, and workers who set up the drink stations and signage from 5.30 am onwards, it was a highlight of the day!
In the 1987 half-marathon times, an interesting name to appear was Louie Cardillo (sounds familiar!), alongside Dr Maurice Marshall, one of a handful of medicos (think Roger Bond, Roger Fitzgerald in Traralgon Marathons) who took part in local distance running.
Mark Sinclair out kicked Morgan Tucker in the last 1500 metres to win the 1990 Marathon, and took another step toward reaching his goal – the 1991 Hawaii Ironman triathlon.
Tucker built on this experience and heeded the words of his coach, Laurie Edmondstone, to win the next four Traralgon Marathons in sequence. His`1990 second placing also gave him that year’s Victorian country marathon championship.
Jan Brimacombe of the Victorian Veterans AC won the women’s title in 3:13:33, ahead of Yallourn-Newborough’s Pauline Allen.
A highlight of the day was the appearance of Cliff Young, then aged 68, who ran inside 3 hours 30 minutes.
1991 - Morgan Tucker’s incredible streak.
Morgan Tucker began his sequence of four Traralgon Marathon wins. Shirley Kelly finished outright eleventh in the field of 73 to take the women’s title in 3:06:46, a time bettered only by Sandra Timmer-Arends and June Petrie.
Other locals who ran, some of them Harriers, were John Briet, David Laws, Ron (Rod?) Goodwin, Bruce Salisbury, Geoff Duffell, R. Neilson, Brian Phillips, Alan Timmer-Arends and Rob Embleton.
Cliff Young ran again, as a warm-up for a 24-hour ultra the following week.
And the inexorable Phil Lear still broke three hours, twenty years after his Traralgon debut.
Max Carson, from the aptly named township of Prairie, near Bendigo, found the open and flat terrain of last Sunday’s Traralgon Marathon course to Toongabbie and back to his liking. He won a thrilling struggle of wills and stamina to win by less than three minutes from Jeff Visser, who had led the 55 runners until the thirty-eight-kilometre mark.
The winner of the women’s' section was Rowville champion Sydney Martin, who ran strongly to lead all the way and finish in 3 hr 30min 59sec, a comfortable twelve minutes ahead of her Dandenong training partner Anne Tregonning, who was happy to be first in the over 35 age group. Third female and first over 40 woman was Claire Bowker in 3 hr 57 min 9 seconds.
The Victorian country marathon championship crown, relinquished this year by Tucker, was won by his fellow Harrier and local minister Colin Hardy, who was also the Harriers chaplain.
Young Sydney runner Darren Benson led all the way to win Sunday's Traralgon Marathon. Benson was set for the race his coach Martin Thompson who grew up in Traralgon. Thompson has had a strong association with the local marathon since its inception, and saw it as an ideal next step for the promising Benson.
Benson finished a comfortable thirteen minutes ahead of Nigel Aylott,
Winner of the women’s' marathon was Glengarry athlete Lee Graham, who in earlier days had run marathons under her single name of Lee Bridle, often alongside her father, the legendary Mick Bridle. The first three women runners remained only a few minutes apart throughout the race, with Graham finishing the stronger. Martin had won in the two previous years, and the efforts of Graham and Bowker thwarted her gallant attempt at three in a row.
The enigmatic Nenet Susa ran 2:35:17, finishing ahead of Darrel Cross, who went one better the next year, and Ian Cornthwaite, who had to wait until 2000 for his first win since his 1979 junior title. Nigel Aylott was fourth, ahead of the legendary ultra marathon journeyman, Kelvin Marshall.
Nigel competed in numerous Traralgon distance races over the years and the Harriers were saddened by the news that while competing in an adventure race in 2004 Nigel had been killed by a falling boulder.
In 1998 a 10-kilometre ‘quarter marathon’ was added to support the marathon and the popular half marathon. The 10 km run provided an opportunity for young athletes and beginners, men and women, to experience a distance event, and increased the popularity appeal of the marathon “carnival.”
Darrel Cross moved up a place from the previous year to win in 2:45:43; Shirley Young, nearing 70, became the oldest woman to win at Traralgon, just breaking four hours.
In 1999 Traralgon Aaron Fuller from NSW edged out 1995 winner Max Carson, locals Ian Twite and 1997 victor Nenet Susa. Sandra Timmer-Arends ran ninth outright to win her second title. Other locals in the top of the field were Rob Embleton, Peter Grixti and Peter Chapple. Running legends Peter Gray and Shirley Young again finished strongly
Ian Cornthwaite finally broke through for his first Traralgon win – in the past he had “crashed through or crashed” as he said. John McKenzie, fourth, was inspired to come out and take the next two titles – which knows what he may have achieved without injury. The incredible June Petrie, an Australian record holder across various distances, won the women’s title.