Jack Rayner and Sinead Diver will be going for back-to-back victories in the Sunshine Coast Half-Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label road race on Sunday (4 August), but each will have their eye on a bigger prize.
An AU$25,000 (US$ 17,000/ EUR 15,300) bonus awaits any one runner who can better the Australian all-comers’ records, currently held by Pat Carroll at 1:01:11 and Lisa Weightman at 1:09:00, respectively.
Rayner, the Commonwealth half-marathon champion, faces the prospect of a lonely battle if he is to secure the bonus (Carroll had competition from Steve Moneghetti, no less, when he set the men’s mark in Sydney 25 years ago), but the top end of the women’s field is virtually identical with the all-comers’ list.
Sinead Diver (fourth all-time), Ellie Pashley (fifth) and Lisa Weightman (sixth) are all running, along with Melbourne-based Ethiopian runner Makda Haji Harun and recently-selected Doha World championships representative Rochelle Rodgers.
Rodgers reflected on the magnitude of the task facing her earlier this week.
Acknowledging her selection as “a dream come true” and that she is in the middle of marathon training, with its “longer runs and higher volume,” Rodgers continued: “My goal . . . will be to just run as close to my personal best as possible.
“I’m looking forward to a good hit out and to run a race I haven't done before,” Rodgers told Athletics Australia.
Given Rodgers’ half-marathon best (1:16:51) is close to her marathon pace (2:34:45; both run this year), she may have considerable improvement in her come Sunday.
That will be the minimum requirement if she is to keep the top trio in sight. Diver won last year in 1:09:20 and improved further to 1:08:55 in Japan earlier this year. Weightman has a personal best of 1:09:00, set in 2010, and Pashley’s best is 1:09:20.
Nor is there much to separate the three on current form. They met just a month ago, just a hundred-or-so kilometres south of the Sunshine Coast, in the Gold Coast half-marathon. Diver won on that occasion in 1:09:46 from Pashley, 1:09:51, and Weightman, 1:10:32. Since then, Weightman has run a 31:55 road 10km.
Pashley also raced against Diver at 10,000m on the track in the recent Oceania Championships. Diver got the upper hand in the closing stages then, but both women may wind up representing Australia in Doha. Pashley dipped under the qualifying time in Palo Alto this year and Diver can be selected as Oceania champion.
Pashley was asked last week on the podcast Inside Running whether she might adopt different tactics against Diver on the Sunshine Coast and joked that hanging onto her a bit longer might just work.
“I think sub-69 is a long shot for me,” Pashley told Athletics Australia this week, “but the pace will definitely be on in pursuit of this, so I’ll just try and go with it for as long as I can.”
Makda Haji Harun has no recent form to go by, but as a two-time winner and race record holder of the Sydney marathon, must be respected.
Others who could come into contention in the women’s race include 2019 world cross-country representative Leanne Pompeani and Casey Wood.
On personal bests, Rayner’s strongest competition in the men’s race will come from another former winner in Collis Birmingham. Birmingham’s best is 1:00:56 – five seconds faster than Rayner’s, which was set in winning the Commonwealth race – but he has not approached that level for some time. Rayner ran 1:02:30 to win on the Gold Coast last month and should have too much in reserve for any challenger on Sunday.
Two Australian-based internationals – Kevin Batt, who represents Ireland, and Britain’s Nicholas Earl – will be well in the mix for a top-three finish. Barring unforeseen circumstances, however, the hottest competition looks to be found in the women’s race.
Len Johnson for the IAAF