Blackmores Sydney Marathon, September 20, 2015
Three years ago Robert Pope and Kelly-Ann Varey had never even heard of the Sydney Marathon, let alone contemplating running it to win their first national titles.
But that’s what the pair of 37-year-olds have now done after impressive runs on a tricky hilly course both achieving their target times to be first Australians home in 2hr 29min 59sec and 2hr 48min 2sec respectively.
Pope, a former soccer player, was living in Liverpool dabbling in the occasional London marathon for fun, while Varey was only just starting to run after a 10-year stint with the navy mixed in between bringing up two children – Mackenzie, 14, and Hayden, 12.
But Pope decided to move to Australia to work as a vet two years ago and his running career has spiralled since joining Victorian athletic club Western Athletics.
While he ended up winning his local Liverpool marathon back in England this year, he took immense pride from claiming his first national title for Australia in Sydney and was boosted by the news that 10th place in a Gold Label IAAF event is also an Olympic qualifier.
“That (going to Rio) would be huge, but I don’t think I can apply for citizenship until the 3rd January 2017, but I’ll now see what I could do to speed it along,” Pope said. “If Steve Way got to the Olympics at 40, then we’ll push on. My goal would be to get to 2:20 in the next year – maybe Rotterdam.
“I feel like I’ve got a bit of an affinity with Sydney with Liverpool (suburb) just down the road. I was here (Sydney) at New Year last year for a bit of a party with a few friends and the next day I went for a run.”
Pope had early company from ultra-running star Brendan Davies before clearing away to win the Australian championship by more than three minutes from Canberra Australian Sports Commission IT project manager Andrew McGowan.
“We’re based at the AIS campus at Bruce, so it’s great to borrow some of that knowledge from some of their experts,” McGowan, 32, said.
Davies, who ran the world 100km road titles last week, tired over the final stages to finish in 2:40, just behind Darren Moyle, who was not entered for the title.
But Davies had just long enough time to cheer home his star Canberra student Varey, who ended up fourth overall in the women’s race, sticking to her pre-race plan of running 4min/km pace the entire way.
For Varey it has been an amazingly quick rise to the top. She only decided to take up running when she left the navy and moved to Canberra with her husband four years ago.
“I didn’t enter an event until 2013 when I went in the Mother’s Day run and ran 10km in about 41 minutes,” she said “My husband, Dwayne, was so excited that he took it upon himself to enter me in the YMCA half marathon the following week.”
“I really wanted to change my lifestyle and show my kids the benefits of eating healthy. I lost a lot of weight but it was really the move to Canberra that did it. It was too cold to just walk, so I started breaking into a jog. My 14-year-old daughter is now like, ‘I wish I had your legs mum’.
“I was never sporty at school and I certainly never in my wildest dreams would have thought I could win a national title.”
Hobart radiographer Ruth Wilson, 27, was next Aussie home in ninth place in 2:56.22, while Townsville mum of three Lizzie Maguire claimed the bronze medal in 3:02.18. As a reward, the 46-year-old faces a return flight and straight back to a 12hour shift tomorrow as a neo-natal nurse.
None of the Aussies challenged the elite international field brought to Sydney for the 15th running of the race since the Sydney Olympics.
Japan’s Hisanori Kitajima broke clear of a lead group of six men with 2km to go to win in 2:12.44 to defeat compatriot Hiroki Yamagishi by four seconds with last year’s winner Gebo Gameda back in fourth place. It was Kitajima's second win from two marathons – his first was in February’s Nobeokha marathon when he defeated 2012 Sydney winner Yuki Kawauchi.
The women’s race provided a huge upset when Ethiopian star Biruktayit Degefa struggled to repeat her efforts of the past two years, allowing 35-year-old Kenya’s Mirriam Wangari from Thompson Falls to claim her second major marathon in 2hr 34min 38secs.
Wangari’s previous highlight was winning the Lima Marathon.
“I did the Sami marathon in Bogota a month agao and I thought I needed a rest, but my manager said you should do Sydney and I was arguing with him,” Wangari said.
“I’m very thankful to him now. Sydney us a fantastic, beautiful city. At 30km I thought she (Degefa) would go for it, but I think there was something wrong with her today. When I went for it (at 35km) and pulled away, I thought this is a dream, what’s happening.”
While Japanese visitors Kinya Hashira and Kikuyo Tsuuzaki won the half marathon, there were strong second-placings by two locals.
Sydney Running Academy star Brad Milosevic tuned up for next month’s Melbourne Marathon with a 66min13sec, while Milly Clark clocked 76min 18sec.
The Bridge Run (9km) saw impressive wins by Commonwealth Games 10,000m runner Harry Summers (26.59) and steepler Victoria Mitchell (30.45).