Having inspired this week’s Queenstown International Marathon, Tourism New Zealand boss Kevin Bowler is not just walking the walk – he’s running it.
Bowler, who lines up for his first marathon on Saturday, says he felt NZ needed a world-class marathon based in one of the country’s most beautiful locations.
“I don’t think we had anything that reflected NZ’s biggest strength which is our beautiful landscapes and environment.
“You really needed it to be in Queenstown because of all the infrastructure that’s there to do anything that’s big enough to be internationally important.”
From this “germ of an idea”, Bowler says he spoke to local mayor Vanessa van Uden and also approached sports event organiser Dave Beeche.
“He immediately got it, did all the hard work and brought it to life.”
Bowler says he and Beeche thought they might get 2000 runners in the first year and is blown away that Saturday’s event has attracted almost 6000 and sold out four months ago.
“Gosh, who knows how big it could get.
“I’d like to think in 10 years’ time it’s one of NZ’s big participation events and we’re well on the way to that, already. The beauty of the thing is it’s shoulder season so you’ve got accommodation – it’s not ski season, it’s not summer.”
Only about 10 per cent of Saturdays’ field is from overseas but that’s where the growth potential is, Bowler says.
“There’s going to be a huge market for it in Australia and there’ll be a smattering of interest right around the Pacific Rim.
“There’s the big city marathons like New York and London.
“People are looking for those ones with an angle, something like this, it’s flat, it’s fast and it’s beautiful and it’s in Queenstown, who wouldn’t want to do a marathon there?”
Bowler says the bonus of the Queenstown event is it doesn’t require Department of Conservation tracks and facilities so numbers don’t need to be capped.
“That’s been my frustration with a lot of events around NZ – even things like the Kepler [Challenge in Fiordland] sell out in five minutes so there’s nothing you can do with them internationally.
“Whereas hopefully with this one we can actually grow it somewhere towards 10,000 – then you’ve got something that keeps the town alive for a week.”
Bowler, 50, started running regularly in 2009 to help Wanaka’s Mal Law who that year ran NZ’s seven great walks in consecutive days, supporting him on the local Routeburn Track leg.
He’s since done two off-road half-marathons and the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic, near Nelson, but nothing as long as Saturday’s 42.2km marathon.
“I’m just a jogger but if I can keep jogging the whole way and get it under 4 hours 30 minutes that would be awesome.
“To be honest, if it’s under five I’ll be pretty happy.”