Wade O'Malley inSawtell fun run in 2009.
Wade O'Malley inSawtell fun run in 2009. Bruce Thomas

Fun run is going the distance

WITH the Sawtell Super Fun Day within striking distance of celebrating its centenary, the recurring success of the accompanying fun run is sparking renewed local interest in distance running.

Apart from the fundraising success it has become for Sawtell-Toormina Little Athletics, the sheer spectacle of the run is sparking imaginations.

Teen runner Tim Abbots won the event on New Year’s Day, coinciding with the 91st Fun Day in a winning time of 18 minutes two seconds.

This was incorrectly published as a ‘race record’ and while it’s still a fine time for an 18-year-old, the ‘unofficial record’ remains 16:24 and is held by Canberra-based Geoffrey Bruce, the undisputed legend of the race.

Bruce has faced the starter’s gun at least 30 times and won the race on 10 documented occasions, most recently in 2008 at age 45 when he ran the 5.5km course in 17:40.

He missed the race in 2007 due to illness but his previous winning time was 16:55, more than one minute better than the runner-up.

Discussions about Bruce’s exploits suggested he once ran the race in younger days at an astonishing 16:15 and while no documented proof is held by organisers, athletics identity Paul Sheringhan agrees such an effort seems feasible.

“16:15 ... that’s quick,” he noted.

“Geoff still holds the Sutherland District Athletics Club open 5000m record of 14:13 which he ran in 1986.

“At only 18, Tim Abbots clearly has the talent to aspire to Geoff’s race record in future years and there are a lot of talented runners and triathletes coming through on the North Coast at the moment.”

While ‘5.5km’ is popularly known as the race distance, more accurate checks by Sheringham and race director Jason Smit were made before this week’s event.

Both own Garmins GPS stopwatches that measure distance and a walk over the traditional route found the course is usually 5.3km.

However, detours such as road works can have a bearing and a course alteration last Saturday meant runners paced themselves over 5.15km

“I also took a look at the run using Google Earth and found it was 100m shorter,” Smit said.

“This makes Tim’s adjusted time 18:22 which is still a very good result in the hot, humid conditions.”

Smit has been race director for two years and has developed a keen interest in the history of the event.

“It’s possibly the oldest, continually held fun run in Australia and is certainly older than the City to Surf,” he discovered. “I have confirmation of the race going back to 1969 and believe it is quite a bit older than that.

“Growing interest demands we track down more about its history including where it started, winning times and records and other details.

“Some of the old timers say it once finished back in First Avenue rather than at the Reserve and if we can find old newspaper cuttings or documents which show that, it would be great to put them on public display.”

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