Footrace set to roll

The South Pacific’s first footrace is on a roll despite Cyclone Josie’s visit to Fiji.

Edward Payson Weston, an American, caught the world’s attention for his penchant for long distance walking.

Dubbed “Weston the Pedestrian” by the media, in 1867 he decided to take on a 25-day walk as a professional career. The walk of 1326 miles from Portland, Maine to Chicago saw crowds cheer him on with Weston donned in black velvet knee breeches, a blue sash, kid gloves and a white silk hat.

The record-breaking champion pedestrian continued the competitive walks until he was 72.

In 1921 Vic Clapham in a bid to not only reunite old comrades in arms but also honour fallen heroes of the World War I organised a run from his home town of Pietermaritzburg to Durban, in South Africa with a 90-kilometre distance.

With the first run consisting of only 34 runners, the annual Comrades Marathon today boasts 23,000 runners.

In 1951 the London to Brighton ultra marathon became an official race making it arguably the oldest ultra marathon in the world. Over the next few decades ultra marathons started to flourish and in a day’s time Fiji will become the first country in the South Pacific to host a 200km, five stage ultra-marathon which starts tomorrow close to Yaqara — on the north shore of Viti Levu, Fiji’s suncoast and ends on April 8.

The global village makeup of the runners include 26 Europeans, four Australians, three Americans, two New Zealanders, three Fijians, two Singaporeans, a Canadian and a Japanese runner.

The proposed route will take runners from the suncoast on the Ra coastline through the interior of Viti Levu and finishing off on the Coral Coast, near Sigatoka. These footrace runners have taken part in limits-testing challenges from the Marathon des Sables also known as the toughest footrace on Earth in the Sahara Desert to the Comrades in South Africa — a body sapping challenge.

This year alone, 4289 ultra marathons are held globally including the epic Vodafone Lost Island Ultramarathon. And they are taking part in every corner of the earth, from Antarctica to the Sahara — from the Amazon rainforest to the tropical islands. Preparing for an ultra marathon is not something that’s undertaken lightly. To ensure that everyone is ready for the race, runners must have completed a multi-stage ultra in the last 18 months. For Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Land and Mineral Resources, Faiyaz Koya, this ultra marathon event will promote adventure tourism — offerings to diversify the tourism market beyond the traditional sun, sand and sea for which Fiji is famed for.

Sponsor, Vodafone Fiji, has a key role. They have to ensure there is network coverage to support the safety of the race and also get the stories out! Communication between aid stations will be via cellphones and they plan to combine their event support with a roadshow of their services and products to many of their customers living in the interior region.

“The event will hopefully showcase another side of Fiji other than the sand and seas that Fiji is generally renowned for. This will also open up new tourism potential in the area of adventure and eco-tourism. Along the race track there are some breathtaking scenery such as the majestic waterfalls of Nabalesere, views of Mount Tomaniivi and other historical sites, sounds, flora and fauna that make beautiful Fiji,” Vodafone head of eCommerce and Corporate Affairs, Shailendra Prasad said.

A runner herself and Talanoa Treks in-country organiser, Marita Manley says she is excited about meeting such an inspiring group of athletes.

“The longest trail run I’ve ever done is 23km — and I can’t contemplate what you must have put your body through, both mentally and physically to run 200km. I’m really looking forward to supporting all the runners take on this incredible challenge.”

Members of the public can come down to Sigatoka town on Sunday, April 8 at 8am to cheer on the runners as they run from the Tavuni Hill Fort through town ahead of the finishing at a surprise location for the runners. Let’s just say their easy run along the beach to the finishing line may not be as easy as they were expecting!

You can follow them on facebook @LostIslandUltra.

* Josephine Prasad is the organising committee media and communications adviser. She will bring us regular columns during the duration of the ultramarathon.

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