Stephen Day

A tribute to Newtown Park’s soon-to-be-departed track

Last Sunday I spent several hours officiating at a Children’s Interclub meet – the last event on Newtown Park’s current track.

This week the track will be ripped to pieces. It leaves us too young.

Like Dr Who, running tracks come and go – reincarnated with the same name but a different personality. Newtown Park will emerge from its chrysalis in time for the 2018 Capital Classic.

Newtown’s departing track is still young. It welcomed its first runners in January 2013 when Nick Willis ran 7:57, recording the fastest 3000m at the New Zealand Championships for 15 years.

The Dominion Post reported Willis covered the final kilometre in the final kilometre a “rapid” 2:31.

Two years later Hamish Carson ran even faster – a blistering 7:56 to set what I believe is the fastest 3000m ever run at Newtown Park.

I soon grew to like the new track. During my early forays onto it in 2014 I ran a series of good races, and decided, too, that it was fast.

Previously, I had always thought Newtown Park was slow. I would read longingly of the fast times peers were running in other parts of the country and console myself that Newtown was slow. It was windy and bumpy; surely those fast runners from other centres would also struggle were they faced with Newtown Park’s nuances?

It is amazing what a difference a placebo effect can have on performance. Once I had seen Willis and his peers prove that Newtown could be fast my excuses were gone.

During the 2014 Newtown Park summer I ran five of my six fastest steeplechase times, culminating in a demolition derby race at the national championships. I had two tumbles but scraped under 10 minutes and earned a smile and a “well done” from Todd Stevens – always better reward than any medal.

The biggest moment of this current version of Newtown Park’s short lifespan was not even on the track itself. The 2014 New Zealand Track and Field Championships boasted a Super Saturday in which thousands of fans watched first Valerie Adams, and then Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill bomb their puts. Us distance runners sat on the embankment admiring rather than understanding the power and skill.

The next day, at the same championships, Hamish Carson won the fourth of his five 1500m titles against his arch-rival Julian Matthews. Athletics NZ’s Murray McKinnon described the race:

“Mathews went for the doctor down the back straight on the last lap, but Carson stuck to his shoulder and entering the final straight let rip with hair flowing to hold him out in 3:46.23. Matthews clocked 3:46.61. Delighted with his win Carson did a victory lap, possibly the first at a national championship.”

There were many other great moments in the track’s short five years. At the Scottish Night of Miles last year Marshall Clark set the Wellington M60 Mile record (5:43.68) John Skinnon set the Wellington M65 record (7:06.00) and Michael Browne set the Wellington M85 record (11:16.00). Scottish stalwarts all.

In 2015 Quentin Rew set the track’s only current New Zealand record when he walked 3000m in 11:15.20.

Local track tragics will all have their own memories of this latest iteration of Newtown Park. Races that stand out for me include Katherine Marshall scooting past Angie Petty in the 800m at the 2017 Capital Classic, and a string of glorious mile victories by Tina Faulkner, one at each Night of Miles meet between 2013 and 2016.

Just last weekend our own Alessandro Pinna ran 52.95, which, according to World Masters Rankings website, is the 6th fastest time in the world this year by a 50-55-year-old.

We get to meet our new Newtown Park in January 2018. What personality will it have? Will it be garrulous, gassy and grumpy, or will it be loving, level and lively?

We will all have our own hopes and fears as we step out onto the new track next year. I’ll be hoping for many more years of watching friends and rivals coming off the bend into the home straight, neck-and-neck, nostrils wide, arms flailing and good running form folding.