Paralympic star takes on Air NZ Hawke's Bay International Marathon



Liam Malone (MNZM) has conquered the world in his chosen sport of Paralympic Athletics, wowing the world with his medal winning feats on the track in Rio, taking out the 400 metres, 200 metres and wining silver in the 100 metres in the T44 category.


It was not only his incredible speed on the track with his gold medals won in record time, his then trademark long hair flying behind him. It was also his outgoing and infectious personality that won the hearts of New Zealand and saw him carry the flag into the Rio Olympic Games closing ceremony and in demand the world over as a talk show guest or sports commentator.


But now he is very much going outside his comfort zone, in fact by his own admission, Malone is about to get incredibly uncomfortable as he takes on the Air New Zealand Hawke’s Bay International Marathon this Saturday.


Malone admits his impetuous nature and willingness to take on new challenges without too much thinking might have landed him in it this time.


“We were talking about it at work and one of the girls signed up and I - with what can only be described as an impulsive decision said, ‘I will do a half’. I then thought ‘why would I only do a half?’ and before I knew it I was doing the full marathon.


“I have done maybe ten training runs in total, I probably don’t appreciate the challenge I will be facing on Saturday. Compared to the training I had been doing for the track - for 400 metre training at a maximum you would run 1 kilometre, compared to a 42 kilometre run! They are very very different.  Some people might think just because you are an athlete previously it will be easy to run a marathon, but they are actually vastly different challenges. In this I am really just a novice person, not an athlete taking on a challenge, with an added factor that I have two artificial legs not designed for long distance running.”


In what is perhaps a surprise, Malone has no issues in dealing with failure, saying that despite his image of a multiple gold medal winning athlete, he is in fact more used to finishing on the wrong side of the ledger.


“I am actually more accustomed to failure and being laughed at. Until Rio I had never won a race in my life and before that I really didn’t have the tools or technology in my blades to be good at any sport. For most of my life I have endured failure after failure. It has always been about getting to the end and satisfying my own objectives.


“I guess if you are asking how I am going to define success, my answer is I will be really happy to get to the end of the marathon and not be on crutches or in a wheelchair the next day, it is that simple. And if I can run the whole marathon that too will be success. That is not because I am unfit, but it is more about having to deal with such pain over a long period of time will be very challenging.”


While for most people they talk about the 20-mile mark in a marathon, Malone expects that his biggest test will come a little earlier in the event that takes athletes from Marine Parade in Napier, to Sileni Estates Winery in Hastings for the celebration party at the finish line.


Malone doesn’t flinch when referencing the fact he expects his legs to be soaked in blood inside his specially designed carbon fibre blades that have carried him to gold, but never this sort of distance.


“At the half marathon mark the questions will start arising. I know everyone says 30km is where you face challenges, but if I get to 30km I know I will be sweet. The biggest issue for me as I mentioned is not fitness but dealing with the pain – my legs are not made for long distance and my blades are the ones I used on the track, they have not been modified in any way – I will be carrying my full bodyweight through a couple of areas of skin about the size of my wrist.”


Malone has already inspired so many people with his feats in Rio, he hopes to continue to inspire everyday New Zealanders and perhaps have a positive impact on those around him by taking part on Saturday.


“Being prepared to fail is really important. I am not nervous about anything other than the sheer amount of pain I will put myself through and the chance of serious damage to one of my legs.


“But people should never be afraid to take on new arenas and challenges in their lives and having a willingness to fail and that is a fun part of the process and very important. And if you do fail, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. I really think it is that simple when trying new things.”


Malone is heading to Napier without a support team or others taking on the event with him but is keen to make some new friends along the way.


“I got entered into this event as a result of my workmates, but now I am not even sure if they are going. I am going to be going solo, so anyone that is there and knows who I am and wants to say hi or run with me, I would love some company at that slow pace and have someone to chat to.


“Even if I am in a lot of pain that would be fantastic. When deep in the struggle if you have others to train with it is easier to push yourself beyond your perceived limitations.”


Malone is clearly focused on that finish line and admits he will allow himself a small celebration at Sileni Estates to toast the achievement of completing the distance.


“I am not a big drinker, but I definitely will be having a glass to celebrate at the end, it will be a nice red.”


Saturday sees the hosting of the third Air New Zealand Hawke’s Bay International Marathon, with the region set to be inundated with runners and their supporters from around the country and beyond, with over 4,000 competitors set to take to a variety of events ranging from the Kids Run, to the Cigna 10km, the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Half marathon and the Air New Zealand Marathon.


Runners and walkers will take in the best highlights of the region, with flat easy running through local cycle trails, vineyards, olive groves, quiet country roads - all finishing at the impressive Sileni Estates Winery where they can celebrate their efforts in style, with live music and some of the best food and wine from the region.


The event is also a fundraiser for official charity partner, the Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter. Runners have had the option of joining ‘Team Rescue Heli’ or to make a $5 or $10 donation at the time of signing up on the event website.  The helicopter will be at the finish line party at Sileni Estates for children to see up close, sit in the pilot’s seat and get photos – subject only to possible call outs on the day.