A reluctant legend

Farewell Charlie Savage.

Farewell Charlie Savage.

Charlie Savage changes into his gear for the Tatapouri transition in 1991 for his third Coast Duathlon. File pictures
Same place, different day . . . A quarter-century separates these photographs. Charlie Savage changes into his cycling gear in 2016 for his 28th consecutive run/cycle epic to Te Puia. Among all the events he raced, this was the one that defined his endurance as a distance athlete.
The task was tougher but the smiles were wide . . . in 1992 Charlie ran with a buggy and rode a tandem bike with 10-year-old Amy Briant aboard to give her a special adventure from Gisborne to Te Puia in the second of his memorable Coast feats.

GISBORNE sport lost one of its larger-than-life characters with the sudden death of veteran runner, multisport athlete and endurance enthusiast Charlie Savage.

He died at home last week a day after he had run his 29th Rotorua marathon — just one of many extraordinary feats that earned him legend status among his peers during more than three decades of endurance sport.

Man of the land, family man, restorer of old machinery and cars, athlete, friend and irrepressible practical joker . . . it was all there in tributes to him at a huge send-off this week.

But it was perhaps the astonishing sporting record that set him apart.

Born into a Gisborne farming family, educated at Waimata School and Kings College, Charlie returned from schooling to the farm life he loved and never left it.

A strong hill climber — described by one training companion as a mountain goat ‘‘with tree-trunk legs’’ — he developed a love of running, which progressed to multi-discipline events. It became a lifelong passion that he fitted around a busy life developing his farm north of Te Karaka.

Three decades of Rotorua marathons was just part of his endurance event CV. At his best he was running times like his 3hr 06min in 1994, finishing 358th in a field of more than 5000. Three years later he was still turning in a target time of 3.30.

He ran marathons in Hastings, ran the 47km Triple Peaks cross-country trail at Te Mata in Hawkes Bay 17 times, and in the early ’90s ticked off the two highest-profile events in New Zealand — the Coast to Coast “Longest Day” world championship race and the New Zealand Ironman. Over those years there were many other running and multi-discipline adventures.

Closer to home, he competed solo in long multi-stage races like the tough 160km Motu Classic duathlon from Opotiki to Gisborne, which he won, and the Enza Triathlon, a one-off ironman-style event.

Over the 28-year history of the 100km Coast Duathlon from Gisborne to Te Puia he was to create an quite extraordinary record of competing in each race solo without missing a single year.

He turned the 1991 race into a two-way affair, setting out from Te Puia Springs at 2.30am to run and ride back to Gisborne in the dark, aiming to turn after a break to join the race. He completed the challenge but just missed the start after battling a strong headwind.

He did it, he said, for the enjoyment and the challenge.

For the following year’s extra challenge he took 10-year-old Amy Briant with him on a 100km adventure, pushing her in a buggy on the run and riding an adapted tandem with a seat on the back for her.

Retiring from the Coast or any of his favourite events was not on Charlie Savage’s agenda and his familiar blue racing shirts continued to appear at start and finish lines long after many of his contemporaries hung up their serious shoes.

The common thread in tributes paid to him this week was the extraordinary record of appearing again and again at those events, racking up thousands of kilometres over the years. His achievements were hailed by those who witnessed them as as ‘‘second to none’’.

The day before his death, he cruised through his 29th marathon at Rotorua in 4.44, inclusive of twisting his knee when he stepped into a pothole, but he still finished midfield in his age group.

Charlie Savage shrugged off the legend label . . . but in the hearts of the endurance sport veterans he leaves behind, he was exactly that.

If ever there is a Gisborne hall of fame for endurance sport athletes, he would top the list.

The 29th Coast Duathlon will be raced in his honour this year and, no doubt, his absence will be noted in Rotorua 12 months from now. But the legend continues.

Charlie Savage was 56. He is survived by wife Louise, children Patch and Harriet, parents Virginia and David, and missed by many.

— DC

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Peter Cross - 4 months ago


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