The latest addition to Mount Maunganui's burgeoning summer sport programme made an impressive debut on Saturday morning.
The Foundation Clinic Mauao Half Marathon proved to be an ideal point of difference to the other events with competitors taking on three different stages up, down and around Mauao over a full half-marathon distance of 26km. The field of 221 included 89 brave individuals and 44 teams of three.
Event director Craig Newland was happy with the entry numbers: "I expected a few more teams in comparison with individuals as it is a pretty tough event. Hopefully it will be an annual event."
First individual male home was the fleet-footed Chris Morrissey from Welcome Bay.
He led from start to finish to record a smart time of 1 hr 41min 33sec for the 21km distance, ahead of Kent Hodgson in second (1:46:52) and Kent Hale third (1:51:58).
Morrissey, who has won the Kawerau King of the Mountain race nine times and the Tarawera Trail Marathon, says the Mauao run was less technical than others.
"The biggest challenge is the transition from hard downhill to running slightly on the flat.
I wasn't sure what to expect. It pounds your legs on the way down and you try and recover before you get going again. It is more interesting running off-road rather than the monotonous pounding on the tar seal," Morrissey said.
Zara Fowell from Whakatane took out the women's race in 1:56:10 which met her pre-race expectations.
She says the unique nature of the hilly terrain and scenery was part of the appeal: "It was really cool and is totally different.
You can't even pace yourself like on a flat course.
It is a steep incline and then straight down and then flat, and then straight up again. The stairs are the biggest challenge.
"I hope it gets bigger, I would tell anyone to do it even if you're not racing. I will definitely be back next year."
The teams event was dominated by 15 of New Zealand's high-performance rugby referees who are in Mount Maunganui for a three-day camp ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby competition.
The referees, including Tauranga residents Nick Briant, Brett Johnston, Shane McDermott, Mate Samuels and high-performance referee reviewer Bryce Lawrence, were split into five teams.
Johnston did the second leg up the steps and the North Face to the summit and down, before a lap of the base track.
"I think it is great. I'm from here so go up the Mount a lot but the other guys were really nervous about doing it but they really loved it. It is always great when you finish, that sense of achievement," Johnston said.
The standout individual performance was by 12-year-old Maia Flint from Tauranga Waldorf School, who completed the half marathon distance in 2:09:20.
"It was very hard especially the last hill running up the steps but I am very proud of myself," she said.