Rotorua's growing trailrunning culture has attracted two new businesses into the city.
Ultramarathoner Kerry Suter and his partner, Ali Pottinger, are in the process of moving their Squadrun ultra-distance training business from the Waikato to Rotorua. Meanwhile, Podium Podiatry & Footwear opened its fourth Bay of Plenty outlet in Rotorua last month because of increasing local demand for specialist running footwear (see story below).
"Trailrunning is booming as a business worldwide and Rotorua is definitely part of that boom," said Paul Charteris, whose events company runs the Tarawera Ultramarathon, Tarawera Marathon and Waitomo Trail Run.
Next February's ultramarathon was expected to attract more than 1000 entries with 50 per cent coming from overseas runners, one of the largest entries by international athletes of any sporting event in New Zealand.
International mountain biking event Crankworx was bigger in terms of global interest, spectator turnout and economic impact, but had fewer international athletes competing, he said.
But the trailrunners were capitalising on the infrastructure built by mountain bikers over many years.
"The mountain bikers have put a huge amount of effort into building the trail network in Rotorua," Mr Charteris said.
"Rotorua has now got these world class assets so we're now able to hold large international events, and the sport of trailrunning itself is becoming very popular as a recreational activity. Then as a third tier, it's now attracting service providers and other industries that support running."
Mr Charteris said he was "super pleased" Squadrun was moving into town and saw it as a strategic move for the company.
Mr Suter has been running and coaching for about a decade, with a record that includes wins in the first two Tarawera Ultramarathons in 2009 and 2010. He and Ms Pottinger, his personal and business partner, set up Squadrun together about a year ago and have recently sold up their properties in the Waikato to move to Rotorua.
"We've got about 450 athletes we're training at the moment for various distances across the country and it's just growing at a phenomenal rate,"said Mr Suter.
The only thing holding up the move is finding a suitable house to buy as a base for the business in the increasingly hot Rotorua property market, he added.
The key reason for the move was the attraction of Rotorua's trails and the offroad running culture.
"We want to be in Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty because the running there is so amazing," he said.
"The lakes and forests are really accessible. The number of people who run and are active and fit is second to almost no other city I can think of in New Zealand. We train a good sample, with runners in Auckland, Wellington and a few in Christchurch. But Rotorua is just a standout performer in terms of the number of athletes per capita."
Mr Suter attributed the popularity of running to the general accessibility of running culture and fitness activities in the area's forests and parks.
"In Rotorua, people know about the Tarawera Ultramarathon, or the Tarawera marathon - it's almost like it's in the water."
Podium Podiatry & Footwear communications manager Sophie Jaggs said having Squadrun coming into the city was a plus for local trailrunners.
"It really offers another service for local people who are wanting to put themselves out there into different events. People who want to tick off the big challenges of the 100km-plus events will now have an expert telling them how to train."
* Also called ultra distance
* Any foot race longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195km, but most commonly distances of 50km, 100km, 80.4km (50 miles) and 160.9km (100 miles).