Rotorua Half Ironman organisers make no bones about it, this race is hard.

Affectionately known as the 'suffer', the annual event, being held tomorrow, is designed to push athletes to their limits, not because organisers want to torture them but to ensure crossing the finish line is an achievement worth celebrating.

The unique and honest philosophy is described on the event's website: "This race is for a special breed. An event for triathletes of widely ranging abilities who all share the same common goal. To get to their finish line. To race on New Zealand's best course. To accept a real challenge and to stare down and defeat their demons. To SUFFER. To support each other. To just get home."

Event director Shane Hooks said about 700 athletes had registered for the race which comprised a 2km swim at Tikitapu (Blue Lake), a 90km cycle out to Lake Rotoma and a 21km run around Green Lake.

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"We've got the best swim in New Zealand, I think that is without argument. The bike course is where things start to get honest and the run, well, they get a T-shirt with 'suffer' written on it for really good reason.

Riders make their way up a hill on Tarawera Rd during last year's Rotorua Half Ironman. Photo / File
Riders make their way up a hill on Tarawera Rd during last year's Rotorua Half Ironman. Photo / File

"The nice part about this is it's a really hard course, but people are up for the challenge. They're not a pack of softies, they're prepared to take some harden-up pills and suffer alongside their mates, that's what really makes this race so special.

"Rather than hide it, we play it up and it's worked. Obviously, we don't have multi-thousand dollar prize money to get all the big names down but we genuinely don't care. The numbers are fantastic.

"Of this race only 47 of the registrations have come from the Rotorua area, so it's a real genuine destination event and they come from everywhere. This isn't a normal triathlon, we have our own vibe and the people that come get it," Hooks said.

2016 Rotorua Half Ironman competitors cool off after the race in Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake). Photo / File
2016 Rotorua Half Ironman competitors cool off after the race in Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake). Photo / File

This is the 19th year the event has been run. Originally based in Taupo, it was moved to Rotorua in 2006.

"Last year we had [Spanish triathlete] Javier Gomez go 'hey, that's a good idea, I'll do that one'. It's the only race he's done in New Zealand outside of an ITU one. Sadly for us he's back in Spain this year.

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"For me, this event is a family reunion. There are people that have come back year after year, and a lot of them don't go on to do a full ironman, this is their top distance. They see this as their big challenge. I love these people and the one thing I don't do is baby sit them, I don't pretend that it's not hard because it is. I'll never say 'you're looking great', because they don't, but they get my heartiest support," he said.

The event website sums up: "Rotorua is about being casual yet super competitive. No valet parking in transition and poncey elite waves. It's beer at the finish line. Full strength."