Marathon: Athletes at perfect setting

By Peter Thornton

Annika Smail will defend her half marathon title. Photo / APN
Annika Smail will defend her half marathon title. Photo / APN

Taupo is the mecca of multisport in New Zealand and today it hosts one of the most popular off-road runs in the country.

New Zealand's largest lake is the backdrop to the Bonita Ironman New Zealand, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Taupo Half Ironman and the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

This morning over 1000 athletes line up for the Mizuno off-road half marathon (21.1km) and quarter marathon (10.5km).

It is held on stages of the W2K track; starting in Kinloch (it gets its name as it goes from Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch) and is a popular track with mountain bikers, walkers and runners.

Annika Smail, who has just returned home after competing in the MTB Marathon World Champs in Switzerland, loves the off-road run.

She is the defending champion in the women's field with a time around 1 hour 35 minutes and has fond memories of her performance in the inaugural year.

"The conditions were perfect," said the 33-year-old, who was born in Switzerland.

"When we got to the top of the hill you could see all the way across Lake Taupo to the snowcaps on Mt Ruapehu ... it was beautiful."

Smail said the stunning scenery and the challenging terrain is a big part of why she competes in off-road marathons.

"I find the off-roads physically more demanding but I am more inspired in a beautiful setting than I am hitting the road because I find that mind numbingly boring."

Far from boring was the men's event last year that was a tight race where Cameron Durno was the first man home in around 1 hour 24 minutes.

Durno is not back to defend his title as he is on the Golf Coast for the Anaconda Adventure Race that begins tomorrow.

"I love the Taupo off-road half so I am a bit gutted to miss it," he said. "But there are only so many events you can do and I am excited about giving the Anaconda race a crack.

"I have good memories of that race last year - there were a few boys really pushing the pace on the down hills and it was a great battle."

The enjoyment factor is there for the elite as much as the casual runner.

The beautiful views and being among the native bush have seen the event grow in popularity with walkers and runners of all abilities.

"To have 1000 athletes in the first year was amazing," said Clare Ponton, the communications manager for the event.

"There are 3000 who do the Taupo half marathon but that has been going for 17 years and there is no doubt that off-road runs are growing in stature."

The Mizuno half marathons are unique in the fact that they give back to the community in three ways.

"Like all events in Taupo, we work closely with community and school groups," said event director Wayne Reardon.

"The marshalling and track maintenance that Bike Taupo provides makes it possible for us to organise the Mizuno off-road half marathon on the W2K track and last year we were delighted to provide them with a donation of over $10,000."

Over $11,000 was donated from the on-road Mizuno half marathon last month to various Taupo groups including $2000 to their chosen charity, Lake Taupo Hospice.

Proceeds from the half and quarter marathon events are distributed to Taupo's young future sporting stars through the Taupo Half Marathon youth sports grants.

Smail said that the support of the local community was a big part of her success last year.

"Everyone was shouting and cheering us on and that really motivated me."

She is one of the favourites today and, even though her preparation hasn't been great, is hoping for a competitive field.

"It depends who is going to turn up," said Smail. "I am hoping it is a challenging and a fast race with a lot of girls that can really push each other to a good time."

Taupo Off Road
* Over 1000 athletes will compete in the 21.1km and quarter marathon (10.5km).

* It is held on stages of the W2K track; starting in Kinloch (it gets its name as it goes from Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch) and is a popular track with mountain bikers, walkers and runners.

* Last year the Mizuno Off-Road Half Marathon made a donation of over $10,000 to the W2K track.

* Proceeds are distributed to Taupo's young future sporting stars through the Taupo half marathon youth sports grants.

- NZ Herald

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