A French gendarme has become the latest woman to win an ultra-marathon, beating three other women and 13 men in a 24-hour endurance race in Auckland.
Nathalie Schmitt, 42, who has been based in New Caledonia for the past two years, won this year's New Zealand 24-hour championship, running 206km around the track at the AUT Millennium Stadium in Mairangi Bay from 9am on Saturday until 9am on Sunday.
Second-place-getter Mike Field, a 51-year-old teacher at Christ's College in Christchurch, said he could not speak to Schmitt because she does not speak English, but she was "really tough, obviously".
His wife Julie Field, who speaks French, said Schmitt was an elite-level marathon runner but this was the first time she had entered a 24-hour event.
"She was extraordinary, particularly for the first 12-18 hours," Julie Field said.
"She got quite exhausted towards the end, she looked very wobbly and lightheaded, and at times we wondered if she would pass out on the track.
"When it was the time to be presented with all the trophies, she was kind of just slumped over in her chair in her own little world of pain.
"One lady couldn't get up to get her medal, her people had to carry her over. That was very poignant.
"She [Schmitt] did get up, but they wanted to have photos and she couldn't do it so they just left her. She had her head in her hands. It looked like she was asleep but she wasn't. All the people who have done an ultra like this have to be able to endure pain."
Although listed as an official event by Athletics NZ, the 24-hour race is organised by the Sri Chinmoy marathon team, followers of an Indian spiritual leader who was a top athlete before founding his meditation movement and believed that sport "can add inner peace and balance to our lives".
Mike Field, who ran 201km in the race, said the organisers sang through much of the event, creating "a very festive environment".
"By the time you get to these distances, it's a mental game more than a physical game, because obviously it hurts a lot and it comes down to how tough you are and whether you can punch through the pain," he said.
"Everybody gets to know each other. If you are running for 24 hours with someone, you get to know them pretty well.
"Obviously there is some time when you are almost zoned out in the middle of the night when the music stops. From 1am to 4am it's nice and quiet so you pretty much have to zone out.
"Then people start coming in and then the music starts."
He said women were increasingly winning ultramarathons.
"There are a lot of examples in the last few years where women are beating men in ultra-marathons," he said.
"It's entirely normal now. Biologically they are apparently better."
Kiwi ultra runner Kim Allan told the Herald's Chris Rattue in April that women had lighter frames than men.
"There's that mental toughness — you just get on with things and maybe that is in our favour," she said.
"We have less muscle mass to carry, and it doesn't come down to power for a massive sprint at the end. There is a lot of mental stuff. I don't really know why, to be honest."
Julie Field and Schmitt's husband Marc stayed at the trackside throughout the 24 hours. Field was also joined at the end by the couple's two children, his two Auckland-based sisters and their husbands and children.