Ben Ruthe produced a withering final burst along the picturesque Fergusson Park foreshore to defend his Tauranga Half Marathon title yesterday morning.
He won in a smart time of 1h 11m 23s but was chased all the way by Tauranga's Kyle MacDonald (1:12:09) in second with Ryan Stacey third (1:17:35).
"I'm stoked. I have been training with a group of men called the Panthers. It is a group of dads of kids at Pillans Point School and we train three times a week. They have pushed me hard and without question it has given me the edge," Ruthe said.
"I was hurting like anything today but I knew those boys would be giving me grief if I didn't hold (MacDonald) out.
"This is the most professionally run event because of the number of road cones, the number of officials, the music, the festival atmosphere at the end, just everything. It is a real positive family environment and showcases all of Tauranga with the view out to Matakana and the Mount.
"You couldn't ask for more could you."
Ruthe's wife Jesse looked odds on to also defend her title with a comfortable lead in the women's race until she had to withdraw with an injury at the 15km mark.
That opened up the opportunity for Esther Keown, 23, from Auckland to mark her first time competing at the event with a memorable victory in a good time of 1:20:39. Sarah Murphy was second (1:25:01) and Nancy Jiang third (1:26:17).
"It was awesome. I really, really liked it but it was quite a tough course. The hills are deceivingly hard especially in the last 10ks. The pretty scenery kind of distracts you from the pain you are in," Keown said. The 11th running was an outstanding success.
Numbers have grown quickly from 128 in 2011 to around 1150 yesterday with walkers and runners of all ages and abilities enjoying the four distances on offer of the Matua Mile (1.6km), 7km, 14 km and the 21km half marathon through reserves, walkways and city streets.
Organiser Scott Newland says the relationship with The Heart Foundation is critical to the event's on-going success.
"They have been a partner for a few years now. It is good to get runners out there raising money for them and they are good for us as well in helping to promote the event. We also have good support from the Tauranga City Council and we have 150 volunteers out on the course and they get forgotten because they are out on the road in all sorts of weather."
First male and female runners home in the other distances yesterday were Chris Myland and Morgan Ball (14km Walkway), Mathijs Wetzels and Claire Chapman (7km Walkways), and Blaze Miller and Millie Tisch (Matua Mile).