Despite lockdowns and event cancellations, the triathlon community hasn't been deterred with the Tauranga Half triathlon heading for record entries this month.
The event is one of the most iconic and longest-running events on the country's triathlon calendar, and heads into its 33rd year in 2022.
Part of the Fulton Hogan Mount Festival of Multisport, the Tauranga Half has been cemented as a firm favourite among athletes. The festival has four key events, which will see over 2000 athletes descend on Mount Maunganui on January 22.
The festival is headlined by the pinnacle event - the Tauranga Half. For athletes wanting a different challenge, there is the AquaBike swim bike event, the 5km, 10km or 21km Mount Run or the brand new Pilot Bay Swim for avid ocean swimmers.
Event director Julia Tilley said she was blown away by the support of this year's event from the country's committed triathlon community.
"With so many event cancellations and uncertainty that the past year has bought, it's humbling to see so many athletes still happy to get behind the event and enter early.
"Entries have been consistently tracking ahead of our previous records each month, despite lockdown - everyone is just so excited to race!"
The Tauranga Half is the main attraction for elite athletes, with many of New Zealand's best heading to the start line again in 2022.
The lineup includes two-time winner and Bay of Plenty local Hannah Wells, who has just returned from lining up with some of the best in the world over the winter.
Wells backed up her Ironman NZ debut win in March with a credible fifth placing at Ironman Florida In November.
Wells said Ironman Florida was the biggest and most competitive field she had raced in, and after learning a lot, she was excited to come home and race on home turf.
"It feels good to soon be competing in an event in my hometown. I love racing at home and seeing so many people I know out on course, either racing or supporting."
The elite men's lineup is equally impressive with a plethora of past winners including two-time winner and Multisport Champion Braden Currie, 10 time Tauranga Half champion Cameron Brown, and former Tauranga Half winner Mike Phillips.
Another one to watch will be Auckland's' Jack Moody who has been chasing the top spot at the Tauranga Half for the past few years.
"I have managed to take a step on to either side of the podium in recent years, but the top step has proved rather elusive with such a high calibre of athletes always showing up for what is a staple event in the kiwi summer," Moody said.
The addition of the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road Highway to the bike course in 2021 saw new event and national records set, with the Tauranga Half being touted as the fastest half distance race in the country .
The athletes will be looking to challenge the course records set by Teresa Adams and Kyle Smith in January last year.
Moody has been training hard over the winter and will be bringing all his endurance to the start line this year.
"I think we can still expect to see the likes of Mike Phillips and Braden Currie up the road early on come race time but anything can happen over a few hours of full-throttle racing.
"For me, I just have to focus on bringing out the best performance I can possibly deliver and not dwell on what anyone else is doing - in saying that if more competition is the catalyst for us raising the bar and breaking the course record again then awesome."
The start line for all Fulton Hogan Mount Festival events is the stunning Pilot Bay.
Mount Festival of Multisport – January 22 2022 Pilot Bay, Mount Maunganui
Tauranga Half 2km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run
Aqua Bike 3km Swim 120km Bike
Mount Run Run – 5km, 10km or 21km
Pilot Bay Swim Ocean Swim – 750m, 2km, 3.7km