Triathlete Amelia Watkinson has closed the gap on Asia-Pacific champion Meredith Kessler.

Watkinson, 24, was 40 seconds behind the American who won the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Ironman 70.3 at Taupo at the weekend.

Kessler, clocking 4:17.31, said it was one of the harder races in a long time and she had to pick up her run.

Watkinson said it was "nice to be able to challenge Meredith. She is such a prestigious athlete".

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In January, Watkinson was third behind Kessler and Gina Crawford at the Asia-Pacific 70.3 in Auckland and more than six minutes behind Kessler.

Watkinson was happy with her 4:18.12. "I wasn't expecting to be in peak form as I haven't been doing speed training for my run," the Hawke's Bay-based athlete said.

A stress fracture stopped her running and cycling for a month during winter.

Instead, she swam at every available session, swimming up to 50km a week, which she said "is a lot for a triathlete".

Watkinson, originally from Auckland, said the Bay was a great training spot with quieter roads and a lot of community support. She was enjoying swimming with Greendale Swim Club and riding with Ramblers club.

Two Triathlon HB club members took the top of the podium in the age-group categories in Taupo.

Another promising athlete, Karen Toulmin, had her first 70.3 win in the 30-to-34 age-group in just her second season. She was "ecstatic" with her time of 4:49.13, attributing it to hard work in winter.

"It feels very rewarding to qualify and win on my second race for the season," Toulmin said.

She went out on Saturday wanting to improve on her recent sixth placing at Port Macquarie Ironman 70.3.

"I had a very good day racing and thoroughly enjoyed the Taupo course and all the support from Hawke's Bay."

Linda Exeter-Grant won her 50-54 age group title on the Taupo course in 5:11.58. It backs up her Taupo Half Ironman 45-49 win on the same course last year.

Exter-Grant said Saturday's race was tough and she was "thrilled" with the win.

A Bay team of Neil Baker, Kendall Reidy and Lucas de Rossi were first in 4:11.30.