Thieves have dealt organisers of the Great Forest Marathon at Waitarere Beach a major blow ahead of what will be the final running of the event on Saturday.
Equipment vital to the running of the event was stolen from a container some time last week by crooks who used a grinder to cut locks to gain entry to a paddock and then the container.
A large branded gazebo, 18 trestle tables, a trolley dolly and 12 footstools were stolen from race headquarters at Waiterere Beach.
Great Forest Events committee chairwoman Marlene Bonner said the theft was "gut-wrenching". Police were called and took fingerprints.
"It's bad timing. They are items we need on the day. It's a huge setback," she said.
"We're really disappointed."
Bonner said they now had to "beg, borrow and steal" enough gear ahead of the start date this Saturday.
She would love to see the items returned in time for the race and made a plea on social media which had been widely shared. The gazebo was lime green and sign-written with the Great Forest events logo.
Meanwhile, the event this weekend would be an emotional one for organisers who have been forced to disband through lack of volunteers for the committee, which numbered just five.
Since the first race 25 years ago, the event had almost become a victim of its own success with more than 2000 entrants already enrolled this year. It was arguably the biggest and most popular event on the Horowhenua sporting and social calendar.
"Logistically, it's huge," she said.
Bonner said for years organisers had been appealing for more people to join the committee to lighten their workload, and hadn't made the "difficult" decision lightly.
It would make an application to disband as an incorporated society at the Annual General Meeting in August and also decide on the distribution of funds.
The marathon event traded on the fact it was the only off-road marathon event in New Zealand and its popularity grew so quickly the committee sought incorporated society status.
It was originally started by volunteers from the Levin Joggers and Walkers Club. People would travel from all over New Zealand to compete, while often backpackers and overseas tourists would see it advertised and join in.
It was designed to cater for all levels of runners with 5km, 10km, and half-marathon distances, and the cool forest experience and off-road tracks gave the event a real point of difference for runners used to competing on road.
The most popular event was always the 10km.
Bonner said the committee was fortunate they had a huge amount of support from various community groups in patrolling and volunteering, and they were always mindful of repaying those groups through sponsorship.
More than 100 volunteers were needed in various roles from race marshals, water stations, finish line attendants, course management and layout, parking, and distributing and collecting registration bibs.
It had been a tough couple of years for the committee. Just weeks out from the event last year it was canned at the last minute due to Covid-19.
The committee was fortunate to have a contingency fund and was able to refund all runners following the cancellation last year, although it was unable to recoup all of its own costs.
Another factor in the decision was the probability of having to find a new base soon. While landowners of a clearing near the forest had been brilliant in their support of the event, the area was now tagged for subdivision.