Sabrina Grogan will compete in her final New Zealand race ahead of an Italian adventure that will include vertical kilometres and gelato.
The 25-year-old Tauranga runner will compete in the off-road half marathon at Saturday's Rotorua Marathon, in what will be the three-time national mountain running champ's last race before three months overseas.
Grogan is in her final year as a medical student and will do a placement in northern Italy next month. She chose Italy as it has plenty of top options for a keen trail runner and she is also keen on having a crack at a vertical kilometre event. It is a race that has elevation of 1000m set on as little lateral distance as possible, normally about 3km.
But before that challenge, Grogan has her sights on Rotorua tomorrow.
"This is a build-up race and about me trying to get a bit of practice running the 21km distance, running nice and fast with a bit of off-road stuff as well," Grogan says.
"I would really like to have a good hit out. I don't have a time in mind, as with off-road it is a bit hard. I want to be well under one hour 30, but it is more about going out there and putting in a strong race."
Grogan's time in Italy will include a number of trail races, which she says are big events.
"New Zealand doesn't put a lot of emphasis on off-road and mountain running in comparison to Italians. There is always a really big atmosphere, these races have hundreds to broaching upon thousands of people running them. The support behind them is really big too."
Grogan admits her Italian is "very bad" but is looking forward to what the trip has to offer.
Her biggest will be the Grossglockner Mountain Run in Austria, which is part of the World Mountain Running Association World Cup. That and the other events in Europe will provide a good chunk of Grogan's build up to the World Mountain Running Champs in Argentina in November.
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Grogan says the events she races she in Europe will be important for her tilt at the world championships.
"The whole time there I will be at altitude, it will be perfect training conditions and also having people around me that are so into their mountain running. It will be another brick in the wall in building up to being a better runner."
Grogan will cap off a big year with her gradation also in November.
Rotorua Marathon race director Murray Fleming says the event is unique as Lake Rotorua provides a geographical feature to run round with the perfect distance for a marathon.
"The history of it is very important, it is 55 years old now, and the reality is that the marathon is an iconic event, if you are a runner it is just one of those events that you need tick off."
The marathon survivors club, for runners who have completed 15 Rotorua Marathons, includes more than 500 members and Fleming says the club is an important part of the race's history.
"The district is a big part of it as well as it is a great place to visit. We are looking around 3500 competitors across all the events and that is similar to last year. The events around the country that are holding at over 3000 entries, you can count them on one hand.
"It is a personal achievement, whether it is 5km or the marathon. For a lot of people, the 5km is a massive achievement, and it is great seeing the looks on their faces when they get their finisher's medal."
New Plymouth runner Paul Ballinger holds the record for the marathon with 2.16.05, which he set in 1988. The best female time is 2.37.70 set by Nyla Carrol of Owairaka in 1994. The best 20 times for the marathon were all run before the turn of the millennium.
Fleming says adding the half marathon to the event nine years ago was also an important step. Today will see the mini marathon event take place at the Energy Events Centre. Rotorua Primary School students did 40km of training in term one and will run the final 2km today at the Energy Events Centre.
Rotorua Marathon race start times:
8.00am - Marathon runners
8.05am - Marathon walkers
8.15am - Half marathon runners
8.20am - Half marathon walkers
8.35am - 10km runners and walkers
9.00am - 5km runners and walkers