A dramatic finish involving an exhausted fall saw pre-race favourite Scott Winton snatch the 45th annual Rotorua marathon ahead of local hero Steven O'Callaghan yesterday.

After sharing the lead with Winton from the start, O'Callaghan decided to make a break for it with 6km remaining of the 42.2km journey around Lake Rotorua.

O'Callaghan quickly put 100m on Winton and put his head down to slog it out to the finish. On the road into Government Gardens, the 27-year-old roofer held the advantage with Winton quickly closing in.

Just metres from the finishing line O'Callaghan ran out of steam, his legs buckled and he stumbled, allowing Winton to snatch the win. Winton's time was 2h 27m 14s, O'Callaghan struggled over the line six seconds later.

"When Steven went, I didn't give it away - I stuck at it and got it in the end," said a delighted Winton.

"It was a bit nervous there at the end, Steven tripped and I tripped too, but managed to hold on. I feel for him, he's got a good future in the marathon."

O'Callaghan said he had nothing left. "My legs collapsed under me. I had no race plans, just full at it.

"I had to take off when I did, there was no point in holding back any longer.

"I knew it was going to be a pretty tight one and I just had to push and push as hard as I could," added O'Callaghan.

Winton and O'Callaghan went through the 20km mark in 68m 36s, 13s ahead of Japanese visitor Masayuki Otokuni with Phil Costley starting to drift off the front running. On the downhill after the halfway mark, Costley was down to a walk and withdrew.

Iain Macdonald of Tauranga was third in 2h 29m, heading team-mate Ben Ruthe by 25 seconds.

Winton also won this race in 2006 in a time of 2h 25m 34s. His next race will be the Christchurch half-marathon at the end of the month, then hopefully the world cup marathon in Berlin in August. If not, he will start in the Gold Coast marathon in July.

Lara Phillips of Christchurch led from start to finish in the women's section, recording 2h 55m 49s.

It was Phillips' fifth marathon, giving her an impressive record of three wins and two seconds.

In bitterly cold conditions the slightly built Phillips got progressively slower as the race went on.

"I'm disappointed not to get a personal best, but it was a rewarding finish," said Phillips. "My legs were so tired and it was determination and perseverance to the finish."

Victoria Humphries of Wellington, who was born the year of the first Rotorua Marathon, was second in 2h 56m 37s with Melissa Norris of Auckland third in 2h 57m 39s.