Cecilia Flori hails from the ultra school of hard knocks — ultra marathon, that is — which espouses edicts such as: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear."

On that proclamation, it's fair to deduce Flori wasn't going to let a dusting of skin-tingling, one-degree frost or moody nor'westerlies take hostage of her conditioned mental faculties before going on to claim the open women's crown in the Air New Zealand Hawke's Bay International Marathon today.

The 38-year-old Italian, now living in Hamilton, stopped the clock at 2h 51m 06s, eclipsing last year's champion, US-born Sabina Piras, of Auckland, who came in at 2:54.50 while Fiona Love (3:00.02) claimed bronze at the Elephant Hill Winery finish line, near Clifton.

"This was a training run after I did the Rotorua Marathon two weeks ago so I've slashed 50 seconds from that time," said Flori who jostled positions with Piras for the best part of the 20km stretch after the start from West Quay in Napier.

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The academic, who arrived in New Zealand in 2016 to conduct maths lectures at Waikato University but now is researching in physics because of her intentions to compete in ultra marathons in the US (160km) late next month before lining up again in France (170km) in August, came second in the Rotorua Marathon by 37 seconds. Cambridge runner Alice Mason, settling in Rotorua, defended her crown there in 2h 51m 17s.

Today Flori pulled clear with a shade more than 10km to go.

"I ran strategically because I did a marathon only two weeks ago so I was running on tired legs," she said.

"I just thought, 'You just need to be as fast as the fastest girl' so I just stuck with her [Piras] because I normally run much longer distances and at the 30 [km] mark I was feeling pretty good."

Her training regime translates to more than 100km a week so with the marathon today she had accumulated only 120km this week.

"It's really nice here and I've never been here before," she said, daring to harbour the desire to return to defend her crown although there was the tricky task of organising some time off work to keep the pay cheque alive.

"I really enjoyed the trail part where you can see the ocean so that was really nice," she said.

Having lived in five different countries to pursue her career after leaving Rome as an 18-year-old, Flori said she was a "couch potato" until she found traction with mountain climbing.

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While embarking on 5km training runs for mountain climbing in 2011 near Toronto, Canada, an Ironman friend convinced her to compete in a half marathon five years later, which, eventually, gave her the golden opportunity to fulfil not just her passion for running but also her first love, mountain climbing.

She took 1h 45m to complete her maiden half marathon and caught the running bug after an 85km event beckoned six months later.

In a country where football is religion, Flori flirted with myriad codes, such as basketball, synchronised swimming and tennis, but none captured her imagination.

She found the small-town existence near Toronto invigorating but six months of -20C weather was just too much for her.

"I'm from Rome so it's hot there," said the woman who graduated with her masters in England and got her PhD in Germany before securing jobs in Canada and New Zealand.

So is she gravitating towards marathons since the Rotorua event a fortnight ago?

"You know, I've thought of it because in three hours you're finished rather than running for 19 hours," she said with a laugh, seeing the potential to run faster in a relatively shorter distance to ultra marathons.

Flori tends to soak up the panoramic views in runs although she reflects, every now and then, on matters pertaining to her rewarding life.

Last year's champion, American-born Sabina Piras, of Auckland, was runner-up at the Hawke's Bay International Marathon today. Photo/file
Last year's champion, American-born Sabina Piras, of Auckland, was runner-up at the Hawke's Bay International Marathon today. Photo/file

No doubt she had the odd pleasant exchange with Piras who she had beaten during a half marathon in Rotorua earlier this year.

"You look to help each other because you're running together and you appreciate each other so it's easier to maintain a higher pace when you're running with someone," she said but agreeing a competitive edge crept in at some point.

Piras was almost 20 minutes quicker than her winning time of 3:11.19 last year, albeit on the old course starting from Marine Parade, Napier, to the Sileni Estates Winery finish line in Hastings.

"Cecilia is a really strong runner. I ran against her about a month ago and she is such a monster, so strong," she told the media soon after crossing the line.

"I really appreciate running against her and having that rivalry, especially as New Zealand is such a small country."

Piras echoed the collective sentiments of a nippy start but typical Bay weather adding to an enjoyable day as traffic wardens had their work cut out in marshalling motorists to paddocks to board shuttle buses to the winery.

RESULTS

Marathon, men: 1 Daniel Jones (Wellington) 2h 27m 33s, 2 Nick Johnston (Fielding) 2:29.14, 3 Dion O'Neale (Auckland) 2:37.40; women: 1 Cecilia Flori (Hamilton) 2:51.06, 2 Sabina Piras (Auckland) 2:54.50, 3 Fiona Love 3:00.02.

New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty Half Marathon, men: 1 Jack Moody (Auckland) 1:07.16, 2 Olly Shaw (Rotorua) 1:11.14, 3 Max Spencer (Masterton) 1:12.36; women: 1 Sarah Gardner (Tauranga) 1:18.36, 2 Giselle Slotboom (Salt Lake City, US) 1:19.06, 3 Debbie Donald (Featherston) 1:22.59.

Cigna 10km, men: 1 Ted Taylor (Wellington) 36.32, 2 William Leong (Palmerston North) 37.05, 3 William Twiss (Whanganui) 37.26; women: 1 Laura Smidt (Blenheim) 39.20, 2 Caroline Meo (Napier) 40.36, 3 Cate Pedersen (Napier) 42.18.

Sarah Gardner, of Tauranga, clocked 1h 18m 36s to clinch the New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty Half Marathon crown in the women's open grade in Hastings today. Photo/supplied
Sarah Gardner, of Tauranga, clocked 1h 18m 36s to clinch the New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty Half Marathon crown in the women's open grade in Hastings today. Photo/supplied