Rotorua was in party mood. It was 50 years since 16 runners ran the first official marathon around conveniently-sized Lake Rotorua.
This time 10 of those originals lined up to release golden anniversary balloons before the race began – and five of them ran the marathon again. Others chose a shorter distance.
They were among a field of about 9000 starters from 20 countries to compete in distances that included a full, half and quarter marathon and 5.5km.
Supporters lined the course in glorious autumn sunshine to encourage the record number of marathon runners. The finish chute was lined on both sides by people cheering runners to the end. Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick was there from the firing of the first start cannon until the last person crossed the line almost 10 hours later.
People ran for myriad reasons - some of them truly inspirational. For some it was their 50th marathon, for others, their 50th birthday. Some entered because finishing this marathon earned them a special commemorative medal.
Those original starters who finished the marathon again 50 years later are now all in their 70s. Peter Dey, David Heine, Ron Jones, Bruce McIntosh and Colin Smyth finished between 6h22m and 7h39m. Each was welcomed across the line by marathon co-founder Dennis Kenny; the race director for 34 years and still an event stalwart every year.
The oldest runner of the day was 91-year-old Colin Thorne, completing his 50th marathon in 6h50m. The cheerful chap only started running at 65.
Another inspirational finisher was late entry Garth Barfoot, completing his first marathon since a cycle accident in January forced an emergency hip replacement. The 77-year-old veteran of 33 Ironman competitions finished in 8h7m.
Marathon walker Cathryn Bjarnesen had different memories of the first marathon. Her father, Bruce Turner, was the official race timekeeper for about 40 years.
“We started off with a stopwatch (two were started) plus pencil, pen and paper to record the race numbers at the finish. I did this as Dad called out the times as the runners crossed the line.”
Timekeeping may have changed since then but Rotorua Marathon is still an event fuelled by efficient organisers, passionate helpers, enthusiastic runners and a keen community.