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Voss reigns at 60th Rotorua Marathon

Michael Voss Rotorua Marathon athletics
Michael Voss edged Cullern Thorby in a classic race at the 60th Rotorua Marathon. PHOTO: ATHLETICS NZ/ALISHA LOVRICH

The support from a group of friends inspired Michael Voss to an epic four-second victory from Lake City AC clubmate Cullern Thorby in an unforgettable 60th Rotorua Marathon on Saturday.

Voss and Thorby served up a classic head-to-head showdown of thrust and counter thrust and after the latter – running only his second ever marathon – opened up a 30-second lead, it looked like Voss’ bid for a fourth Rotorua Marathon title had floundered.

However, revived by the support he received from his mates, the New Zealand 10,000m and half marathon champion put on the after burners in the final few kilometres to overhaul the 21-year-old Thorby and claim a fourth Rotorua Marathon victory in 2 hours 23 minutes 48 seconds.

Voss also added the New Zealand Marathon title to his growing collection of national titles.

Thorby, who finished third in the 2023 edition of the Rotorua Marathon, set a magnificent personal-best by more than two-and-a-half minutes to showcase his hugely exciting future. Ben Parker (2:36:34) rounded out the podium in third.

“This Rotorua Marathon victory is the one I enjoyed the most. I love having a battle, Cullern was so strong, and it makes it so much more rewarding (to win a race of that nature)," said Voss, who claimed a sixth successive Rotorua Marathon podium and added to his victories in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Michael Voss Rotorua Marathon athletics
Michael Voss (right) won his fourth Rotorua Marathon on Saturday. PHOTO: ATHLETICS NZ/ALISHA LOVRICH

“I tried to take Cullern at 30km and I opened up a lead. Then he came back, and we kept taking turns at the front. He then got a little bit of a gap, and I thought he had me. I almost settled for second, but my workmates kept me going and then I gave it everything at the end.”

Voss took the New Zealand title ahead of Thorby with the bronze medal going to Kyle Bridgeman (New Plymouth Harriers) in 2:39:01.

“It was awesome. I was not expecting to stay with Michael, it was great to race him. He is a good guy, it was a great day, perfect conditions.

"Since I started running and got out of my party stage, running makes me happy and has been a great release," said Thorby, who only seriously started running two years ago and who like Voss works as a builder.

Debbie Donald Rotorua Marathon athletics
Debbie Donald surged to a 10-minute win in the women's marathon. PHOTO: ATHLETICS NZ/ALISHA LOVRICH

Debbie Donald (Athletics Masterton) claimed an emphatic victory in the women’s marathon to retain her national title in a time of 2:46:30.

The 37-year-old mum-of-three forged ahead of Lydia O’Donnell before 10km and marched on to top spot, just seven weeks after recording a lifetime-best of 2:40:39 in the Nagoya Marathon in Japan.

“I only made a last-minute decision to come here,” said Donald. “After Nagoya, I competed over the half-marathon in Christchurch, where I finished fourth, and although the time was good, my legs felt a bit off.

"I hadn’t done any long runs leading into today and my legs felt a bit zapped by 32km. But I knew the championship was on the line, and I’m pinching myself now.”

After taking the lead she told herself not to look back and was rewarded with the race win.

“I knew Lydia was a gun runner and she has fast legs too. I just had to keep going. It was so beautiful running around Lake Rotorua. To win the New Zealand title again is so surreal. I hope to come back next year and win a third New Zealand title.”

O’Donnell (Night Ninjas), the former national 5000m, 10,000m and half marathon title holder, plugged on gamely to place second and clinch NZ Championship silver in 2:56:39. O’Donnell’s clubmate Kate Macdonald (3:05:15) snared third and the NZ championship bronze medal.

Colin Thorne Rotorua Marathon athletics
100-year-old Colin Thorne completed his 22nd Rotorua Marathon. PHOTO: ATHLETICS NZ/ALISHA LOVRICH

On a sun-bathed day in Rotorua, the 60th anniversary edition of the Rotorua Half-Marathon attracted more than 5100 entries but perhaps the most inspirational participant was 100-year-old Colin Thorne, who completed the 5.5km in 1:11:24 alongside his daughter Pauline Dinsdale.

Whangarei-based Thorne, who has completed 22 full Rotorua Marathons and is a Parkrun regular, said: “I’m happy to be here, it is a real pleasure to be at the 60th Rotorua Marathon. This race means so much to me I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m humbled to receive the support I have out on the course.”

Dave Heine, the winner of the inaugural Rotorua Marathon in 1965, also completed the 5.5km, running a handy time of 46:23.

Auckland-based Heine, 82, who presented Voss with his specially designed 60th anniversary Rotorua Marathon medal, said: “I have very fond memories of my time running the Rotorua Marathon and my time with the Rotorua and Harrier club. It always feels good to come back. I was a little bit of accident in history winning that first Rotorua Marathon, but it is nice to come back and be involved.”

Jared Schnell edged a close-fought half-marathon in 1:14:39 with Kumiko Otani in 1:24:37 taking out the women’s half-marathon.

Casey Thorby, brother of marathon runner-up Cullern, claimed a convincing victory in the 10km in 30:47 with Femmi co-founder Esther Keown clinching the women’s 10km in 37:23. Hayden Shearman, a regular Athletics NZ livestream commentator, proved unstoppable in the 5.5km, taking victory in 21:01.  Mya Needham (25:08) was the first woman across the finish line.


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