A pair of marathon guns will line up as favourites for the 32km Great Cranleigh Kauri Run on Saturday.
Tauranga’s Ben Ruthe and Australian Hanny Allston, having both tasted significant success on the road this year, will test their bush-running abilities on the rugged Coromandel Peninsula during the second leg of the North Island Triple Crown series.
Ruthe won the Auckland Marathon earlier this month, is the reigning national crosscountry champion and took out the first leg of the Triple Crown, the 18.5km Toi’s Challenge in Whakatane, a fortnight ago.
Allston is the reigning Rotorua Marathon champion and is a former world orienteering champion.
Her switch back to trail running has spiced up an impressive women’s field in the fifth year of the event, organised by Adventure Racing Coromandel, which takes athletes across the spine of the peninsula from Waikawau Beach into Coromandel township.
Also in the field is Dutch-born Carla Zijlstra, a former Olympic speed skater who has featured prominently on the Australian mountain-running scene in recent years, and Russian-born Rotorua runner Oksana Isavnina.
Isavnina will be bidding for her third consecutive Kauri Run title, having also won the Toi’s Challenge event two weeks ago.
Ruthe is also the defending Kauri Run champion and his main challenge will come from race record holder and Tauranga Ramblers teammate Mark McKeown, who stopped the clock in 2006 at 2hrs 28mins 9secs.
Veteran Rotorua runner Colin Earwaker, 52, hasn’t finished outside the top-four in his previous three attempts at the race, while 18-year-old Whakatane schoolboy Daniel Jones stunned his older rivals by finishing second to Ruthe at the Toi’s race.
This year’s Kauri Run will see a record field of more than 400 runners, with options of racing over 32km or 13km.
For each entry, a Kauri tree will be planted along the route, with organisers envisaging a 32km avenue of Kauri across the peninsula in years to come.
The last event of the Triple Crown series is The Goat, a 21km mountain-run around the flanks of Mt Ruapehu from the Whakapapa to Turoa ski-fields on December 6.