News & Updates

5 May 2023 • Rotorua Marathon

Tanner and Dennehy claim historic first New Zealand Road Mile titles

Sam Tanner added the national road mile title to the New Zealand 1500m and mile gold medals he claimed earlier this year. Credit: (Alisha Lovrich).

On a wet, windy and wild night in Rotorua, New Zealand middle-distance stars Sam Tanner and Brigid Dennehy made history to become the inaugural winners of the New Zealand Road Mile Championships in Rotorua.

Held in conjunction with the first ever Museum Mile sponsored by Toi Ohomai – the innovative event kick-started three days of action of the 59th year of the Red Stag Rotorua Marathon and there is little doubt the brand new event delivered.

In the men’s race, Tanner, added the national road mile title to his track mile crown claimed in January to secure a convincing win from his two training partners; Julian Oakley and Hayden Wilde as the Craig Kirkwood coached trio swept the podium.

Tanner established control from the outset and despite Wilde mounting a strong challenge during the first half of the race – the 3:51 miler proved too strong to strike gold in 4:11 – a little over four seconds clear of Oakley, who clocked 4:15. Wilde, the Olympic triathlon bronze medallist, was rewarded for a typically aggressive run by pocketing bronze in 4:16. Tom Moulai of the University of Canterbury placed fourth in 4:18.

Tanner, who also plans to compete in the RampRun and Runway5 over the next two days of the Red Stag Rotorua Marathon, said: “It was pretty cool to win in such hectic conditions and it is awesome to win another national title, especially one as exhilarating as this.

“We got out pretty hard before I relaxed a little bit. Then Hayden came up to my shoulder, and he stepped on the gas, and it was, okay, I guess we are going? I made my move 800m in and took control of the rest of the race. It was hectic out in about 20 knots of wind and a headwind coming toward the home straight. But the whole experience superseded my expectations. The event created lots of excitement, and everyone enjoyed it.”

On his prospects for the next two days he added: “It sets me up well. I am looking forward to the 5km and taking my training partners (Wilde and Oakley). It is going to be a challenge but super fun.”

While the men’s race went to form, the women’s race witnessed a major upset as Dennehy – just four weeks after coming out of hospital after being put on an IV drip – claimed her maiden national title thanks to a smart tactical execution.

In wet and windy weather conditions more akin to her native West of Ireland, the New Zealand resident since June last year, outfoxed the opposition to deliver a narrow ones-second win in 5:01 from reigning national track mile champion Rebekah Greene (Hill City) who took silver from 2021 national track mile champion and Tokyo Olympian Camille French (Hamilton City Hawks) in bronze (5:02).

Auckland-based Dennehy, who is part of the Bays Babes training group (North Harbour Bays) coached by Paul Hamblyn, came into the race with few expectations particularly after suffering a medical scare just four weeks ago.

Picking up the condition Rhabdo following an F45 session – in which damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood which can lead to organ damage – she spent a night in hospital and was put on an IV drip.

Dennehy, who placed fifth in the track mile New Zealand Championships in January, said: “I wouldn’t have believed when I was in hospital that four weeks later I would become national champion. Thankfully, I recovered quickly (from the hospital stint) but I had no real expectation coming in and I wouldn’t have been disappointed with a top six.

“The race was pretty messy and although the pace was quite quick at the start slowly people dropped off the pack. With 400m to go we went into a single file around the roundabout, and I thought I just hope I can stick with Camille (French) and Becky (Greene) at the front. I suddenly thought they are not speeding up, so I knew I had to take the lead before the final really hard corner about 150m from the finish. I got to the front and thought they would probably catch me, so to win, I’m in shock.”

Dennehy now moves on to compete in the RampRun on Saturday followed by the Runway5 on Sunday.

Poppy Martin claimed a popular hometown win to claim gold in the women’s U20 race and fourth overall in a time of 5:07. Claiming the scalps of established senior names such as national champion performers Holly Manning, Katherine Camp and Anneke Arlidge (nee Grogan) the Lake City AC athlete produced a masterclass around the one mile route adding gold to the U20 mile bronze she won on the track in January. Silver was secured by Sascha Letica (Takapuna) in 5:17 with Eleanor Pugh (Athletics Tauranga) three seconds adrift claiming bronze.

Eleanor’s older brother, Elliott Pugh, was a comprehensive winner of the men’s U20 race in a time of 4:27 to upgrade on the national track mile silver he snared earlier this year in Whanganui. Pugh, who placed a highly respectable 39th in the men’s U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships in February, led home an Athletics Tauranga one-two with George Wyllie taking silver (4:32). National U20 steeplechase bronze medallist Nick Davies of Takapuna added the same colour medal here in Rotorua, posting 4:33.