R16 Blog: The Hills of the Rotorua Marathon

By Hayden Shearman // If you’re running the Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon for the first time, you’ve probably heard one of two stories about the course:

  1. “It is flat and you will run a PB without a problem” (the people who say this spend most of their time trail running and consider Wellington an “undulating” city); OR
  2. “It is hilly and you will die at kilometre 26” (the people who say this have typically hit the wall at kilometre 26 and have never touched the gradient button on treadmills in their lives).

Two extreme types of runner. Two extreme views on the Rotorua course. As you’d expect, the truth is somewhere between these two. But exactly where is difficult to explain without some actual numbers.

So, below is a list of all the key climbs on the Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon. They are calculated from GPS readings so may vary in their accuracy but should give you a solid gauge.

Also, there are other hills on the course of either lesser gradient and/or shorter duration that did not warrant mentioning. In these sections, when you are feeling fresh you would not notice the hill, but when you are tired you will probably feel a small increase in the demands on your body to maintain goal pace.

Hill #1 @ 9.8km

Distance Climbing: 250m
Elevation Gain: 6m
Ave. Gradient: 2.4%
After the flats of Rotorua central and the suburbs, this is just a small intro to the hills you’ll encounter over the next 16k.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_1

Hill #2 @ 13.5km

Distance Climbing: 800m
Elevation Gain: 22m
Ave. Gradient: 2.7%
This is the first of the longer grinds but it is still a very gradual slope, so keep your effort levels the same, accepting a slight drop in actual pace, and avoid burning any more of those early matches.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_2

Hill #3 @ 18.2km

Distance Climbing: 1200m
Elevation Gain: 20m
Ave. Gradient: 1.7%
Another longer grind with a mild gradient that kicks up towards the end. A warm up for the hills just around the corner.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_3

Hill #4 @ 19.8km

Distance Climbing: 700m
Elevation Gain: 65m
Ave. Gradient: 9.3%
This is the big one. With a gradient of almost 10 per cent and 700m worth of uphill road you can expect to loose a minute or more in the kilometre. But because it is still in the first half of the marathon, it is still vital that you don’t just charge up it. The race remains ahead of you and you should be feeling like you’re just finishing off your warm up.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_4

Hill #5 @ 20.8km

Distance Climbing: 300m
Elevation Gain: 20m
Ave. Gradient: 6.7%
The final of the twisting hills amongst the beautiful native bush of this section of the lake. Take the moment to enjoy your surrounds. Shorten your stride, increase your cadence, pump the arms and stand up tall.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_5

Hill #6 @ 25.6km

Distance Climbing: 350m
Elevation Gain: 20m
Ave. Gradient: 5.7%
This is the final of the significant climbs. And it is steep enough to cause some discomfort. It’s also the one that sends many a marathoner to the well for the first time in the race. The combo of the previous 26km and the other hills you’ve just encountered makes this the straw that has broken many metaphorical camel’s backs.

However, if you have paced yourself well and maintained even effort levels, as opposed to even GPS paces, over the previous six hills, you should be cresting the top of the hill feeling like the warm up is over and the race is finally on!

From here you’ll be greeted with a nice downhill, then it’s a very gradual net downhill all the way to the finish (except for an equally gradual 2km-long climb at the 35k mark). In the final 16k, if you have paced yourself well, you should be able to get those feet ticking along and reel in your competitors, making back some of the lost minutes from the uphills.

Rotorua Marathon - Hill_6


So, is the Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon a hilly course? With less than 200m elevation gain on the significant hills (about 240 total ascent across the entire course), I would say that it is predominantly flat, with short sections that are undulating and one three-kilometre section (just before halfway) that is hilly by road marathon standards.

And how should you train for this course? Choose your long runs to include some hills in them (particularly in the second half). Climbs of a kilometre or more with 8-12% grade would be ideal. And be prepared to pace yourself conservatively in the first half of your marathon. If you do this, Rotorua shouldn’t offer up many nasty surprises at the 26k mark.

NOTE: The half marathon course is predominantly flat as it covers much of the same ground as the final 7k of the marathon.

Happy running.

This is the seventh blog of a fortnightly series all about getting you trained up and raring to go for the 2016 Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon (or half or quarter).  

Be sure to grab your race entry here and check out TempoFit’s TEAM R16 to be part of an incredible community of likeminded runners of all abilities who are all training towards the Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon 2016 (quarter, half and full distances).

7 responses to “R16 Blog: The Hills of the Rotorua Marathon

  1. I’ve run this twice, but it’s great to hear your take on it, it’s really puts things in perspective, makes it easier and sounds like good sensible advice

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  4. Haha .. exactly as you said, my wife gave up on the last hill and walked for a bit – as she completely overdid it in the first half of the race. Still she came in with a 3:11 if I remember correctly. Over 10 minutes faster than me! 😮

  5. Thank you sooo much for the headsup!! Running my first marathon at Rotorua this weekend and have heard so many varying stories of the hills. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you writing this up! Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t 😜

  6. Thanks for this, I recently had the fear of god put into me not doing enough hills in training for Rotorua. My usual Sunday long run has over 400m net gain so makes me feel comfortably on track!

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