There may be 16,500 competitors set to run all, or part of, the Auckland Marathon tomorrow, but one face stands out from the rest.
Two-time Olympian Liza Hunter-Galvan will line up for the 42km race, which this year doubles as the national championship, a year-and-a-half after returning from a drugs ban.
Since making her comeback in the Christchurch Marathon last year, after serving a two-year ban for testing positive to the banned blood booster EPO, Hunter-Galvan has been taking a relaxed approach to running.
The competitiveness and determination have made way for a desire to simply enjoy herself, and so far it has paid dividends.
She won her Christchurch comeback race and repeated the feat at this year's event, also adding the Rotorua title.
She's a far cry from the woman who fought Athletics New Zealand all the way for a place at the Beijing Olympics after an initial non-selection.
In fact, Hunter-Galvan is going into tomorrow's event almost completely blind.
She has never run the Auckland Marathon and knows very little about the course, other than the first part "is quite hilly".
"I have no idea who is even entered. I'm just going to go out there and do what I can, and if things fall into place they do. If it's not my day then I'm all right with that too."
Texas-based Hunter-Galvan said her goal now is ticking things off her "running bucket list", which includes competing in her home events.
"I grew up admiring the people in these races. It's so competitive here and it's my home. If I can pull this one off I'll have the hat-trick."
She said there is still the odd person who thinks she should have been "hung, drawn and quartered" for doping, but generally she has had a very good reception since her return.
While it was running that initially forced her down the wrong path, she said it was also ultimately what allowed her to move on.
"One of the reasons I got into trouble was because it was getting all consuming for me. I was not even sure if I was going to come back, because you go through some pretty serious depression, and it was really hard for at least a year.
The 43-year-old said tomorrow could possibly be her last race in New Zealand, as she winds down a storied career and focuses more on her family, including coaching her 15-year-old daughter who has followed in her distance-running footsteps.
Her main competition should come from Australian champion Anita Keem for the overall title, while on the men's side another Australian, Rowan Walker, looks the one to beat.
Former champion Scott Winton and rookie Dave Ridley are tipped to fight it out for the national title.
The men's half marathon offers some intrigue, with Kenyan Edwin Kaitany gunning to complete a perfect year in which he has won every event in New Zealand he has contested.
- Fairfax Media
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