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Rotorua Marathon runner James Crosswell chases late friend’s record

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At 74, James Crosswell is only five marathons away from breaking the record for most-run Rotorua marathons.

But the Ōpōtiki man not doing it for the glory – he’s doing it because he made a promise to his friend Colin Smyth, the current title holder who passed away aged 76 in 2015, just months after completing his 50th Rotorua Marathon.

“I’ve been chasing him ever since,” said Crosswell, who will run his 47th marathon around Lake Rotorua on Saturday. He aims to eventually complete 51.

James Crosswell is only five marathons away from beating Colin Smyth's record.
James Crosswell is only five marathons away from beating Colin Smyth’s record.

In the month leading up to the race, Crosswell had been running 30km every Saturday.

“With the heart attack I had in 2019, I have to walk and run these days but I’m just happy to still be out here,” he said.

“I just know he’s sitting on my shoulder cheering me on.”

Over the years, Crosswell had run close to 100 marathons across the country, with his best finish time at 2 hours and 52 minutes.

“Once Colin ran 50, he was going to run one more just to piss me off but he died two months later,” said Crosswell.

Pat Smyth said her husband’s last race took over 11 hours to complete.

“We walked the last race together and every hour someone from our running group would come and walk with us for a while,” she said.

Marathon legend Colin Smyth crosses the line of the Rotorua Marathon for the 25th consecutive time.
Marathon legend Colin Smyth crosses the line of the Rotorua Marathon for the 25th consecutive time.

“He would have ran another race too but he became too unwell,” Pat said.

Colin walked the last 10 of his marathons due to problems with his knees, and later died from complications with his lungs.

While Smyth’s wife Pat doesn’t believe Crosswell would ever truly beat Smyth, as he ran all 50 marathons consequently, she said there was no better person to overtake his record.

Crosswell had run in six to eight different marathons throughout the country, sometimes missing Rotorua, so could not beat his friend’s consecutive streak there.

Marathon runner Colin Smyth and his wife Pat Smyth in 2011. Photo / Ben Fraser
Marathon runner Colin Smyth and his wife Pat Smyth in 2011. Photo / Ben Fraser

Crosswell and Smyth met in the 1970s through running, while both were working in the plumbing sector.

In 1993, they helped found the Rotorua Marathon Survivors Club, a group celebrating runners who ran the race more than 15 times.

The Smyths would host after-race dinners after Colin’s passing, Crosswell became the host.

The club was started as an attempt to bring more tourism to the city, as runners would bring supporters and spend money in the local economy.

Crosswell said Rotorua was unique in its marathons, with seasoned runners telling him its scenic lap around the lake was seven minutes harder than any other marathon in New Zealand.

Alice Mason, who has won the woman’s title several times, in 2023 described it as “a tough, honest marathon course, the toughest in New Zealand”.

Harriet Laughton is a multi-media journalist based in the Bay of Plenty.



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