Saturday 15 March 2014

Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2014

My first international race for the year was the New Zealand 100km Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM), at least it was supposed to be 100km. I had travelled over to Rotorua last year (2013 race report) and raced on the altered ‘fire course’. This year I was excited to hopefully race on the proper course in its entirety. Also with TUM being part of the Ultra Trail World Tour the depth of competition would be deeper and hopefully a good opportunity to race against some different girls.

My training for the TUM hadn’t been very specific. Usually I set aside at least one day a week to do a long run which replicates the course I’m going to be racing. For TUM it should have been long runnable hills covering between 60-70kms. Instead I’ve been a little more focused on time based training (6-7hrs) with lots of steep vertical climbing. I decided to make this choice with my training as I’ve got another event (ultra skyrace) only a few weeks later that is very different to TUM. So my focus was to train specifically for one or the other, but not both.
The trail at the start of the fun run.

The aura surrounding this year’s TUM had been just as good as last years with respect to the athlete information and enthusiasm from Paul Charteris and his team. The energy that exudes from the TUM Team is infectious and you cannot help but get caught up in it all.

I arrived at Auckland international airport with Brian on the Thursday before the race, and together we picked up our rental car and then proceeded to Rotorua, with just enough time to check-in at the Holiday Inn and get dressed for the afternoon fun run. We boarded one of the many buses with other excited runners for the short drive around to the drop-off point. Our bus was a-buzz with chatter which was not too dissimilar to a primary school excursion. The fun run was really well attended and the trails it traversed on the south side of Rotorua were superb. I fell into a gentle pace and found myself running near Meghan Arbogast. I introduced myself and we had a good chat for a few kilometres. Last year’s fun run I chatted to Timmy Olson, this year Meghan. These TUM fun runs are the best, truly. The fun run finished at the spectacular Te Puia. A few of us were herded to the side then taken onto the geyser plateau for a photo shoot. I hadn’t done a ‘running’ photo shoot before and it was fun following the conga line of runners being lead around in a figure of eight by Anna Frost. At the conclusion of the photo shoot I had a short pre-raceinterview with Bryon Powell of After viewing a lot of Bryon’s interviews it is kind of funny being in one of them. And no, I haven’t watched it yet.

Running photo shoot.
The Friday morning before the race Brian and I met up with Nick Smith (fellow Berowra Bushrunner) and his wife Andrea, for a recce drive over the course and its checkpoints. Nick and Andrea hadn’t been on the course before, and Brian and I hadn’t seen the back part of the course as last year it was removed entirely from the race due to extreme fire danger. The recce was time well spent and helped to refresh my mind on what was coming up and which checkpoints are worth refuelling at. 

Recce drive: (L-R) Nick Smith, me, Brian
We returned from the recce drive with enough time to attend the Athlete Q&A before the race briefing and check-in. A few days earlier Paul Charteris had made the decision that all runners would need to carry a waterproof jacket. For some the jump from no mandatory gear, as per the standard race rules, to the requirement to carry a waterproof jacket was too much which lead to some very entertaining reading on Facebook. The decision was made as a result of tropical cyclone ‘Lusi” which was slowly bearing down on the New Zealand North Island and was expected to hit the TUM course on race day. 

On my way to dinner I passed the race registration area and there was a lot of noise and chatter coming from the room. I stuck my head in to discover that there had been an announcement and that the course was to be rerouted and the distances originally on offer (60km, 85km and 100km) would now be altered to a ‘short course’ of approximately 59km or ‘long course’ of approximately 72km. There was a lot of speculation and pointing to maps which led to some interesting dinner conversation. Ultimately everyone was in the same boat and we would have to see what the following morning’s race and weather would bring.

Following my usual restless prerace sleep I got up, got ready then Brian and I met up with Brendan Davies for the short drive to the start line. Emerging from the Holiday Inn in the early morning darkness I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only some light cloud cover and that everything looked remarkably dry. Perhaps the weather forecast was wrong, it is after all the only profession where you can be consistently wrong and still get to keep your job. On the drive to the start line rain drops on the car windscreen signalled the change in weather conditions. We arrived just in time to do a quick prerace warm-up to loosen the muscles and settle the nerves, and then it was time to manoeuvre ourselves near the front of the pack. After the prerace formalities had concluded I turned on my head torch then joined in with the countdown, then we were off and running.
I'm in there somewhere.

The pace was solid as we ran up the gentle incline of the fire trail through the redwoods. The higher we climbed the more the trail became exposed and we were rewarded with a glorious predawn view of Rotorua’s twinkling lights. As we rounded the hill and dropped back down to the Water Tank we were greeted with a small cheer squad. Brian was there and as I dropped off my head torch he let me know that I was 4th girl. We headed a little further along the trail before we hit a junction where the first of the event’s course changes occurred. At this junction the short course runners were allowed to continue along the proper route and the long course runners were redirected to do a big loop back to the start line. I joined the long course runners and once again had no idea where I sat in the field. I kept my pace up as high as I felt was sustainable for the expected 7-8hrs of racing. It was a bit demoralising having raced for an hour or so only to find yourself back at the start line to do the first climb of the day for the second time in short succession. It was as though our efforts were being judged and I had failed, so had to attempt the first climb again.
Through the start line again.
So for the second time I was determined to run to the top better than I had done the first time. My effort must have been deemed acceptable so next time round at the junction I was allowed to go on to Lake Tikitapu and the checkpoint beyond. It was along this session I turned my head to find that Katherine Macmillan was now beside me. “Wow”, I thought, she looked so strong and glided past me on the uphill.  I Kept her in sight and caught up to her again soon after, it was then when we both saw Shona Stephenson ahead so of course I had to catch up with her. I left Katherine and had a brief chat with Shona before pulling away a little then found my own rhythm. Now I could start chasing the short course runners on the proper course. At least I knew this section from last year. Every runner I caught I used it as a mental sling shot to shoot past them to the next runner ahead.  
Katherine Macmillan and me.
By the time I got to the Lake Okataina checkpoint the weather had set in well and truly. It was raining almost constantly and the strong winds were driving in every direction but upwards. There was no hiding from the weather so I ran on, like most people, with wet clothing. At the checkpoint Brian was there to help me refuel and then I was off onto the short road section up to the Millar Road aid station and turnoff into the forest. This next leg was pretty long (14km’s) and contains the biggest climbs of the course. It was along this leg that I was passed by the charging Claire Walton (2nd). It was still too early on to charge after her, so I focused on maintaining my own pace. The early part of this leg everyone was still heading in the same direction. By the time I got to the highest point on the course the first relay runner came charging towards me. Most of the way down the other side Sage Canaday (eventual race winner) came running up the hill. Shortly after Sage passed the flood gate of runners/walkers started to open and there was an almost constant flow of faces heading towards me.
Almost at Okataina Lodge checkpoint.
I arrived at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint and was again greeted by Brian. He handed me a small soft flask and told me there was a short 2km out, 2km back section to do before I returned to the checkpoint. So I quickly left him and proceeded out along the course. About halfway along I passed Jo Johansen (eventual female winner) on her return journey. Along this section I was passed by Ruby Muir and had an “oh crap” moment until I remembered that she was doing the relay. Soon afterwards I spotted Meghan Arbogast, Katherine Macmillan and Shona Stephenson all pretty close to each other. They all looked very strong and I knew if I slacked off or struggled in any way then they would catch me so I made every effort to stay focused.
Did I mention how wet it was?

Back at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint Brian gave me the rest of my food and drink then it was onto the last leg of the run, back up and over the big hill. I charged up the hill as best I could passing more and more friends, exchanging pleasantries as we passed. On the later part of this leg I was passed by a strong finishing Dawn Tuffery (3rd). Unfortunately I was lacking the speed to stay with her.

I did not wipe my nose with the flag. I promise.
In the end I completed the revised course in 7:18:54 for 4th place. I’m not exactly shore what distance it was in the end, possibly anywhere between 72-74km’s with 2600m of ascent, depending on whose watch data you chose to believe. I was happy to have maintained what I thought was a fairly constant pace, or at least effort. I felt comfortable running in the wet windy conditions, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I could feel the chill start to set in. The revised course was probably better suited to me as it had more ascent and decent than the intended 100km course does over an equivalent distance.  In a way I was glad that the weather conditions had deteriorated throughout the day as it meant Paul Charteris had made the right decisions regarding the waterproof jacket and revising the course route. So ultimately I am still to race the proper TUM course, but on the flip side Paul now has an alternate route for a ‘fire course’ and ‘cyclone course’. Oh well, there is always next time. 

Womens Podium (L-R): Paul (RD), Jo (1st), Dawn (3rd), me (4th), Meghan (5th).

My boxing kangaroos.

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