Running Tarawera Ultramarathon… again

If somebody would have told me that I would run Tarawera Ultramarathon, held in the area around Rotorua in New Zealand, twice in my life I would have laughed. Yet, here I was again at the start line. Three years ago, Tarawera 62K was my first real ultra race and it will always have a special place in my heart.

This year was different. I was very relaxed and eager to start the race. Since I dropped out of Lavaredo Ultra Trail last June at race mid point, I had been barely running. It was a strange combination of lingering leg injury that prevented me from logging some serious Ks and a lack of motivation, caused in large part by that same injury. It was only in December that I finally decided to stop whining and get more serious about working out. It was either that or no race at all. Having the original plan of running the 102K race, 62K sounded much better than nothing. This year Tarawera was also special for Katarina and me, because this was her first 100K race and we were both very excited about it!

Katarina power hiking at an earlier stage of the race

Tarawera Ultramarathon is a part of Ultra-trail World Tour and is comprised of three individual races: 102km (+2720m/-3020m), 87km (+2262m/-2560m) and 62km (+1603m/-2030m) with 87km and 62km also having a relay version.

As far as the elite runners go, the field this year was as competitive as it gets. It seems to me that Tarawera Ultra is becoming more and more popular with international runners, particularly American ones, thanks to its early season term. Besides last year’s winner, Jonas Buud, there was Gediminas Grinius (winner of Ultra-trail World Tour in 2016), Michael Wardian (practically a regular at Tarawera with always a top 10 finish), David Byrne (Australian top trail runner) and, as a surprise to me as I haven’t seen his name being announced prior to the race, Jim Walmsley, ultra runner of the year in 2016. During Q&A with elite athletes the day before the race, I think pretty much everybody in the room had a consent that Jim will be running his own winning race and everybody else would be competing for the second place. That’s exactly what actually happened. Jim finished the race more than 40 minutes ahead of the second placed Jonas Buud and broke the course record by about 20 minutes. As he was passing me at his 30K mark, he was already more than 20 minutes ahead of the pack, so he pretty much ran on his own the whole time. It will be very interesting to follow him in this running season, especially at Western States 100 and UTMB.

Course for 62K was different than 3 years ago for two reasons. Firstly, in 2014 race was shortened and course was changed due to tropical storm Lusi. Secondly, organisers rightly decided to have the single finish in Kawerau for all the races, so the starting line for 62K was at a second aid station of 102K.

Start of 62K race at Millar Road

Most of the course is a beautiful rolling single-track winding through lush green forests and alongside the lakes of Okareka, Okataina and Tarawera and that was my favourite part. The latter part of the course is mostly wide forest roads and I found that a little bit boring when compared to the first part. I settled into an easy comfortable pace from the get go and was enjoying the race like I’ve never done before. My primary goal was to finish injury-free and any performance goals were only second to that. I’m happy to report that all went well, so now I’m ready to initiate operation Lavaredo.

Cooling off legs at a latter part of the race

Katarina had a race of her life. She never ran that far and was preparing for this race for months. Being her first 100K, she didn’t know what to expect and her only goal was to finish, but she did have a secret goal in mind: to finish in 18 hours would have been great.

As I finished my race in the afternoon, I knew there will be some hours before she finished, so I enjoyed the sun and even had time to soak at the local public hot pool in Kawerau. The rest of the time, I cheered as the runners from all of the races crossed the finish line, many of them finishing their first ultra and some of them over 70 years old.

As most of the aid stations were out there in the forest, there was no network signal, so no updates on runners were available at the finish. I could only wait and guess at what time Katarina would be coming. I was surprised when she callled my cell phone and told me she was about 2km from the finish. I rushed outside and waited until she showed up from the dark. She stormed right past me and sprinted to the finish line, gathering all of her strength. Her time was an amazing 15:56:48. Not only did she beat her own and even her coach’s expectations, but she also made the time to qualify for Western States 100!

No explanation needed :)

Tarawera is certainly one of those races that wants you to do it again. Not only is nature beautiful, but the whole organisation of the event is world class. Paul Charteris and Tim Day are doing a great job at raising the bar and this race is rightfully a full member of Ultra-trail World Tour. Katarina and I don’t have any plans yet, but let’s just say that we are looking forward to coming back sometime in the future.