I ran the Tarawera Ultramarathon 100K race on Saturday, February 7th 2015 in 14 hours and 36 minutes.
My training to build up for this event was going reasonably well until I started having some issues with the longer runs in November and then hardly ran at all in December. Before Christmas, I was considering not even going at all, but my wife Jane pointed out that I could do the 60K event instead. Funnily enough, that had never even crossed my mind. So I decided that I’d do the 60K.
I managed to start the year off reasonably well in January and, thanks to my parents for taking the kids off our hands for Auckland Anniversary Weekend, I went out to the Waitakere Ranges in Auckland for a 50km mission to see how I went. The route I chose had several places I could cut it a bit shorter; I ended up doing the full 50kms, which turned into as much of a tramp as a run at the end due to me forgetting how tough Huia Ridge Track is. I finished the mission in about 9:45, full of confidence that I could run the full hundy at Tarawera.
Previous Tarawera events
This would be the 4th year in a row I would run at Tarawera. Previously I’d done the 85K from Rotorua to Kawerau in 2012; the 100K on the fire course from Rotorua to Tarawera Falls and back to Okareka in 2013; and the 70-ish km cyclone course from Rotorua to Okataina and back to Okareka in 2014.
2012 was a wonderful experience and I loved every minute of it, with the exception of a few minutes in the early 60s when I hit the wall.
2013 was tough. I was really tired at 85km when we then had to return back over the Western Okataina Walkway. The last 15km took me about 3 hours and I went to some really dark places, and burst into tears when I finished.
2014. I didn’t write up a race report last year and I can’t really remember how I felt, but I do remember the Western Okataina Walkway not being quite so bad as the previous year (I had run considerably less distance already, and clearly remembered how tough it was so knew what was coming). I’m beaming away in the finishing photos, so I guess it was a good one!
The start of the course changed this year; due the larger numbers of entrants from previous years there was a need to try to avoid the congestion that would happen on the stairs, so we instead turned left into the Redwoods and followed 4km of much easier (and prettier) mostly single track. I felt on the day that the start was much slower than in previous years due to this, but looking back at my race data on Strava, this year it took 40 minutes to cover the first 4km and in my previous three races I covered 4.5km in that time. So although it was a little slower, it really doesn’t add up to much in the long run.
Things were all falling pretty well into place and I was looking well on target for what I hoped to be a 13:30 finish, but a little after the Okataina aid station (in the early 40s) I started getting some nasty crampy feelings in my stomach. This slowed me down a bit, made it very hard to keep consuming food, and led to some pretty dark places in the early 50s, thinking that maybe I should stop at 60K after all.
Fortunately, I caught up with Kate from Kori Kita along the section from Humphries Bay to The Outlet: she’s my good luck fairy at Tarawera, saving me in 2012 with cola caffeine lollies when I hit the wall; antihistamines when I got stung by a bee in 2013; and now in 2015 by encouraging me to stand up, get a cup of Coke and a slice of pizza and power walk out of The Outlet aid station. That worked well, I started running again and by the time I got to the Tarawera Falls Car Park aid station, there was no way I was stopping. The quick dip I had in the water hole near the falls helped too. There were some people swimming there and they were trying to tell me I was going the wrong way, and as I ran off afterwards I could hear them saying something about me now having wet feet. My feet were pretty dry by the time I got to the aid station, and I had fresh socks waiting!
Things got a bit slow again between there and the next aid station at Titoki and I was shuffling along, but there was a good 2km of downhill leading to it, so I decided I should stop feeling sorry for myself and run faster. So I did, and covered that 2km in about 11 minutes! Titoki is the 70km mark and where you choose to go left if you want to do the 85K or right if you want to do the 100K. I was feeling good after my fast run and turned right.
This was all new ground for me, because the last time the course went to Kawerau was in 2012, when I’d entered the 85K and turned left. The course goes down for a bit and then up for a bit, and then you hit the Awaroa aid station where you run the famous “loop of despair”. My stomach was still feeling awful so there was a lot of shuffling, walking and a bit of running for this section. Not too long before the Awaroa aid station was a bit you could get down to the river. I climbed down the slope to fill my water bottle and soak my feet and it felt great – highly recommended! And just as well I filled my bottle, because they’d run out of water at the aid station…
I didn’t really find the loop of despair too difficult: I was tired and slow anyway and I’m fairly used to tough climbs in the Waitakeres, so I walked pretty much all of it up and down. There was cellphone coverage at the very top, so I fired off a text to Jane and she sent something back about “keeping your eye on the prize” and it helped provide real motivation.
After Awaroa, there’s a bit of a climb and and then it’s undulating the rest of the way to Kawerau – some nice forest running and “slopes” rather than hills. At the top of the hill, I must have caught a surge of adrenalin and took off. I was running fast (10km to 12km/hour pace) and power walking fast when I couldn’t run (7km to 8km/hour pace) and catching up and overtaking all the people who’d left me far behind. My body felt wrecked and I still had terrible stomach issues, but I had a clear head and felt really positive. I did slow a bit towards the finish, but it carried me and I finished that last 17kms in 2:06.
It was a tough day, I pushed through, and I felt great. It was such a contrast to the 100K from two years previous where I was a super tired pit of negativity at the end. I didn’t achieve my goal of 13:30 but I didn’t care: I was on top of the world!
Unfortunately the shoes I wore were a touch old and the shoe tread on the outside were pretty worn. As a result, I think I landed too hard on the outside part of my feet and I ended up with bruising and swelling, particularly on my left foot. It’s two days after the race now, and I have no pain, soreness or stiffness in my legs at all, but my feet are really sore and it hurts to walk. Ironically, I can still run no problem at all and it doesn’t hurt… I even put in an hour’s touch rugby practise last night and scored two tries!
I’ve ordered some new shoes, and will be running The Hillary 80K in four and a half weeks time.