This time of year I would normally be inclined to have done what most Sydney trail runners do, but recently there have been so many new trail running events added to the calendar that I decided to mix my race schedule up a little. That is why I decided to enter the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in Rotorua, New Zealand.
At the beginning of January I made my regular pilgrimage down to Mt Beauty for the Bogong to Hotham race. There was speculation that this race would be called off due to the extreme risk of fire danger in the National Park. As race day loomed and the daily temperatures kept peaking over 40deg the inevitable became reality and the race was sensibly called off. My trip down to Mt Beauty therefore turned into a training camp. Was trail racing going to be disrupted the same in 2013 as it was in 2012? I certainly hoped not!
Shortly after my return from Mt Beauty a pain in my lower back/hip area started to emerge. This was a new injury unlike anything I had had previously. I could feel it constantly and it was excruciating when I tried to run. After some tests I placed myself in the hands of a highly recommended chiro who helped the healing process. He was good but he was still unable to get me right in time for Cradle Mountain, which for me went down as a DNS.
In the lead up to Tarawera my recovery had been enough to allow me to run but not without discomfort. My training had mainly consisted of 2-3 short daily runs. My nett weekly mileage was high, but I wasn't able to do any long runs. I did have some things to look forward too though. One was the support from Salomon Australia who provided my race outfit. In the lead up to the race Salomon Australia had given me shoes and waist belt to train with, which I really enjoyed using. The other was that even though the original Tarawera race course had to be altered due to extreme fire danger, the race looked certain to proceed, and with me there to enjoy it.
The Tarawera pre-race activities (see earlier blog post) were fantastic. It is a real highlight in my running career. It was a good opportunity to mix with some serious international talent while also a good opportunity to check out the competition, only it was difficult to know who exactly the competition was. I had entered the 100km event, however there was also 85km and 60km and relay events on offer as well. To make it more confusing entrants were able to amend their distance during the race. Then to add into the mix the fact that the trail for this years race had been altered due to drought and extreme fire danger in the area. The 100km course was altered so that entrants ran 60km out then 40km back, with the shorter distances being a variation on this. It was all very crazy and confusing. The approach I took into the race was the simplest approach, which was to run my own race at my own pace.
In the predawn light under the giant red woods outside of Rotorua I lined up on the start line with all the other runners. I felt totally out of my depth standing there with all the international elites. The countdown to the start began, then we were off and running, uphill, guided by glow sticks and our head lamps. This was not an easy race start. Not as hard as Western States, but the mix of fire trail and single trail that we followed just kept climbing. The views over Rotorua at the top were spectacular and set the tone for the surroundings we would run in for the rest of the day. As the shadows slowly dissipated I became more aware of where I was amongst the foreign field. Running in local races I have an idea of how I'm going judging by the people around me. In this event I didn't recognise anyone so had no idea if I had gone out too fast (though I was pretty sure Shona was still in front) or too slow (though Brian definitely hadn't caught up). The pace that I settled into was one that I thought I could manage for the rest of the day. I could still feel discomfort in my back while I ran and thankfully it wasn't getting worse.
The first few legs were lots of fun with plenty of people to run with and pockets of supporters cheering us all on. The trail kept changing constantly from tared road to gravel road to fire trail to single trail to what seemed at times a made up single trail and variations of all these. The second major checkpoint was at Lake Okareka, which was also the 100km finish, approximately 20km into the race. Everything I was running beyond this point I'd be running again. In my mind this played horrible games. Every downhill I enjoyed I knew would be a dreaded uphill with tiering legs on the return.
By the time I arrived at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint there were people everywhere, music blasting over loud speakers, it was the place to be. This checkpoint was also the main finish area for the 60km and 85km runners. It was awesome to hear all the commotion from about a kilometre out as we ran down the hillside towards the Lake Okataina shore and checkpoint. As I quickly transitioned through the checkpoint the announcer said that I was the third woman to come through. My guess was Ruby 1st, Shona 2nd, then me. On I went around the lake, I could hear the sound of the checkpoint slowly dissipate as I went in pursuit of those in front.
Somewhere around Humphries Bay I saw Sage Canaday (eventual 100km race winner) heading towards me. It meant that he had reached the out and back section and was on the return journey. I cheered him on, as well as all the other runners I crossed path with on this out and back section. There was a long break before the next lot of lead runners started filing past.
I eventually caught up with Shona shortly after the Humphries Bay checkpoint and we ran together for a couple of kilometres. She was looking a little stressed and said as much. Shortly after she took a heavy fall behind me. I stopped to make sure she was alright before helping her up and get her going again. We kept together for a little while longer until I started to pull away. Ruby passed by, pretty close to the lead guys and I knew that she was untouchable.
Somewhere along this leg I made the startling realisation that I no longer had any pain in my lower back. For almost two months I had been dealing with this constant discomfort and now after more than 40km it had disappeared. I went through the checklist of what hurts more. If my back doesn’t hurt any more then there must be something that is more painful. I could feel a blister or two starting to form, but other than that nothing.
On the out and back section. Courtesy ultra168.com
I eventually made the turnaround point at Tarawera Outlet where we were met with another checkpoint and the always present media contingent covering this race. I had spent the last few days around these guys as part of the pre race activities and they were full of encouragement as I came in and left. Now came the first of the mind games, the return run over ground I had just covered. Other than traversing the same terrain backwards, the only variance this time would be passing all the other runners on their way out to Tarawera Outlet. The further I ran back the more exhausted the people were who were heading out. I didn't mind this more technical part of the trail (though it is not nearly as technical as the trails in the Blue Mountains) and I took pleasure in knowing that I could leave it all behind me.
I passed Shona again on the return and she said something about pulling out. I hoped she was ok.
Heading into the Okataina Lodge checkpoint I was turning over in my mind the possibility of stopping short at the 85km race distance. I had passed all those runners doing the 85km and 100km distances and knew that I was safely in 2nd place. I eventually convinced myself that I had come over to do the 100km distance and that anything else would be a lazy option and a DNF in my mind. Plus nothing was hurting and I could physically still complete the distance. As I emerged from the trail into the checkpoint I was greeted by Brian, who had predictably stopped short. He grabbed my little water bottle to refill, then urged me out of the checkpoint with a few words of encouragement. There was not time to think about the shorter option so on I went.
10km Finish Line
The hill going out of the Okataina Lodge checkpoint was the only hill I really walked all race. Safe in the knowledge of where I was in the field I relaxed a little and enjoyed this luxury. Once at the top, the highest part of the course, the terrain slowly dipped back down towards the road and finally the Lake Okareka checkpoint and 100km finish. It was a good feeling crossing the finish line for the first time in 2013. I finished in a time of 11:43, 2nd female, which I was happy with given the training. It didn’t matter how hard I tried today I would never have been able to stick with new wonder kid on the block, Ruby Muir. Ruby’s run was a standout world class performance.
In summary, I really enjoyed the course. I think I enjoyed it more than I would have if I’d run the original course as this race had more elevation gain and loss on lots more trail.
Presentation with Ruby Muir. Courtesy ultra168.com