First time centurion – the Tarawera Ultra 100km

Date: 7 February 2015
Distance: 100km
Time: 17:25.54

All photos by us, except the ones containing the TUM logo which are courtesy of Photos4sale and TUM. 

Turns out writing about a 100km event is just as hard as doing it. What can you say that hasn’t already been said before? Instead of repeating what you can read about the race on the comprehensive official website, I thought perhaps I should just give a broad overview of my experience of the race weekend.

We drove through to Rotorua (the venue for the race) on the Thursday, two days prior to race day, figuring it might be a good idea before taking on our first 100km run to arrive well in time and settle down before the event. The official opening was quite early on the Friday morning, so even more reason to arrive the day before. After the official race welcome (Powhiri) at Te Aronui a Rua Marae, Te Puia, things moved to the Holiday Inn where registration, the expo, talks, presentations and all the rest took place. It was a jolly occasion, with lots of athletes and their support crews pitching up for the pre-race activities. There was even a rogaine on the Thursday that drew quite a number of participants.

One of the highlights of the proceedings during Friday morning was the keynote talk by Malcolm Law. He really is an extraordinary person, being the first to do the seven Great Walks in NZ in seven days to raise money for leukaemia and blood cancer. This time around he is pushing his limits even further by attempting to scale 50 peaks, and in the process run a total of 50 marathons, in 50 consecutive days, of which the Tarawera Ultra marked the start. Through his extraordinary High-5-O Challenge Malcolm aims to raise $400 000 for Mental Health (having lost a brother-in-law to suicide). One of the things he said that stuck with me, was that if you ever think of doing something, just do it. And that is so true. All the things that I’ve ever thought of doing, but haven’t yet, still taunts me every day (like that PhD!). Another excellent point he made was that if something cannot be scientifically proven to be impossible, then it must be possible. Definitely something to keep in mind next time you feel something is “impossible”.

Our non-running buddies

I suspect (actually I’m pretty sure) that most, if not all non-runners, think we are completely mad for doing these things and obviously have lots of questions as to why one would torture oneself to do something that doesn’t really seem to be very enjoyable. All the hours and hours of training, sometimes having to miss out on beers and parties because you have a long run the next day (although that rarely happened in our case!), and then of course the very many hours spent on the road during the event itself, starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. All the pain and suffering – how can any sane person do that to yourself?

It’s hard to explain and there isn’t really one good answer, but to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” And I can honestly say that to challenge and push your body and mind towards it’s limits and beyond, is a life-affirming experience. What’s the point in doing things that you already know you can do? The challenge is precisely in doing the things that you don’t know for sure you can achieve. Stepping into the unknown. I firmly believe that you can do anything you set your mind to – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It seems I turn to cliche’s when I try to explain to non-runners why we run!

The Course, Tim, Paul and the rest of the TUM team

The Tarawera race organisation was top notch! Tim and Paul and the rest of the team put on an excellent, world class event. In the months leading up to the race, the TUM Facebook page was very entertaining as well as a great resource; people sharing training tips, concerns about lack of training, some banter, words of encouragement and just generally kept runners up to date on what happening from an organisational point of view, as well as keeping runners in touch with one another no matter where in the world you happen to be.

Over the course of the day, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty of the scenery, the quality of the course, the variety of food and drinks at the aid stations and the enthusiastic support of race officials and spectators alike, especially during the earlier parts of the race. As a back of the packer however, I do feel we missed out on some things, understandably, and not that I can hang the blame on anyone but myself. (I believe there was a sax player out on the course earlier in the day?) The aid stations were extremely jolly for the first half, but as the day progressed the numbers of supporters at the aid stations dwindled with most support crews having left to relax with their runners that have finished already. It made for a rather lonesome last 30km, as the aid station volunteer crews must have been really tired having to wait for hours for all the slow pokes to come past. Kudos to them for still doing their best to make even us back-markers feel special despite the long hours and the hundreds of runners they’d already seen pass. On the up side, the course was a fair bit “easier” over this last marathon-stretch, running mainly on forestry and gravel roads, compared to the more technical and hilly sections of the first 60km. We also got to run in the dark (another first for us!) with parts of our path lit up by hundreds of fairy lights – a magic experience.

I believe the elevation is more than that of the Kepler Challenge? But in terms of the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) the Tarawera counts as a “fast and flat”. So I won’t be getting any ideas in my head to enter for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc any time soon!

Hydration, nutrition and training

With all the excitement and things to attend and do during the day, I didn’t feel up to cooking something to eat the night before. So we opted to go for some take-out. Somehow I couldn’t make up my mind on what to eat and was worried that commercial foods are to rich or contain things that might cause an upset stomach. After much hemming and hawing around town we decided to go for Kentucky wraps. Thinking back, I can’t believe we did that. It turned out we got the wrong order – I opted for the one with the least fat and ended up with the one with the most fat. I scrapped away most of the sauce and ate what was left. Luckily it all worked out fine.

On the nutrition and hydration front during the race, I had no issues. Keeping on the conservative side, I basically stuck to bananas (had the odd slice of orange or grape once or twice), pretzels, Bagel crisps, Tasti Snak Logs and jelly babies and hydrated with water, electrolytes and sometimes Coke. I had a few sips each of the ginger beer, Mountain Dew and Hammer Heed on offer at the different aid stations and also sampled a very small piece of the famous Heather bars. I was cautious about the Heed, as years ago I had a nasty experience with Perpeteum on a 5-day stage race that didn’t sit well at all with my tummy. Heed is a mixture of carbs and electrolytes and I can’t say I had any adverse reaction to it, but it’s hard to tell with such a very small sample. All-in-all I played it safe. My legs felt tired after 20km, got rather sore after 40km, and more or less stayed that way for the remainder of the course, only deteriorating marginally towards the end. Apart from wanting to fall asleep after the sun set (it felt like bed-time after all), I really can’t complain about any other physical issues. A stumble after which my left knee was a bit sore for a few kilometres, and severe pain in my right arm for the last 20 or so kilometres which I found rather odd, but otherwise I felt reasonably okey. Note to self – have the arm checked out. The lump sitting in/just below my deltoid could be the cause of this? Other that that, I bumped my big toe at least twice really hard on tree roots or stones with the end result being a huge blister underneath the nail. No prizes for guessing where that nail will be a couple of weeks from now.

Gerry was doing equally great, but was more adventurous on the nutrition at the aid stations, having a go at watermelon, Heather bars, egg-and-bacon pie, kumara chips, and even some pizza. At around 62km he started cramping bad. He does sweat quite a bit more than me, and it might have been a lack of hydration? It’s difficult to say as we were really careful to consume enough water and electrolytes, but not too much. He also ended up feeling a bit bloated around the same time. Maybe it was the watermelon? Maybe it was the fizzy drinks? Who knows. Trouble is you can be fine with something during one race, but not so fine during the next. There are so many factors at play over such a long time and distance, you just never can tell.

Before doing the 100km, our longest run in one go was 60km. And I just could not imagine how you do that and then still have a marathon left to get to a 100km. But, we discovered, it’s not all that hard afterall. Your mind somehow manages to control your exertion levels to help you keep going well after you think you might not be able to. So it seems a 100 kilometers is possible! Of course now I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine how you step up from a 100km run to a 100 miler!

One thing that does happen in the later stages is that you end up going much slower than you think when you “run”. Especially in the dark. It looks like trees are flying past and you think you must be going at least at a 7 minute pace, but in actual fact you are barely going faster than walking speed. So despite bits of running in the final 15km, we progressed at only about 5km/hour.

We had grand training plans right after we entered for the TUM on 1 June 2014, but in reality our training looked like this:



Things I will do differently in training, is to run/walk more. Lots more. In general just to spend more time on my feet. We scraped by with probably the least amount of training of all the participants there? As a seasoned 100 miler friend mentioned, she battles to fit in more than 80km per week and we had the same experience. We often only managed 60km or less per week. I will definitely try to improve on that – even if just to walk many many hours. After all, you do end up walking a lot of the time over a 100km distance if you’re just a “normal” guy or girl.

Will I do it again? Without a doubt! We’re already scanning the running calendar for the next crazy distance.

3 thoughts on “First time centurion – the Tarawera Ultra 100km

  1. Pingback: Mountain to Surf – New Plymouth | Jog around the Blog

  2. Pingback: How not to do a 60km trail run – the mud, blood, guts and glory of the Tarawera Ultra – Jog around the Blog

  3. Pingback: #dontforgettotrainnexttime – Tarawera Ultra – Jog around the Blog

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