90% Mental And The Rest Is In Your Head


A recount of the Tarawera Ultramarathon 102km 2019, Rotorua, New Zealand

Kirsty Hamlin (RLAG Team Ambassador, New Zealand)

I didn’t feel as prepared physically as I have in previous years BUT, out on the course, I felt more mentally prepared than before. It was never going to be fast – it was the uphill course, after all – and in my head I had already added a bit of extra time on to my last TUM102 to allow for that.

I travelled by bus from Whangarei down to Rotorua on the Thursday morning. As well as being more economical and removed my 5hour drive home the day after the event, it also allowed me a few extra hours of precious sleep. That afternoon, I checked in to the International Youth Hostel (the Rotorua Hostel is great budget accommodation that is clean, friendly and centrally located), registered at the expo amazed at how quiet and relaxed it was, met up with running friends from around the country, enjoyed delicious food from the Rotorua night market, and sorted my food and gear for Saturday. I mostly spent volunteering at the expo and drinking lots (aka hydrating). We also had athlete briefing and listened to pretty hilarious elite athlete Q & A sessions before a small froip of us travelled over to the start to stay overnight in the friendly and comfortable Firmin Field Lodge.

I love the Tarawera Ultramarathon, whichever direction it is run. I love the people (organizers, volunteers and athletes), the atmosphere and the landscape that we are so privileged to access. Last year, for the first time the direction was reversed to finish in Rotorua. Previously, one of the highlights for me was the start in the Redwoods Forest. It was an eerily beautiful and moving. However, as the event has evolved over it’s 11year history to include more running options, it does make sense for the 102km option (a point to point race) to start at Kawerau and end in Rotorua along with the other distance options. From the start at Kawerau, the trails gently wend their way through plantation pine forest along gravel forestry roads and off-road trails for the first 40-ish kilometres to Tarawera Falls. From the Falls to the Redwoods the trails run through predominantly native bush and beside lakes – it’s just spectacular.

My race day plan was to: 1. eat and drink early; 2. if I started to feel sick eat something salty (as has happened before); 3. keep moving through aid stations; 4. keep putting one foot in front of the other; 5. focus; 6. try to get a bit of change from 15hours. Out on the course, I did remember to eat and drink early; I did feel sick so I ate salted crisps and chickpea snacks; I didn’t manage to get through all of the aid stations as quickly as I wanted (too many loo stops). I also lost time at the trig after a long slow climb from the Okataina aid station. I find this section the most excruciating. The track is well formed, but in places steep and deep gullies, carved out by rain in the coarse pumice sand, form some huge steps. At the trig, I had to get pumice grit out of my socks and shoes, also discovered a huge blister that just had to be dealt with – stingy!!

My Garmin battery expired at 78km – I hadn’t been able to work out all the power saving options 😊). It had been frustrating me anyway as it had added about 3km to my actual distance. At the same time, I caught up with a girl who was questioning what on earth she was doing on the course of a 100km event, why her watch was giving the wrong distance and not at all sure that she could carry on another 20+km. We chatted a bit and I told her how much I cursed and swore that I would never do another ultra during the last one I did. We talked about the amount of training she had put into getting to where she was and the fact that running 100km was always going to hurt. It was never going to be an easy goal to achieve and that is why we were there – to try to do something outside our comfort zone. Something amazing, just for ourselves. And then we found a focus – her boyfriend would be at the next aid station. So after about 5km, she left me in her wake and on I happily plodded.

Ultramarathons are wonderfully social. You can make new friends over the course of such long distances and stories happen. Although, sometimes it is necessary to do a little result stalking to remind yourself of specific names. This time, I kept catching up to and then being over taken by a young guy, I guess he was in his mid- to late- 20’s. About 90km’s in, a guy ran past me along the dusty gravel road as the sun was setting. He said “Good job.” as he glided past. I looked sideways as I said “You too.” and did a double take. To myself I thought “I’m sure you’re one of the guys from the stage yesterday; one of those elite dudes.” A kilometre on, I caught up to my young mate again. “Did you see Jeff Browning cruise by?” he asked. THAT is what I love about the ultra community – here’s Jeff Browning in his final 10km to win the 100mile race and he expends energy to encourage ME! Then the young guy goes on saying “Jeff Browning is awesome and he’s old – about 47 or 48 or something, I think.” And I’m chuckling to myself, “I wonder how old you think I am, young man.” Haha, he didn’t even know that he had brightened my day even more.

I kept chugging on and finally I did get a little change from 15hrs, finishing in 14hours and 46minutes. In the final dozen or so kilometres I focussed on knowing that my partner and kids were going to meet me at the final aid station. Seeing my family in the beautiful Redwoods Forest was magic and then having my daughter and son chatting and guiding me the last 5km and through the finish chute almost gave me the energy to skip …. almost.

I placed 162 of 399 overall, 26 of 109 women, 3 of 38 in age group!

I met some lovely people before, during and after the event – absolutely fantastic volunteers and wonderful runners on their own epic journeys of discovery. I “met”, well I got selfies with a few very notable athletes including Ryan Sandes, Camille Herron and Sally McRae. I even got to say congratulations and thanks for his encouragement to Jeff – I think that is what I said to him, but I might have said something else. I was tired. I had just completed 102km. But I do remember that he laughed.

The low-down on the Tarawera Ultramarathon week:

Location: The Tarawera Ultramarathon is held annually in February in Rotorua, one of New Zealand’s most iconic destinations. Among other features, Rotorua is renowned for its spectacular geothermal features, cultural entertainment and as a mountain biking mecca.

Event week: The Tarawera Ultramarathon event has evolved considerably over the 11years it has been running. In 2019, event week started on Wednesday with various optional tourist and fun activities including a scenic cruise and a rogaine team fun run and ending with prizegiving and a celebratory dinner on Sunday.

Event distances:

21-23km adventure run – a trail run with a twist. Entrants can choose to add an “adventurous” option

50km point to point ultramarathon – starts with a scenic boat ride across Lake Tarawera

102km point to point ultramarathon – spectacular trail ultra that just keeps getting better with distance

100mile (160km) ultras pmarathon – not for the faint hearted but, oh what an achievement!

Tarawera Ultramarathon is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour series. The 102km and 160km distances are qualifying races for UTMB and Western States events.


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