10 February 2015

Tarawera Ultramarathon 2015

In my experience runners typically fall into two distinct categories. The whooping effervescent pump me up type or the reserved introspective leave me alone type.  The contrast between these two couldn’t have been more obvious as race Director Tim yelled out something like “are you going to give it all you’ve got” and “are we going to have fun out there”.  Being firmly rooted in the type 2 camp for as long as I can remember, I just wanted the gun to go off. Only then could I escape this claustrophobic crush of a 1000 plus runners and embark on one of the eleven races that make up the Ultra-Trail World Tour. 

What a grumpy miserable old so n so I’ve become and that’s OK I thought to myself as we headed off. I like being broody. Escaping these nasty high octane oxygen sapping type 1’s will allow me to go about my goal of sub 7 hours and maybe a top 20 finish. 

Not having Sage Canaday run this year was a huge disappointment for my wife. Sage running shirtless on a warm day like this would certainly have spiced things up. Fortunately her attention quickly moved to the great Hara Yoshikazu who was running.  At our arranged 17K meet up I got an in-depth update on how Hara san was doing. Only after pointing out the meaning of the word ‘crew’ did she focus long enough to offer me salted chips, electrolyte drink and a fleeting word of encouragement. The speed at which she corralled ours girls into the car left me in no doubt she was on a mission to get to the next vantage point to cheer on the leaders before it was too late.

My girls made it to 3 aid stations

They said at registration that relatively speaking the course was flat. Looking back at my Garmin numbers I can confirm the following. Yes the course was indeed flat except for 3 nasty, nasty, nasty inclines that when combined amounted to around 2000m. Each took me more than 30 minutes to get to the top of. Needless to say that for those parts of the course the views were obscured by my hands firmly clutched to each knee. But that’s OK too, ultra runners are allowed to indulge in walking. 

Upstairs and downstairs at 52K

I had given up on the sub 7 hours 6k out but still pressed on as hard as I could. The terrain was really tough in parts and I’d never been on this part of the course before. Soon after and to my surprise the track really opened up. Gone were the rocks, fallen trees, wasps, exposed roots and gorse. Nothing seemed to be an obstacle anymore and I could run freely. Sure I was tired but with every turn I felt I was accelerating. 

All of a sudden that grumpy old man was no more as I longed for the whooping effervescent pump me up spectators I could hear up ahead.  I realised that they along with my girls, support crew, marshals, fellow runners and aid station volunteers had all helped me along the way to this point as I made that final turn before crossing the line in 06:58:32. A placing of 21 out of 307 starters in the 60K event, my first ultra.

A big thank you also to Hara Yoshikazu, who finished 3rd in the 100K for acknowledging my wife and girls out on the course. You helped make their day.

Footnote: My wife isn't that superstitious but she did find it rather alarming that my race number of 1152 when added together made 9. In Japanese 9 or 'ku' means pain, anguish and suffering. Needless to say she kept this from me until the drive home. Pretending to have some sort of lost in translation moment I assured her that in no way did I feel our 15 years of marriage could be described in such a way. I of course saw the funny side taking great pride in my quick witted response. Given her wry smile I figure I'm in a fair amount of trouble at time and place of her choosing.  

Has this experience helped me become a better marathon runner? I’ll find out soon enough. The Mountain to Surf is just 4 weeks away.


  1. Wow that is some good running.
    Also Yoshikazu Hara is indeed a top-flight bad ass. He took all comers / pulled out a big can of whup as Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji in 2013.

    1. Thanks Ted. Yes, the man is nothing more than a merciless machine. A nice guy too with a great family.

  2. Enjoyed that Mark. Your wife obviously doesn't serve up as much burnt fish as Scott Brown's.
    Fantastic result to place 21st and break 7 hours - well done mate! And yes, I'm also a type 2 racer - but I admit to being a little effervescent approaching the finish line of the Six Foot Track marathon every time I've finished.

    1. Thanks mate. I'd appreciate you not giving my wife any ideas either. I like my fish just the way it is thank you. Just looked at the elevation of the Six Foot Track. Looks murderous from 15K to 38K. A race report on it from a sub 3.30 guy expected it to be hard but he later described it as brutal ... toughest in Australia. How many have you run?

    2. It would be brutal if you ran for a quick time. I've always treated the two 4k hills between the river and pluviometer as a good excuse to walk ;) After that, the Black Range is deceptively hard. Finished seven - may have been more, but became unqualified when I missed the year the rules changed. Not all that sad about that!