Tarawera 100k 2019
New Zealand has a very special place in my heart. I was an exchange student in 1982, worked on a dairy, where I met my life long friend Sally. Every time I visit, I am reluctant to come home. So an invitation to run in the Tarawera 100k was a no brainer. My last time to attempt this course was shortened due to a cyclone, and I was more than eager to accept.
I arrived Wednesday before the race, and had opportunity to stretch my legs, walking around part of Rotorua, replete with some boiling mud pots, a good bakery, and sounds of native birds. When my roommate Kat Schuller arrived, we got in a quick run through an amazing Redwoods park nearby. I was so happy to feel healthy and rested. We had a good couple of days including a drive to Lake Taupo and the Waikato river that flows from it for some good trail running.
Since Hong Kong 100k, my recovery had been good. My legs were no longer sore, all signs of the last cold I had were gone, and I was just happy and ready to race. We had some interviews, a race directors barbecue at an animal preserve, a panel discussion, a Powhiri (a Maori welcome) filled the days before the race. I loved every minute.
Race morning, we boarded a bus at 4:30 am to take us to the start. Much to my delight, as I was sitting on the bus, a runner boarded, stared me in the eye until I realized it was Malory Young, a young woman I had the privilege of coaching when she was a high school runner. We had several miles and minutes to catch up, and I felt so much pride in that she has adopted the runners life style with humility and respect.
It was still dark when the bus dropped us off amid runners heading towards the start area. It was chilly, and being averse to cold, I kept my jacket, sleeves, and gloves on. I warmed up in the grassy field beyond the start line for the 10 minutes I had before the start gun. I felt happy, fresh, and excited to run. Race Director Kiwi Paul Charteris beckoned the runners over in time for the Maori Haka and standing right at the start line, I was mesmerized and slightly terrified as the group performed their native dance.
Having sub-par race performances by my standard, for the better of two years, I was done trying to make any predictions or goals, and I really hate sand bagging, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. Looking at the course profile, past performances of others, my own times in other 100ks, the best I could do is expect I could possibly run between 10 and 11 hours. Studying other competitors rarely matters, as their results come with so many variables, it is comparing apples to oranges. So, my strategy was simple, back to basics, start out conservatively, put on the blinders, listen to my breathing, fuel at 200-300 calories per hour.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, we joined Paul in the countdown, and with quick good lucks to Courtney, Fiona, Kat, and Cecilia, I stepped back and let the crowd go. In the darkness, I had no problem watching runners disappear ahead. For a good while we were running across a grassy field, then some trails that eventually led us along a winding trail in a lightly wooded area. I fell in a short line of men, running comfortably, as dawn turned to day light. The pace was easy, but I resisted the urge to pass, saving it for later.
When the trail became double track, and then a gravel service road, I found myself picking up the pace. A man commented as I passed that maybe I was being a bit ambitious. He asked what I hoped to run and I replied, 10-11 hours. He chuckled that he and his friend were not planning on that, and after a bit more conversation I pulled ahead.
On either side of the road were redwoods and tree ferns, and the deafening chirping of cicadas. I let myself be enveloped by the beauty, kept my effort reasonable, and worked on getting calories in. Eventually we reached the 8 mile aid station, to the enthusiastic volunteers. I had my bottle refilled with water, and grabbed a banana, and back onto the gravel road we went. The runners had already spread out quite a bit, and I strained my eyes ahead, wondering if any of those in sight were female. The gravel road was an easy terrain, although much of it uphill. I did some back and forth jockeying with a couple of men, as the terrain varied – me benefitting from the down hills, them gaining and passing again on the climbs. Very unsure about my pace, I was unwilling to look at my watch, fearing I would be discouraged, but finally decided, why the heck not. It is what it is, I was having fun, feeling great, and that is more than enough. I glanced down. Fourteen miles in 2 hours! That was better than I had imagined or hoped! This section was a long 10 miles, and my bottle was getting low. Thankfully race organizers had placed a water only table at about 8 miles. I took the time to drink and refill. At this point the course went on some twisting and fun single track, and eventually dumped us out on a road to the next aid station.
I reached for my own cup, and found I had lost it. The volunteers magically and happily produced a cup for me, helped me with my jacket and gloves, and sent me on my way to possibly the most beautiful section of the race. It was green of every shade, single track, tree ferns, water, rocks, pure joy. I had been hopscotching with a runner using poles, and I let him by. Other than him, I was on my own, enjoying every minute. It was here I knew that Mark needed to come do this race. I felt myself pick up more and more momentum, reveling in the strength I felt. The canopy was thick, the nearby streams and waterfalls amazing, and the stairs were easy for me, after my big exposure in Hong Kong. The next aid station at mile 25 had my first drop bag, and I was delighted to have a chocolate milk. An easy 200 calories all at once. I was in and out as quickly as possible, but really with no idea where I was in the race relative to my female competitors. So, given my phone was in a pocket, I messaged Stephanie, knowing she was following. She got right back to me. “You’re 7th female!” I asked her to keep me posted, and found myself pushing along through the now very technical trail section. Rooty, rocky, undulating, and still gorgeous. At times I wasn’t sure about the trail, as it was very viney, and the trail was not super discrete, but somehow I stayed on course. Finally I made it to mile 30. A woman with a clipboard said I was in 6th. I said “I think I’m 7th” but she hadn’t seen 6 women. I left the aid station hopeful, and missed a critical turn. Soon I was faced with two male runners coming toward me scratching their heads. We all turned around, and saw the very easy turn we missed. I flew up the trail, and again was running over roots and rocks, and focused on staying upright. Alas, I caught a toe, and hit the ground hard. I wanted to lay there for a bit, given I had hit one knee, one lower abdomen, and slit my right palm but good, but a runner I had just passed was coming upon me. I hopped up, pressed my hand into fist, and kept going. I opened my hand, and it looked like I had murdered someone. I rinsed it with my water while foraging forward, and finally accepted I was just a bloody mess.
I reached the next aid station, Okataina Lodge, mile 36, and was greeted by volunteers who retrieved my drop bag. One volunteer wanted to wash my leg, and I said let’s leave it, as it is more dramatic. In reality I was afraid I would fall again anyway. She helped we with my chocolate milk, and the many spectators at this aid station were encouraging. At this point I was ahead of the splits I had guessed at, but now the climbing began. While the average grade for the next few miles wasn’t bad, it was broken up into pretty steep pitches. I felt amazing, strong, determined, which all added up to the joy of having a day I hadn’t had in a couple of years. Having solved an important issue that had crept up on me of an injured gut (see my World 100k report) I was able to ingest gel after gel with no issues feeling the effects of the continuous calories in my legs. At one steep pitch I saw i was catching my roomie, Kat Schuller. She was struggling, having caught a bug a few days before, but was encouraging me on, relaying that Cecilia Flori had dropped. That put me in 5th, a spot I hadn’t dared dream out loud. I hiked hard when steep, jogged steadily when i could. Eventually I came out into an open area I recalled from 2014, only this time it was sunny and dry. A few men loomed in front of me, keeping my attention and effort honest. I was getting low on water, crossed one creek and remembered that the water here is clean, but of course, being in the racing mode, did the dumb “just keep going” thing. Eventually I came to another wee creek, and dipped my bottle into the cold fresh water. It was just enough to keep me going the next few miles, slowly gaining on the runners in front. Finally we reached Millar Road aid station, and I took plenty of time to get sponged off (brrrrr!) drank a lot, filled my bottle, then hit the sweet downhill pavement. It lasted a good mile and then back into the dense woods with undulating surfaces. From Millar I saw I had 26k to go. And in my runner brain i tried to convert it to miles, all the while having the actual miles run on my watch. Well, if I’m going to be out there all I day I might as well amuse myself with my silliness.
I ran across a lake beach, laden with summer holiday folk, somewhat amused at the sporadic runners coming through. Up a paved road, back onto some single track, then back on pavement, then back into the deep dark rooty trails of tree ferns. Spotting a female runner ahead, I gave chase, and then realized I was running into folks in the 50k whose course now joined the 100k. Many words of encouragement between me and the runners I passed were exchanged. At mile 53 aid station, there was a lot more activity than the previous stops. It took a little more time to get my drop bag, drink the chocolate milk, change out a bottle, and scoot out. The time spent was well worth it, just to be sure I had the calories I needed.
The next section included a wide expanse of logged landscape, a stark contrast to the lush bush and forests we had been running through. At last we dove back into the woods, and made our way to the last aid station “Redwoods”. With so many runners from the other race, there was no way of knowing who was in the 100k or 50k. Steph messaged me that I had gained ground on my female competitors, so I pushed hard. I had 5k to go, and was stoked to have legs. I caught a toe and flailed about in the air for awhile, averting both a fall and a cramp, somehow, but it gave me pause. Be careful!
As the technicality diminished, I pushed harder. Popping out onto a main road through Rotorua, I was instructed to turn left and go under the sidewalk. I was now off the highway, heading down a path between an expanse of mud pots. I had 2 miles to go, and my time was 10:44. Oh if I could run a couple of 8 minute miles I would break 11. I was happy to have some arbitrary carrot to go after as it kept me fighting. Coming out of the mud pots, volunteers were guiding runners through all the turns to the finish. With a declaration of 300 meters to go, I was at 10:58. Surely I would make it! I scrounged my remaining will and pushed hard, and the 300 turned into 600. At last, turning up the ramp, into the conference center foyer (yep, an indoor finish!) I glided in at 11:01. I didn’t despair the minute, very happy with the day, the effort, the place. Kerry Suter, the MC and a good acquaintance lavished praise and embellished my resume a bit, and I didn’t care. I was grateful for the kind words.
Many thanks to many players – Kiwi Paul for putting his dream to work in creating this beautiful event, my sponsors The North Face, Nathan Sports, Injinji Socks, Now Foods, and Squirrel’s Nut Butter. I could not have these experiences without your support. Thank you again to Stephanie Howe Violett for guiding me through healing my gut, as I feel healthier and stronger than I have for a couple of years. And always I’m thankful for the King in my life, Mark, for supporting me and taking care of the farm family when I’m gone.