Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2016, 103 km of rain, mud, roots and fun of course

On an island far, far away...

This race was inspired by my husband browsing through the list of Ultra Trail World Tour races a day after I finished the Eiger Ultra Trail race. TUM is not a mountain race, although it does have around of 3000m of elevation gain on technical trails, but the maximum elevation is just a bit more than 700m and instead of exposed mountain panoramic trail it goes along rain forest trail with lakes, streams and... plenty of roots...

So we called it vacation and left for New Zealand on the 20th of January. The training before went good except for 10 days with high fever during New Year holidays, but I felt rather confident in my training and we had enjoyed two fine weeks, recovering from the long flights (4 hours + 2x 12 hours in the planes + 8 hours connections in airports) and hiking on the northern island with Vitaly and Michael. Food was good, weather was great and trails were beautiful...
with Jonas Buud (left) and Torkel Skogman
with Ryan Sandes

Before the race we relaxed and joined the organized boat trip on Tarawera lake, going along the parts of the route. The weather was cloudy, atmosphere friendly and I had one of a kind "star gazing" experience meeting athletes I admire. Vitaly, seeing that I were not bold enough asked for a few pictures... One with the fastest 100km runner in the world Jonas Buud and his friend Torkel Skogman.

Another picture was with the South Africa's Salomon star athlete, Ryan Sandes.

One more unique photo taken from the hot water beach included also New Zealand's fastest ultrarunner Vajin Armstrong and a couple of very strong american runners, Michael Wardian and Jason Schlarb.

If you look at the results you would find Jonas as a winner, Ryan on the third place, Vajin came 5th, Jason and Mike took 6th and 7th. Do you wonder who is the figure in Red? That's Paul Charteris, the race organizer.

After that, we had an expo day, with the race welcome, expo, starting numbers pick up, etc...

The compulsory gear was declared as a "B option": rain jacket for the rainy race.

Rainy day also means mud. The mud on the route is not a "bad" kind of mud: it does not stick to your shoes addings tons of weight, but it does mean slippery with bad footing. So I made a critical decision to use both pairs of shoes I had with me on the trip, kindly provided by Tzahi Cohen, the smaller red MudClaws for the first technical 62 km, and then to switch to softer X-Talon's for the last easier 40 km... well the last part cannot be really easy after first 62 km... but it was on very runable wide paths, still muddy, though.

The race started in the dark with the rain in Rotorua. It was not cold, but I had the compulsory rain jacket on + a warm layer, just because I do not like to shiver before the race, even I know that I'll pack the clothes in 15 minutes after the start.

I started slowly and... as expected needed to take off and rearrange the clothes/pack barely 20 minutes later... So I was way into the mid/back pack when the single trail came and got stuck in "traffic". No much problem, mentally add half an hour to projected time, but then it's an unknown anyway... and I would not win the event even with the optimal scenario... So I move through the muddy single trails sometimes standing still and waiting in a line to a slippery up/down with falling runners trying to get with their race. I appreciate my mudclaws' grip and ability to just keep going, although many times I have to wait to get some space not to break on the descents. In parts where the trail widens I keep going slowly on ups, running smoothly the downs...

In a couple of hours I reach first aid station on the Blue Lake where I meet Vitaly and Michael for the fist time, but before getting to the station I am checked that I still have my compulsory rain jacket with me. I do have, so I am ok to go. The lake is kind of greyish blue, thanks to the weather, but I do have fun running easily and taking it all "in".

After the blue lake we had technical single track, but luckily the "traffic" got lighter and I did not have trouble to pass few runners on my way. Then came the only road section of the race, Miller road going around Okataina village with first cut off/timing station with cheerful Santas offering water and fruits to the runners.

We had many lakes along the way (Tarawera should have been the number 4...) But I cannot say that I remember clearly when I went around which... Besides the Tarawera lake that was hard to miss :-)

Okaitana to Tarawera falls is the most technical part of the race and I did not plan to rush it. Especially watching other runners slide and fall along the route. It was the slowest part of my race, but I took my time and even this way manage to twist my ankle twice, luckily with minimal damage.

The Outlet station was full of colors but a bit crowded, so I grabbed a couple of drinks (electrolite? and smth. else) and went on to the Falls station. This part of the trail was along a beautiful stream with plenty of waterfalls, as promised and I loved it even as the rain got more intense.

Tarawera Falls 62k station was also a finish line for the 60 km race. It was very crowded with almost no access for the crews/families and... did I mention the heavy rain? Michael and Vitaly had hard time waiting for me standing in a crowd and watching the trail entrance, I could not even get to them, so they just passed me the bag with prepared package. I were lucky to find a stray chair to change my shoes, socks to get a few minutes break with dry feet, put an active patch on a left gastrocnemius muscle, where the knee got a bit finicky and... managed to forget the wet shoes on the station.
Good thing that Vitaly noticed it barely 100m from the station and Michael stole in to get them back.

This station stop was the longest, took me close to 15 min (including the shoes recovery), but the rest of the trail demanded less attention being wide dirt roads mostly with some single trails here and there.

I got to the "loop of despair" at Arowera station and actually enjoyed the steep path up and more gentle down back... from there on  it was mostly down hill with some occasional short uphills to brighten things up. I was going rather slowly but still faster than on previous single trail section in the bush around Tarawera lake.

Michael and Vitaly surprised me and met 10km before the finish where it was getting dark and I put on the small head lamp (neo by LedLenser). The lamp was comfortable and light but as I checked on the next 5km section did not light up the trail much... so I got even slower trying to watch where to go...

It was great to meet my family again on the last station (BTW Star Wars themed with princess's Lea service included) and exchange this toy lamp for my all time favorite Petzl Nao. When Vitaly asked how were I, I said "tired, probably I would walk the rest". Vitaly said, "no problem, take your time just take care". 
He also said that I were one of the cleanest runners around...
Well, I did not fall even once, thank you, Inov-8 shoes grip.

I started on my way and eventually started to run/walk to keep different muscles engaged and just because even though I were tired I still felt too strong to just keep wasting time... 

Then suddenly I started to enjoy it again and even pass some more runners... So I just kept going keeping my eyes open for such things as the Pipe Bridge to Kawerau:

Image: Matt Trappe

I felt the skin on my feet a bit tender, but the feet were soaked wet for the whole time, so a bit tender was rather good... it did not get much worse and I finished with just one not too painful blister.

And suddenly it was over...
I got a hug and a medal from Paul, was weighted and released by medical staff, and finally got my after race beer before the ride to the hotel.

In summary, great race, amazingly beautiful trails, thanks to Paul Charteris and Tim Day for organizing such an event and such a warm welcome for us, runners!

More thanks are due to my family who supports me, follow me on all my races and Tarawera Ultra Marathon was not exception, Nardo Shaimen, who helps me to get to my races with no injuries, Tzahi Cohen for providing the critical tools (Inov-8 shoes + some other gear) for the race and all 350 volunteers keeping their smiles on and taking care of me along the route!


D.B. said...

Thanks for sharing Tatiana!! Enjoyed your account!
Danny Benjamin / Hazorea

Tatiana said...

Thank you, Danny!