Spoiler: 102km is a lonnnngggg way!
So the build up to my first 100k distance was one of my most successful training blocks of my running career and the training definitely had a positive impact on my race result much thanks to my coach, Lewis Walker.
The main reason for heading to New Zealand was for us to celebrate Freyja and Aki’s wedding, which was INCREDIBLE! We therefore sandwiched the wedding with the Tarawera race and Challenge Wanaka, which was going to be Debbie’s first race as a pro triathlete.
The Tarawera Ultra takes place in Rotorua, New Zealand and is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour series and is the 2nd one of the year. The standard is therefore quite high and attracts many top international athletes from around the world on an absolutely stunning course. The course winds through crystal clear lakes, rainforests, waterfalls, great trails and some of the best scenery in the world.
Although the training was in the bag in the run up to the event, I had to train myself to cope with the time zones in the UK by staying up late and waking up late in the few days before the race. I also had to adapt quickly to the time zones as we arrived in New Zealand on the Thursday evening and the race was on the Saturday morning after a 36 hour journey (door to door) but annual leave entitlement is somewhat limited so we had to make the most out of each day.
The day before the race I headed to the race briefing and opening ceremony and I could already tell that this race was going to be something special. We had a race opening ceremony, which included some local Maori dancers, the mayor of Rotorua as well as the organisers, all of whom were extremely proud and precious of the land we were going to be running on.
In true ‘Kyle style’ I was rushing around and actually ended up being last to enter (don’t just check the kit list, but also the compulsory fabric of said kit list! I may have had the wrong fabric composition of long sleeve…) Needless to say, that stress made me even more thirsty for my pre race ritual of a local IPA. Even more apt, was the fact that this was the beer I procured:
The gun went off, and it was pissing rain but pleasantly cool conditions for a ginger Scotsman to run in. Around 10 seconds after the gun went off, my water bottle fell out my pocket resulting in me having to run back to pick it up again. I didn’t lose a huge amount of time but enough for me to be in limbo to decide whether to catch up with the lead pack or run my own pace. I chose the latter and I am glad I did.
For the race being 100km, I expected the pace at the start to be fairly pedestrian but it certainly wasn’t. Although I made the decision to hold back from the group, I kept my sights on the lead pack of around 7 containing Dylan Bowman, Cody Reed, Sam Mccutcheon and Vlad Shatrov in the distance. I suppose it being full of the world’s top ultra-runners, I shouldn’t have been surprised it would be fast!
At the end of the 42km of running and I hit around the 2.55 marathon mark, which I suppose is fairly quick for a trail 100km but it was by far the most runnable section with some flattish fast fire track roads with a modest net uphill. Despite almost tripping over, I did manage to get a glimpse of Tarawera Falls which was absolutely stunning. During this time, I passed a couple of top runners Vaidus Alabys and Martin Kern and given the effort level we only exchanged a few single words to each other!
After the 40km mark, the average pace per mile dropped considerably when we were exposed to some single tracked technical sections of rocks, roots and a shit load of mud, rain and lots of sharp ups and downs. This lasted a good 30km and was probably where Dylan, Cody and Sam increased the gap from me.
During the next 30km I continued gulping down my gels and water and picked up my fuel, which was going swimmingly well until I ran out COMPLETELY! *What a f**cking idiot!* I was therefore running on empty for 10km or so which ended up being around an hour due to the uphill section and the pace dropped considerably. Initially I thought that was my chances of a good result quite literally drained away. Once I arrived at the next aid station, I tried to get my shit together again. I downed 1 litre of full sugar coke, around 4/5 pieces of watermelon, jelly aeroplanes, jelly beans and some energy drink. Dominos pizza even sponsored the race but I was told by my coach Lewis he would disown me if I had this as my fuel!
I then waddled my way out of the aid station in 6th place with Vaidus just ahead of me…the next 20km or so became more runnable again but coupled with my fuel depletion, technical sections and quite frankly the sheer distance ran, I had no intention or ability to match the pace I ran in the first 40km nor did many of the other guys according to our splits!
Despite going back and fore with Vaidus, he eventually pulled away from me and that was the last I saw of him. I was therefore lying in a solid 6th place as far as I could tell and all I kept telling myself was to keep going and you never know what will happen to the guys in front of me.
At the 65km mark, the 80km and 97km, I saw Debbie at the aid stations. Her chirpiness and enthusiasm gave me a new lease of life and hoped that could keep me going until the finish. I wasn’t in a good place when I saw her the first time!
The final 10km was mainly flat and downhill and brought us out of Tarawera Forest into the back of Rotorua where we ran on the hot springs. Despite the flatness, I had nothing left in the tank to run fast and was just happy to know that I had a solid 6th placed finish coming into the finish line…
Once I crossed the finish line, the Race Organiser Tim Day, renowned for giving huge hugs at the finish line and I was no exception! He congratulated me on my 5th place and said that I was on the podium!! I had to ask him twice if I was 5th and I thought I was in 6th! Debbie then ran over and confirmed my 5th place and that was just the icing on the cake!
(A chronological account in pics of finding out I made podium!)
After the race, I was weighed (pre race weight 68.7kg, post race weight ~66kg), refuelled with electrolyte drink and finally hobbled over to get some free beer 🙂
(she did NOT want to hug me!)
Debbie made a sterling job of being my servant for that evening where we made a trip to a hot spring and sat in there for around an hour then headed back to the hotel for
a several massive burgers.
The following day, we headed to the awards ceremony where both the Race Organisers Paul and Tim presented me with my 5th place medal and asked me to say a few words to the audience, which I wasn’t expecting! To share the podium with guys such as Dylan Bowman, Cody Reed was pretty special and really made me believe that I can mix it with these guys in months and years to come since it is my first 100k and 3rd ultra race of my career.
If you asked if I would do it again, the answer is I would do it in a heartbeat. I have never raced in more beautiful surroundings, the race organisation was incredible and the locals made me want to live there! While exploring the area, 10 mins in any direction out of Rotorua are the most phenomenal lakes and trails and mountains and it would be a privilege to race here again.
(beautiful even if it was pouring)
Personally, I was hugely disappointed to be left out of the GB team for the World Ultra Trail championships in June despite being 1st Brit and 26th last year so I was delighted to prove that I can once again race well internationally against the world’s best ultra-runners.
For the upcoming season, I am possibly looking at doing the Highland Fling (which is the Scottish Ultra Trail Championships), the Mozart 100km in Salzberg (which is another race as part of the Ultra World Tour Series) and who knows after that!
If anyone has any suggestions please fire them across!!
A few personal thank you’s to mention:
- Debbie for putting up with my training and number 1 cheerleader
- Coach Lewis for the getting me in the best shape I could for my first 100km.
- Salomon for issuing me with amazing gear on my return to New Zealand.
*Note to self…ensure you have an adequate supply of fuel. Take more than you think you will need rather than the minimal amount*
*Note to self…always practice running in your new gear.