Saturday, 16 August 2014

March 2014 - New Zealand, main event Tarawera Ultra Marathon

I squeezed in another Woodbank parkrun just before going away for a month of business travel in Asia with a break sandwiched in the middle to visit New Zealand North Island once again. (In case you were wondering, it was more expensive for me to fly return from Asia than it would have been to fly return from Manchester.) The main dish would be to run the Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) again but there were plenty of side dishes to keep me admirably nourished before and after. I spent most of my time in Rotorua. Ex work colleague Wayne Richards acted as excellent guide around his home town and a little further afield for things to see and do. Thank you, Wayne, for acting as such a wonderful host. You live in a beautiful part of the world.

Mon 10/03. First day was spent on an 8-mile run in the redwood forest of Rotorua before paying Paul Charteris, TUM Race Organiser a visit to help out with anything that needed doing. He needed any help he could get with the enormity of the task at hand. Photo album.

Looking out over Rotorua.

Tue 11/03. Run along part of brand new Tarawera Trail and a quick nose around the base of Rainbow Mountain (~10 miles total). Photo album.

Crater Lake at the foot of Rainbow Mountain (4-photo stitch).

Wed 12/03. Rotorua Canopy Tours, followed by a wander along the volcanically fragrant shores of Lake Rotorua to Government Gardens of Rotorua. The Canopy Tour provided my first opportunity for some zip line action (it was brilliant), to see native flora and fauna and to assist the return of the fauna to where it belongs through our entry fees. Human-introduced predators - e.g. stoats, rats and possums - wipe out the indigenous wildlife and must be trapped and removed from the ecosystem. That's what Canopy Tours do with our money. Positive results have included the gradual return of birdsong to the forest, though it's still nowhere near what it would have been.

I hired a GoPro helmet camera to capture some of our journey through the treetops but haven't had a chance yet to edit something together. In the meantime, here's the photo album to be going on with.

Zip lines through the treetops - Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Government Gardens with museum.

Thu 13/03. A leisurely day spent visiting Hamurana Springs and Okere Falls with Wayne before the first official TUM event in the evening - the 8km 'Fun Run'. Photo album.

The end of the TUM 'Fun Run' at the Te Puia geyser field.

Fri 14/03. Official Maori welcome to the Tarawera Ultra Marathon runners at Te Puia followed by race expo and registration. Warnings all week of tropical cyclone Lusi moving southwards to hit us for race day had become a certainty. However we could never have guessed now on the day before, the warm, calm, sunny weather giving no hint of what was to come.

Race Director Paul Charteris announced at the race briefing that the race had to be shortened. With high winds and driving rain forecast, later parts of the course where aid station access was by boat could not be supported reliably or safely. Paul's emotions ran high as he made the announcement that the event would be disrupted for a second year. Last year was high fire risk. This year was headed for the same until Lusi turned it into high wind and water risk instead. Photo album.

Last year's winner Sage Canaday (in green) represents the 'TUM tribe' at the Maori welcome ceremony.

Sat 15/03. Tarawera Ultra Marathon - 100km shortened to ~73km by Lusi.

Waiting to start.

The first spots of rain could be felt as we gathered in the dark at the Redwoods Visitor Centre for the 06:30 start. An emotional Paul Charteris announced that we would run a 12km loop past the water tank before turning right back to the start to begin all over again. Second time past the water tank we would turn left through Okareka to Okataina then 2km beyond to the turnaround point before returning to Okareka to finish where we did last year. For a second year running we would not make it all the way to Kawerau.

Marshal Tim Day guides us back to the start on the 12km loop.

Storm clouds gather.

Plenty of support and very busy at the aid station back at the start.

The rain just about held off for the first loop but the wind was up and the rain was driving in across the lake by the time I arrived at Okareka on the outward leg. I was thankful that we were running in the shelter of the forest for most of the time. I felt sorry for the marshals and supporters who were stuck there in that exposed location. I was slowing down by this point and Wayne and Paulo Osorio caught up with me. I ran much of last year's TUM with Paulo, where we kept each other's spirits up through our low points with stories and anecdotes. He was much faster this year and went on ahead after the next aid station at Millar Road.

Paulo, Wayne, Nick at Okareka on the outward leg.

Paulo makes a quick exit from Millar Road aid station.

A modified out-and-back course has one major advantage - we get to see the faster runners on the return leg. It makes the event more inclusive and involving and gives us a glimpse of what it's like up there near the front. My longest low point meant plenty of walking and plenty of opportunity to take photographs, until the approach to Okataina when I began to let rip on the descents.

Leader Sage Canaday heading for his second win.

Yun Yanqiao second.

Vajin Armstrong third.

Elastic band collection at the turnaround.

A very wet Okataina on the return leg.

Ross Steele on the way back to Millar Road.

Final Coke fill at Millar Road.

Like last year we were running over the toughest part of the TUM course. Apparently there is more ascent over this 73km course than there is over the normal linear 100km course, which I have yet to experience. No wonder I always seem to slow down and suffer, especially on the outward leg to Okataina. With effective fuelling I did fall into the groove by the return leg, though. It felt just like home as I ran down those narrow muddy technical trails as if on a fell race, overtaking all before me. The only unrealistic part was the warmth of the rain. With the temperature at 18 deg C I felt quite comfortable in vest and shorts while others were wrapped up in their waterproofs to protect them from this alien environment. Time splits showed my time was 3:00:55 from Okareka to Okataina and 2:49:55 from Okataina back to Okareka.

Paul Charteris presents the iconic carved wooden TUM medal.

The closing ceremony and awards presentation were held on Sunday. It was still raining.

Male winners.

Female winners.

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon isn't a one day flash-in-the-pan. It's four days of activities and a coming together of the worldwide ultra-running family in a most beautiful part of the world.

My photo album is here, and here's the official documentary by Ninmo Productions:

My final six days in New Zealand were spent sightseeing with Wayne around the Rotorua area and running the Cornwall parkrun in Auckland.

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