Tarawera Ultramarathon – Race Report

Tarawera Ultramarathon – March 19th 2011
Race day! At 6:45am, I was amongst the huddle of runners eagerly awaiting the verbal cue from the race director to start running. It had rained the previous afternoon and through the night, so it was with great relief that the rain had stopped and my only concerns were the sharp chill in the air and my usual case of pre-race nerves.

Ready to go – all smiles

The first couple of kilometers were slow-going, as everyone made their way uphill in single file. Once the trail opened up however, that’s when Andrea and I started to push forward and find a steady pace. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying the scenery and feeling confident that the day would go well.

Stunning lake views before we had to start climbing

At around the second or third aid station we came across a couple of friendly “kiwi” blokes who struck up a conversation with us as we ran along one of the wider parts of the trail. I keep referring to “we” and “us” because although we didn’t intentionally plan on running together, Andrea and I had come to rely on each other in a way that I think probably only the two of us can really understand. Not only are we compatible as pacing partners, but we also do well at motivating one another. Some would say that our dependency on each other invites certain limitations, but we would say otherwise.

At around the 21k point, where the Millar Road aid station is situated, things began to get tough. We didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be approximately 15k before we saw another aid station, and much of that 15k would consist of arduous climbing that involved mostly walking. Reading back over the website after the race, this section of the course is described by one runner as “perfectly runnable.”  As far as I was concerned, this continuous and often steep stretch of trail was not runnable at all.

By the time Andrea and I reached the 36k aid station at Okataina, we were struggling to remain optimistic about the remaining kilometers we had yet to run. The 15k we had just covered had been much harder than we had anticipated, and in many ways, because of the way we were constantly blindsided by one hill-climb after another, our minds had also taken a beating; it was hard to stay focused and positive.

Furthermore, the descent to Okataina was long and steep, causing our quads to take the full brunt of the impact and rendering them half useless by the time we cleared the forest. If it hadn’t been for the support and cheering we received from my parents, and from mine and Anna’s daughters, I think I may have called it a day and quit.

Happy after seeing my parents and little Jade and Laura, AND after refuelling!
Laura and Jade wishing they could follow us

With 24k to go, I told myself that I had just two easy 10ks to run, followed by an even easier 4k. My father had told me that the worst part of the course was over and that it should be relatively flat and easy from Okataina to Tarawera Falls. I was happy to hear that, but a little skeptical as Andrea and I had heard similar reports about earlier parts of the course and none of them had been true.

The first 10k of the final stage was mostly uphill with some short and sharp descents, and it was on the descents that I started to experience problems with my left IT band. I was now moving at a slow but steady pace, my eyes to the ground and my mind repeating one of several pre-rehearsed mantras. I vaguely remember coming out of my little trance and in that instant being alerted to the fact that it was eerily quiet; I was startled when I realized that Andrea was no longer behind me.

With less than maybe 15k to go, I wearily moved forward, praying with every step that God would give me the strength to keep going. There were moments when the pain in my leg was so intense that I questioned whether I would make it. I also felt completely isolated at times, and afraid that I might have missed one of the trail markers. Hence it was with great relief when I saw the final aid station in front of me, and also the two men who had befriended Andrea and I earlier in the race.

I had only 5k to go now, but the pain in my leg had caused me to lean heavily on one side, so my movement had slowed significantly. Several runners overtook me in this final stage of the race, but as I hobbled around the last bend towards the finishing corral, I ignored the pain in my leg and ran.

No tears, no self-pity, no regrets. Just sheer admiration and respect for all the runners who make up the relatively small community of ultramarathoners; a community I can proudly say, that through a test of extreme physical and mental strength, I have now been initiated into.

First ultramarathon completed – 23rd overall in a field of 65 and 6th female in a field of 25

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