Tarawera Ultra 50k 

Earlier this year while trawling through the ultra running calendar, I came across a 50k event in New Zealand. It was in a place called Rotorua – and apart from hearing it was a little stinky – I didn’t know much about it. That same day I also signed up for 2 other ultras, so at the time I wasn’t sure if it was actually a good idea, or I had just peer pressured myself into it. Regardless, I found myself having entered it and figured that I’d work out how to do it later. In the interim though I attempted the 100k Ultra Trail event in the Blue Mountains, and if you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know that didn’t end well. So after working out that I am not in fact a mountain goat, but that I had signed on for a 50k event in New Zealand, a place that instagram had led me to believe was a little hilly, I quickly realised I had my work cut out for me. 

Enter Andy Dubois. He is a champ. He’s also really, really awesome coach. And, as my luck would have it, he happens to do magic. Obviously he’s no Harry Potter, because clearly there can be only one; but he does have a knack of giving people wings – so perhaps he’s been practicing his wingardium leviosa. Did I mention he’s also a really, really awesome coach? As per usual I am getting off track. Long story short; I did UTA, found I am not a mountain goat, and thus got someone to attempt to turn me firstly into a runner, and hopefully one day into a desert dwelling mountain goat. Comprende?

Aftet 3 months of following Andy’s meticulous training plans, and sending him back meticulous feedback – I found myself on a plane to New Zealand. And no, I can no longer just say New Zealand – it now always comes out like ‘New Zelannd’, in much the same way that as an Australian I have to attempt to put on a kiwi accent when saying six, fish or chips if they have any relevance to NZ itself. So back to that plane – I was lucky enough to have my sister and her fiancé  (I never thought I’d say that) join me on the adventure. Plus, she has access to the Qantas Club so she’s pretty handy to travel with. I even made a point to wear semi-respectable clothes just in case I got a ticket into the viewing gallery. Generally I am one of the plebs down below looking up at those comfortable chairs, filled with people sipping their green juices at 7am, who I just know are quietly high fiving themselves while looking at those below.

Again I digress – one day I’ll keep on track.

Arriving into Auckland and we were greeted by what I feel is one of the few countries in the world who take people’s luggage more seriously than the people themselves. I’m not complaining though, as I was genuinely ecstatic to be about to embark on a run where I didn’t have to factor in snake bites at all #winning! Keep up the great work bro.

Before leaving for NZ I took the liberty of booking us a hire car, and being a scrooge I found the cheapest one I could. Turned out to be one of my better moves, as we were promptly upgraded from a Toyota Yaris to a Hyundai Imax van, which made the ensuing journey far more comfortable, and made me feel like a bus driver.  Just wished my chair bounced.

I feel a record coming on. I’m 5 paragraphs deep and haven’t got to Rotorua yet. I promise I’m getting to the Tarawera 50k bit. You can always scroll down if you’d like, I won’t judge you in public – only silently behind your back.

So pretty much the trip from Auckland went rocks, dairy cows, green hills, cows, green hills, cows, sheep, hobbits, mountains, a lake and steam. And just like that we were rolling into Rotorua, enjoying the sight of the steam as it rose from random spots all over town; and as we passed Base Backpackers Karen made a point to thank me for not booking us into a backpackers. I had in fact booked us into much fancier lodgings than I generally do because they had a heated pool and hot mineral baths, both of which sounded great for after the run. Now I know those who know me are probably thinking that it doesn’t mean much if I think it’s fancy, and yes, while it’s not The Plaza in New York, the lads that own it do a pretty top notch job at making you feel very welcome. I don’t want to toot my own horn but I reckon I picked a cracker, so if you’re visiting Rotorua anytime soon then don’t look anywhere else; just get onto Nick & Josh at Havana Motor Lodge (soon to be Aura Rotorua). The hotel is a stone’s throw from the lake front, about 400m from Eat Street (I know this because I managed to walk there and back after the run for fabulous Indian), and did I mention the heated pool & mineral baths. Winner, winner chicken dinner! 

Now that I’ve finally made it to race day, you should probably grab yourself a cuppa because you know I get all wordy when I talk about my adventures.

Once upon a time in the land of the long white cloud, there was a long white cloud and it was raining. Ok jokes – but seriously, it was cloudy and raining on race day. 

After collecting some runners in our bus on the way to the start line, I had the opportunity to experience one of the most spine tingling moments as the foggy mist mixed with the steam from pohutu geyser, coupled with a beautiful rendition of Dying Day in memory of a local trail runner, followed by a bone chilling haka to welcome us. How amazing to be able to experience all that before the race had even begun!

The countdown was soon on, and without giving it a further thought the hustle started as feet began to shuffle across the start line – those with energizer bunnies in their legs leading off, followed by those of us confident in our ability, just not 100% sure exactly how to execute it. I didn’t know what was going to eventuate over the day as I’d been knocked around with the flu for a couple of weeks prior to it. I did however have faith in the work that had gone into my legs over the preceeding 3 months working with Andy, and I felt like that on the day it was time to just enjoy. 

As the kilometers ticked by and the insanely well stocked aid stations filled with sandwiches, scones, chips, pizza & coke passed by, I made a few realisations.

1. Even Kiwi’s dislike hills. This made me happy.

2. My body is freaking amazing. It got tired, but the stubborn little thing wouldn’t quit. It’s still no mountain goat and I lost A LOT of time climbing hills, but the little sucker made it.

3. New Zealand is very hilly. I even had a kiwi tell me that it was a hilly course.

4. It rains in New Zealand. There’s no denying that. We were followed by light drizzle for the first 25k, before it fined up into an overcast day, that just left muddy trails in its wake.

5. New Zealand mud is slippery. Very slippery. At one point a volunteer goes ‘just watch your step there’ – I was like ‘what – where?’. Turns out he meant just over an edge, one that was near vertical and that you could see the tread marks from people sliding all the way down it. One lucky lady ahead of me tried to go on her feet and promptly hit the deck. Always trying to learn from other people’s mistakes I lined myself up like I was on the take off ramp for a ski jump & slid crouched all the way down. Until I started bum sliding too of course.

6. Volunteers are the best. Seriously – go hug a volunteer. I got a free hug on the course & it was the bomb.

7. Predicting a time for a trail run in NZ is over rated. For the first time I wrote down three time goals based on three different average speeds, as well as including the elevation map. I loved having this within easy reach to know how I was tracking, but once things got muddy & slippery, and bumslidey, the times no longer mattered. What mattered was that I was there.

8. Don’t stop at aid stations. I finally heeded this advice, and passed through each aid station with nothing more than a sweep past the coke, water and chips, with the odd banana thrown in for good health. I don’t think I spent any more than 45 seconds at an aid station and I found the separate legs went past much faster because of it. There was no need to get myself up and going again because I never stopped. The mind just carried on, but the body was nourished (well that might be a bit steep given it was with coke).

9. I got faster. Usually I am so slow that all these ‘traffic jams’ that runners speak of are nothing more than a mirage for me. This time though I was right in it. Plus it made for a very slow climb up hills which was like all my dreams coming true! I think that every runner secretly hopes for a traffic jam that is out of their control on climbs (perhaps excluding the top runners).

10. The mind wins every time. No matter what you think you are capable of you are right. Now I don’t want to go get all positive spiely on you, but I had a 4km stretch from 42-46km where everything hurt; my hips, my knees, my back, and even my mind. I was climbing what was to be the second last of the major hills, and it was all bad. I took myself back to the Big Red Run this year when we trudged 42km with an extra 2kg of clay on the bottom of each shoe. I went back to a particularly hard training session that I nearly passed out in. I went back to the story of a guy who climbed up a hill for 65km and took 3 days to do it. In that moment all I had to do was climb a measly little hill, run down it, climb another and then run down that. When my mind realised that this wasn’t so bad in comparison to what I could of been making it do, it shut up pretty quickly. 

I feel like I realised more than 10 things during that 50k, but evidently these 10 were the only ones that weren’t washed away by the hours spent post race in the heated pool and mineral baths. 

From a runner’s perspective I don’t think that there is anything that could be improved upon with the Tarawera 50k. The course was marked perfectly, marshalls were in all the right places, aid stations were stocked adequately, and I loved my ritual of coke, water & chips – the only time I can ever bring myself to drink coke. They were also aptly named, with the Zombie Zone just a mere 4km from the finish, in a spot that I did feel a little like a zombi! The volunteers & what I like to call ‘rah-rah’ people were spot on, the scenery was breathtaking, and the finish line was on point. I don’t even want to think about the logistics of finishing a race at Hot Water Beach, but kudos for making it work! Having Karen & Dave there as I passed through Buried Village, and again at the end was a comfort I’m not used to, but one that made the event that little bit more special. Whilst I think we feel closest to those who we share the journey with, we get great comfort in having family and friends there even if it’s sometimes hard to express this at the time.

I’d also love to thank Andy for all his hard work in getting me to this point like most runners would (see what I did there – I called myself a runner), but let’s be honest Andy, I did all the hard work 😉 You’re just the super, duper coach that tells me what to do. Ok, how about the really super, duper coach who can turn a flat desert dwelling trundler into a runner? I know for a fact that if it wasn’t for your coaching method fitting perfectly with how I like to learn, your blunt & honest reading of a situation, and your factual explanations of why I need to do something, I wouldn’t have just punched out a cracking 50k & I certainly wouldn’t be attempting to run 4500km. So yes, while I may joke that I do all the hard work, it’s your guidance that makes sure it pays off. So thank you.

So if anyone is still questioning whether to cross the ditch for the Tarawera 50k – stop it. Don’t question, just do. Just don’t take my room at Havana. 

Now that I’m sufficiently worded out *gasp – shock horror*, I shall leave you with a little something that I heard on a movie about being out running – take from it what you want.

“You create your run – no one helps you and no one hinders you”. 

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