As runnners from all over the world descend on New Zealand this week, news has been confirmed that due to extreme period of drought the Vibram Tarawera Ultras will have a route change due to an increased fire risk. Races around the world and Race Directors in particular have been getting used to these sorts of changes. As for the athletes, so will find the increased difficulty in the course playing into their hands. Check in daily as we start to preview the race and runners this week as we land in New Zealand in the next 24 hours.
Fire risk makes ultramarathon even tougher
Extreme fire danger means that New Zealand’s Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon100 kilometre-long run will be even tougher to complete for the 430-strong field.
The event is on this Saturday, March 16 and was scheduled to run from Rotorua to Kawerau in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. However, because of a prolonged drought the fire risk is so high the last 40 kilometres of the course is now closed to the event organisers.
Instead of finishing on relatively easy forestry roads in Kawerau, the runners will turn-around at the 60km mark of the race – right next to the Tarawera Falls – and run another marathon over rugged, hilly trails.
“Mind you, ‘easy’ really is a relative term,” says event organiser, Paul Charteris. “Once you’ve been running for 60km, the thought of running another marathon of any sort is mind-boggling, even for the most experienced runners.”
The Tarawera Ultramarathon has a reputation as being relentlessly tough – but achievable – even for a first-time ultra runner.
“I’m afraid this new course is going to break some of those runners,” continues Charteris. “It’ll mercilessly eat them up and spit them out.”
For those who may get chewed-up on race day, the Tarawera Ultra has shorter options with an 85km and an 60km distance. Both will be run on many of the same trails as the 100 kilometre distance.
“The choice to re-route the course was an straightforward one,” says Charteris. “The safety of runners, spectators and volunteers is always the number one priority.”
For the runners, the last minute curve ball throws in some new challenges.
With more of the route being covered by rocks, roots and hills, runners will need to conserve more energy for later in the race. The winner of the 100km event is expected to finish in a little over eight and a half hours. The final finisher is expected home just before midnight.
Many of the world’s best off road distance runners will be racing Tarawera. For the European and North American favourites, this is their first clash of 2013. The world’s ultra running media are keen to see how they fare against the best from down under, including top runners from Australia.
“Christchurch’s Vajin Armstrong will be defending Kiwi honour in the men’s race and 21-year-old ultra phenom Ruby Muir in the women’s 100k race,” adds Charteris. “Both runners are sponsored by American brand, UltrAspire.”
Armstrong has been running an astonishing 250km per week to prepare for the race, while Muir has continued her habit of winning every race she’s entered.
Many of the Northern hemisphere athletes have already arrived to get acclimatised to the heat and to course conditions.
France’s Francois D’Haene, a professional athlete from the European-based Salomon Racing Team, has been training in the South Island, getting acclimated to the roots and rocks of New Zealand trails. In 2012, D’Haene won the coveted Ultra Trail Mont Blanc title in his home country, with over 2000 runners in the field.
For Race Director, Charteris, it’s been a hectic few days re-arranging the course. There’s an army of dedicated volunteers putting on long hours to make sure the race come off smoothly. An added complication is that large sections of the race are now only accessible by boat.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to transport about 20 volunteers and about quarter of a million calories worth of food across Lake Tarawera,” he says.
Rotorua is renowned for hosting a number of international sporting events. In 2006 the UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championship were in Rotorua and the Single Speed World Champs were held in the Whakarewarewa Forest in 2010.
On race day, running shoes will replace wheels on many of the same trails.
“With this sort of fierce competition, there will be a large national and international media following for this race,” adds Charteris. It will be a big week for the region.”