Vibram Tarawera 100 Race Preview

After the slight ‘debacle’ of the weekend just gone in Gran Canaria where Ryan Sandes was striped of his win, then reinstated following a ‘communication’ error (not just in translation, but more so the procedure), the UTWT merry go-round turns its eyes to the serenity of the Tarawera 100 on March 15th, over in New Zealand’s North Island.

Tarawera runs by some stunning lakes and through beautiful forests too
Tarawera runs by some stunning lakes and through beautiful forests too

The race, which has doubled its entries this year as part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, showcases the Bay of Plenty’s magnificent lakes, forest and dramatic geothermal landscape as it winds its away along the 100 kilometre course from Rotorua to Kawerau.

“Three races, three exotic, radically different environments and extraordinary challenges for the world’s best endurance runners,” says Tarawera Ultra race director, Paul Charteris. “It’s focused the world’s attention on our race and some of the finest in the sport are among the 850 entries.”

Indeed, what a headline act there is on show next weekend, as we begin with the contenders in the ladies field. The big news is that defending champ Ruby Muir is out with an injury, leaving the door wide open for the other ladies to pick up the Tarawera crown. From the ‘internationals’ on show, two names stick out in a big way, Meghan Arbogast and Tomoko Hara.

Megan Arbogast - tough as boots (Photo credit, Scott sports)
Megan Arbogast – tough as boots (Photo credit, Scott sports)

Trail veteran Megan Arbogast has seven top 10 finishes at Western States Endurance Run (100 miles), and has competed for the US in the World 100k Championships five times, all with top 10 finishes. If that’s not enough, she’s also competed in the US Olympic Marathon trials four times and has a 100km PB of 7hrs 41mins – smokin’. Oh and she’s the over 50s world record holder for 100kms too – plus she just won the US 100km champs a few weeks ago, beating most of the men too – you could say she’s in good form right now.

Joining her from the US is Sandi Nypaver, who has a sub 24hr Western States to her name, as well as finishing just outside the top ten at last year’s Speedgoat 50kms.

The other big name from across the seas is the supreme talent of Tomoko Hara (wife of Yoshikazu Hara – UTMF winner). If there’s a 100km race in Japan, you can bet she’s won it. She eats these things for breakfast and as a PB of 8hrs 4mins for the distance. She’ll be right up there too.

From Australia there’s Beth Cardelli, hot off the heels of breaking the women’s record at Bogong to Hotham in January, along with Lucy Bartholomew who raised a few eyebrows by beating Beth at the Surf Coast Century 100kms last year in a cracking time of 9hrs 36mins. Then there’s Australia’s Shona Stephenson, and from New Zealand, Shannon-Leigh Litt, who ran a winning time of 8hrs 46mins in the inaugural Ned Kelly chase 100kms in Victoria, Australia recently.

Our pick? This is going to be a close one, but we’re going to stump for Megan for the win, followed by Tomoko and then Beth making up the podium. But it will be pretty darn close we reckon.

Moving onto the mens field, it’s probably even tougher to call!

Not only is defending champ, Sage Canaday making his way back down to New Zealand to try to retain his crown, but there’s Rob Krar joining in on the fun, who for many, was the 2013 ultra runner of the year. He ran second in his debut Western States 100 miler appearance, as well as taking out the line honours at UROC too, beating none other than our defending champ, Sage in the process. *EDIT: Rob Krar no longer running.

Joining Sage from the US is Mike Wardian too, another veteran of the ultra scene and a regular on the US 100km world champs team as well as finishing in the top ten of the North Face Endurance Challenge 80K last year. Expect him to be right up there competing with the lead pack.

Then there’s US-based Kiwi, Michael Aish taking his position on the starters line, a two-time Olympian for New Zealand with a marathon time of 2:13 to his name, as well as a podium finish at the Leadville 100 miler last year in 18hrs 27mins. The ‘flat-ish’ nature of the back half of the Tarawera course is going to suit the flat-trackers such as Sage and Micheal for sure with their marathon leg-speed.

Yoshikazu hara has won pretty much every race he's entered in the last two years - would you bet against him winning at Tarawera?
Yoshikazu hara has won pretty much every race he’s entered in the last two years – would you bet against him winning at Tarawera?

For me however, one of the big names sneaking under the radar for this race right now is Mr. Yoshikazu Hara. His record is phenomenal given that he only came to prominence (globally), following his win at UTMF last year when he beat a few of European’s well-regarded ‘mountain-goats’. In the last two years, Yoshi has won 11 of his last 12 races and was unbeaten in 2013, and has leg speed to burn as well. He ran a staggering 273kms the Taipai 24hr track event in December, and like the quick marathon runners above, will be right up there at the finish. *EDIT: Hara no longer runnning. Also from Asia is China’s Yun Yanqiao, who’s won the recent Vibram Hong kong 100 as well as TNF China last year too.

Locally, there are also a fair few talented guys joining the ranks above. Vajin Armstrong, Scott Hawker and Martin Lukes will keep the Kiwi flag flying high, along with Brendan Davies for the Aussies. And finally, from France you have the quality of Martin Gaffuri and Quentin Steffan, both highly experienced ‘mountain goats’.

So who do you pick from that lot? Man alive, it’s a really tough one to call as so much can happen on the day as we all know. When you look at the course, you tend to favour the marathon guys, knowing full well that they have around 40kms at the end of relatively ‘easier’ running in them. Leg speed will count for everything here, so you look at the guys like Rob Krar, Michael Aish and Sage and think they should have the podium wrapped up. But then you throw Yoshi Hara into the mix with his superb record and all those theories go out the window!

Our pick? We’re going to shoot for a Hara win, with Rob and Sage sprinting for the other podium places – but seriously way too close to call! *EDIT: Given the drops of 2 of our 3 picks, Sage for the win again followed by Michael Aish and Vajin/Brendan Davies.

Who do you think will take the line honours?

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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