Slightly earlier than the normal March date, the Tarwera 100 kicks off next weekend as the UTWT juggernaut heads to New Zealand for round two of its series. I use the word ‘series’ loosely, given the huge geographical distances between races, meaning that top runners will only ever compete in two to three of the main events and barely against each other. So for me, crowning a champion is a little hollow, but hey that’s the way this thing rolls – just giving people the facts.
Skyrunning has done the same thing down here, so it remains to be seen if that follows suit, or if the ‘series’ is structured well enough that we see the same top athletes all competing against one another regularly – you’d think with slightly less distances between races we’d see the top guys and gals battling it out more regularly, but if not I’ll make sure we bash President Warner and Treasurer Bixley for their points system! Still it’s early days for both ‘series’ so let’s not shoot the messengers just yet!
Onto the race and this year, race director Paul Charteris is taking a step back from directing his own race and will actually be one of the few race directors to actually run his own race. With over 1,000 people entered, it must be nice for Paul to see how far his idea has come and where it’s at now on the world stage. I ran the 60km version of this run a few years back and runners are treated to some spectacular countryside in what is possibly my favourite country in the world.
So who’s racing? Well for the first time in three years, Sage Canaday won’t be returning to defend his title due to injury, leaving a new champion to be crowned in the mens race.
In the ladies, there are four runners, possibly five that will be toe’ing for a podium.
The standout pair are Ruby Muir and Nuria Picas. I think it’s going to be a really hard one to call between these two as I think they’re both very equally matched. Australians will remember Nuria and her destruction of the ladies field at TNF100 last year, and I think Ruby could have her work cut out as the race draws into its latter stages, especially given her recent injury woes. But, who knows what the real form is like right now, and I hope Ruby is past the worst of her injuries so that we see a very close finish between these two. Ruby is one of the most talented runners around, so it would be great to see her back to winning ways.
But if these two blow each other up, past winner Jo Johannsen will be right there to pick up the pieces, or better still riding the wave of these two up front. Jo is a class athlete, who since her win here has suffered her own fair share of injury problems, but hopefully has that behind her now. She won this race like a bolt out of the blue, and on a personal level I’d love to see her do well again in what is her home-country run.
Joelle Vaught from the US will also be challenging for places. She finished 2nd at TNF100 behind Nuria Picas last year. Joelle has notched up some impressive results in 2014, including 1st at the Wilson Creek 50K, the Hagg Lake 50K, USA and the River of No Return 100K, all in the US. Given Tarawera is a fast, runner’s course i.e. no significant climbs to get the hiking boots out for, the ‘speedsters’ should fair well here.
Also running and in contention will be Shona Stephenson and Whitney Dagg for possible podiums.
The men’s line-up is equally as tasty with again, four or five runners vying for top dog. There are a trio of runners headed over from the US, namely Dylan Bowman, Michael Wardian and Jorge Maravilla. On paper Dylan looks to be the guy who might head these three, having finished on the podium (3rd) at Western States last year. But don’t discount the stalwart, Michael Wardian, who last year clocked some impressive wins at the Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica, the UVU North Pole Champion, the Big Sur Marathon and the Squamish 50 Miler. Michael is a great guy and has the speed to do what’s necessary on this course.
But while the US big guns are in town, I think the win could be headed to a Chinese runner. Yun Yanqiao has a seriously impressive running resume having won the Vibram HK100 in 2013, as well as finishing second in this race last year. In 2014 he also won the ZhangYe 100km Trail Champs in GanSu, China; was 1st in the Beijing International Mountain Walking Festival 100K, Beijing, China 2014; finished 1st in The North Face 100k, Hong Kong 2014 and finally first at the YiShan 100km. This guy has what it takes to win this race.
But wait, there’s more. Loveable and highly talented Japanese runner, Yoshikazu Hara is racing, but just how up to this he is will remain to be seen. Hara ran a mind-blowing 285kms in 24hrs at the end of last year in Taiwan, but probably felt the after effects of that in Hong Kong recently for the first race of this series. Then there’s local favourite Vajin Armstrong who came third here last year as well as fourth in the Hong Kong 100kms last year and recently, second place at Kepler, just behind Marty Dent.
*Edit – I completely forgot to add in Robbie Britton to this, so making sure amends are made, as afterall he’s a fellow Brit like me and he’s from my homefreaking county of Warwickshire which makes my mistake even more stupid! He’ll also be shooting around the top 5 for sure after a collection of solid results in the last few years, which includes four podiums and two wins.
That concludes our preview, for me I think Nuria will just about hold Ruby off for a win in the ladies, while it will be oh so close between Dylan and Yun Yanqiao. Too close to call.