Feature image credit: Graeme Murray
The Tarawera ultra marathon is the second race on the Ultra Trail World Tour calendar and takes place in Rotorua, New Zealand. There are several options available for runners including the 62k and 87k, however the highlight of the event that attracts the deepest field is the 102k event.
The 102k event is the focus of this preview and the race sure is looking to be a cracker with a strong contingent of international runners coming from Europe, America and across the ditch. The course is considered low elevation by ultra trail standards and largely ‘runnable’ with lots of single track and a few technical sections.
The course has an accumulative elevation gain of around 2,700m and is a point to point route from Redwoods Visitors Centre, Rotorua to Firmin Field, Kawerau. The course has been modified since the race’s inception in 2009 and in 2016 it was extended to 102k, thus for the sake of this preview we will be using the 2016 results as the benchmark. In 2017, although the course is still 102k, there have been slight changes that may or may not result in faster times, but it’s likely according to former winner, Kerry Suter, to be on a par with 2015 times where we saw Dylan Bowman set a speedy time of 7hrs 44mins and 58 secs. Certainly with Jim Walmsley running, that 7:44 is under huge threat.
The women’s field consists of a large contingent of both local and international talent, however the final podium positions will likely come from the following group of women.
Camille Herron from America is relatively new to ultra trail running however comes from a strong marathon background and has already experienced success in the few ultra events she has done. In 2015 she won the Mad City 100k, World 100k Championships and World 50k Championships, in 2016 she was 4th at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and most recently, was 2nd in the 2017 Bandera 100k.
Magdalena Boulet also from America and from a strong marathon background too has had great success in trail ultras since transitioning around four years ago. In 2015 she won the Chuckanut 50k, Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile and UROC 100k, and in 2016 she was 3rd at Speedgoat 50k, 5th at UTMB and 2nd at The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge Championship.
Kellie Emmerson from Australia been very successful in Victoria and bagged a great podium at UTA last year. She’s looking strong right now and had it not been for a wrong turn at Two Bays the other week, we’d probably have seen a very close finish between herself and Tash Fraser, the eventual winner – still it is what it is. This is Kelly’s type of course and she will put in a strong showing here and is very much race ready. In 2015 she was 3rd at Two Bays 56k and 1st at Surf Coast Century 100k, and in 2016 she was 3rd at Ultra Trail Australia 100k and 1st at Surf Coast Century 100k.
Fiona Hayvice from New Zealand is the returning champion and current course record holder. She’s also had a strong last couple years – in 2015 she was 4th at Tarawera 100k, 10th at Buffalo Stampede Ultra Marathon and 3rd at the Kepler Challenge Endurance Run. In 2016 she was 1st at Tarawera, 2nd at Ultra Trail Australia, 3rd at the Mozart 100k and 8th at Eiger Ultra Trail 101k.
The women’s race will be tight not just between those four but a couple of other very skilled ladies runners too:
- Sally Mcrae from America, 7th Western States Endurance Run 2015, 2nd UROC 100k 2016, 2nd Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100k 2016.
- Fernanda Maciel from Brazil, 3rd Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2015, 3rd Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji 2015, 3rd Marathon Des Sables 2016, 3rd Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2016.
It’s a case of take your pick from those six!
The men’s field is equally as exciting and arguably the deepest field in the event’s history. A few big blow ups might be on the cards if the current line up goes full throttle. But on the other hand, the course record may very well be lowered by quite some margin.
The final podium positions will likely come from the following groups of men, with many other strong male runners also in contention.
US runner Jim Walmsley was all the rage in trail ultra running in 2016, where he won every event he entered, except Western States (he still managed a credible 19th having made a wrong turn after leading for most of the race at blistering record pace). His results in 2016 included 1st at Bandera 100k, 1st at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and 1st at JFK 50 Mile. He is known for his ‘balls to the wall’ racing style and is likely to push the pace from the start. Some Strava spying highlights some utterly phenomenal training from Jim in recent weeks, mixing big vertical with pace too. If there’s a big wave in ultra trail running, then Jim is riding it sky-high right now. It’s very exciting to have him racing in our neck of the woods.
Jonas Buud from Sweden is the returning champion and current course record holder. Jonas is a highly versatile athlete, at home on track of trails. In 2015 he won the UltraVasan 90k and 100k World Championship (his time was 6.22), and in 2016 he was 1st at Tarawera 102k, 6th at Transgrancanaria 125k and 7th at Lavaredo Ultra Trail. He clearly has the pace to burn as his 100km time suggests, but converts that onto the rougher stuff as performances at some of the more technical trail ultras in Europe suggests. Expect him to run under or very close to his 8hrs from last year.
Aussie hero, Dave Byrne comes from a track running background, however has brought his pace and aggressive racing style to the ultra scene with great success in recent years. In 2015 he was 2nd at Six Foot Track Marathon, 1st at Yurrebilla Trail 56k and 2nd at Kepler Challenge Mountain Run. In 2016 he made a smashing 100k debut with a gutsy run to get 2nd at the Tarawera 102k in 8.22. Dave’s strengths are in the flatter, faster trail, however he’s also willing to get out of his comfort zone, where last year he gave the Eiger Trail a bash. He finished a very credible 18th on the technical tracks in the Swiss Alps, where there’s a total elevation of 6,700m over the course of the 101km race.
Gediminas Grinius from Lithuania has been one of the strongest and most consistent performers in recent years in the ultra trail running scene and seems to excel on all types of courses. In 2015 he was 1st at Transgrancanaria 125k, 4th at Western States Endurance Run, 1st at Ultra Trail Mt. Fuj, and in 2016 he was 3rd at Vibram 100k, 2nd at Transgrancanaria 125k, 2nd at Lavaredo Ultra Trail and 2nd at UTMB.
Other strong male contenders include:
- Scott Hawker from New Zealand, 1st Ultra Easy 100k 2015, 2nd Ultra Trail Australia 100k 2015, 4th Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2015, 6th Ultra Trail Australia 2016, 5th Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2016.
- Michael Wardian from America, 5th Tarawera 100k 2015, 8th Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, 7th Tarawera 102k 2016, 4th JFK 50 Mile.
- Matt Flaherty from America, 7th UltraVasan 90k 2015, 6th Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, 3rd Chuckanut 50k 2016.
- Sam McCutcheon from New Zealand, 3rd Kepler Challenge Mountain Run 2015, 1st Ultra Easy 100k, 10th Epic Trail Aiguestortes 2016.
- Yassine Diboun from America, 2nd White River 50 Mile 2015, 2nd Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile 2015, 3rd HURT 100 2016.
- Andrius Ramonas, 1st Ultra Trail Australia 50k 2015, 10th Tarawera 100k 2015, 5th Ultra Trail Australia 100k.
This year is certainly going to be very competitive and some very fast times are on the cards.
David’s podium picks:
Female: 1st – Camille Herron, 2nd – Magdalena Boulet, 3rd – Fiona Hayvice.
Male: 1st – Jim Walmsley, 2nd – Dave Byrne, 3rd – Jonas Buud.