Fiona Hayvice hit the ultra running world hard when she won the 2016 Tarawera 100km ultra. New Zealand realised it had a bit of talent on its hands and since then, she’s moved from strength to strength with some cracking performances. The one that really stood out was her debut 100 miler at Western States where she finished 5th. That ranks as the best placing performance by a Kiwi or Aussie at the infamous race. We caught up with Fiona to learn some more about her running background, her experiences at Western States and what’s next.
Tell us a little bit about your background / how you got into running?
My first recollection of regular running was in my early teens when I was attended boarding school. Running was a chance to escape the ‘compound’ (both the physical space and the girls that I shared it with (I’m not much of a ‘groupie’). I used to run before breakfast for 30 minutes. From then on I continued to run for purely personal results which was more about my mental and physical well-being, not to do with being competitive.
Fast forward a few years and in 2005 I ran my first (and only official) marathon, the Auckland Marathon in 3hrs 36min, a goal I set myself prior to turning 30 years old. Then someone I knew sent an email touting for others to join him at the 2010 Gobi March Desert race, a 250km, 6 day stage race. I love to travel, and especially off the beaten track so the opportunity to travel across this terrain, typically off limits to foreigners pushed my buttons. I discussed it with my now husband (he signed on as a volunteer), and due to the timing of the event we turned the monumental adventure into our very unorthodox honeymoon (we were married in March 2010).
This adventure is what really sparked my fire for running ultras. The challenge, exotic/remote locations, sense of accomplishment, camaraderie among the runners and really, the whole experience was intoxicating and highly addictive!
In 2011 I signed up for 60km Tarawera and had such a blast running with a girlfriend. Indeed we had so much fun that we ‘upgraded’ ourselves at the 60km finish-line to the 85km distance and asked our partners to hang out for a bit longer and meet us at Kawerau.
Following this I took basically a 9 month break from running to have our son. Chomping at the bit, when he was just 6 weeks old, I laced up my runners again, strapped him into his buggy and started running again at EVERY opportunity. I ran to do the supermarket shopping, visit friends, playgroups, the beach, even out to airport to rendezvous with friends in transit.
Towards the end of 2013 I started entering ultra events again, including the Taniwha 60km (2nd place) and then in February 2014 I finished seventh at the Tarawera 100km (shortened course due to Cyclone). This is when a wee alarm bell sounded as I was sitting at the pointy end of field – I might be able to do well at these events!
Was running competitively something you thought was possible / you would do when you initially started?
It’s my results at Tarawera that made me think I had some potential. So in June 2015 I enlisted a coach (Scott Hawker) and my within a few months I saw marked improvements. I went from finishing in the Top 10 of races to podium positions and February 2016, won the Tarawera 100km.
With Scotty, we chat a lot about race options and my goals, then I leave the training plans totally up to him. Well almost, I don’t come with a clean slate, on a weekly basis I notify Scotty of business/family commitments that my training sessions need to fit around, but he fundamentally holds the reins. I’m confident in his ability and he brings a lot to the table from his own ultra racing experience to get me to the start line in the best possible shape.
Western States was your first 100 mile race and a massive result – what were you thoughts going into it?
Yes, it was my first 100 Miler at none other than the ‘grand daddy’ of 100 Milers! I had a hunch that this was going to be a distance I had some potential in based on few things. I’m probably more of a ‘tortoise’ than a ‘hare’ so to speak and I’m also extremely methodical in my preparation of race planning, nutrition, gear and execution.
I also listen to my body and employ a smart pacing strategy, running to ‘feel’; to the point that I feel like I could continue on after crossing the finish-line of most 100km races I’ve done. If I ran Western States like this, then I knew that when it came towards the end of the race, I could go toe to toe with some of the leading women there.
I was really excited to see if I’d proof my intuition correct, but I was also very nervous about it all too as I was stepping into uncharted waters. Although, I never doubted I’d reach the finish-line. The question that loomed over me, heightening my nerves, was how well was my body going to cope with the distance.
When did you realise that it was sheer carnage out on the course with the heat and that you could be in with a chance of a good position?
Reaching Forest Hill aid station (Mile 62) was the first I learned of both my position, and also the condition of some of the females ahead of me. Up until this point I’d chosen to not concern myself with positioning at all. Instead I made a concerted effort to run completely within myself and to not fight the course. I remember some words of wisdom a fellow runner bestowed on me in the first few miles of the race, which I added to my mantras for the day, which was ‘Be at one with the trail’.
Leading into the race, numerous people had advised me that I should arrive at Forest Hill with running legs. The last 38 miles of the course are very runnable, so you definitely want to be able to run them if you want to be in with a shot of a good position. I arrived at Forest Hill ready to race, so that’s what I did… within the limitations of painfully blistered feet and a wearying body that is!
What’s next for you over the coming 12 months?
First, I’m honoured to have been invited over to race in Western Australia as female ambassador for the Feral Pig Ultra (11-12 November). I’ve never been to WA and the course follows the world-renowned Bibbulmun Track, so I jumped at the chance! I can’t wait to sample some WA hospitality and bush trails.
In February my boys and I will drive up to Rotorua for my 6th Tarawera Ultramarathon, the difference being in 2018 I plan to toe the line at the inaugural Tarawera 100 Miler. In May, we’ll likely jump across the ditch again for a 50km hit out at UTA and one of the best bits about WSER 2017, is my placing secures me a spot in 2018. My boys and I are super keen to head back for some more California sunshine in June 2018. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to use the experience gained this year to refine my race plan and see what magic I can make happen next year, now that I’m no longer a complete 100 Mile novice!
Many thanks to Fiona for taking the time to speak to us. I think 2018 will be a very strong year for Fiona as she embarks on yet more milers.