Tawawera Ultra Marathon 100km

7 FEB 2015 by Karin Burgess

The idea for doing the Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) 100km in New Zealand came after completing The North Face 50km in May 2014.  I was still basking in my ‘Dory Glory’ (as Rob Sharpe put it).  The thought of attempting 100km in another country was very appealing, especially since I hadn’t travelled overseas in over 10 years.  I posted the question on the BBR Facebook page as ‘It’s just a pipedream, but is anyone interested in doing Tarawera?’  Nick Smith responded saying he was doing it (he’d done it the previous year when it had been cut short by Cyclone Lusi).  Then Fiona Hogarth said she was interested, then Antony Bowesman, then Stephanie McLean.  Woo hoo!  So we all signed up in June, booked airfares and accommodation… nine months seemed a long time away.


24 weeks before the event I started following a training plan from Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell, running 3-4 times per week, the longest run being on a Saturday.  I averaged 45kms a week, with the longest week being 83km (which included the longest run of 60km).  I also did 1-2 Pump classes at the gym each week.  I was lucky I didn’t have any major injuries.  I had just one week of extreme fatigue and soreness, where I stopped running completely.   I took up swimming laps at Hornsby Pool 12 weeks from the event (with flippers!) which really helped the leg soreness.  Fiona, Steph and Antony had major injuries during training which had them taking 6 weeks off running.  There were times we thought it would be a miracle if we all made it to the starting line, let alone the finish line.

We flew directly to Rotorua on Thursday morning before the race.  I was so excited to be on a plane, appreciating what a privilege international travel is.  We checked-in at the Holiday Inn, which was the race headquarters.  There was smelly sulphur steam rising from geothermal activity right next to the hotel.  That afternoon we participated in a rogaine, where we covered 5km in the Redwoods Forest (where the race would start on Saturday morning) as a team.  We had felt reluctant to run beforehand, but were glad we did it afterwards, since it gave us a glimpse of what the terrain would be like and meet some other NZ runners.

On the Friday we went to the official welcome at Te Puia (10mins walk from the hotel).  All the runners grouped together for an official photo before venturing off to see the geysers and hot bubbling mud pools.  At midday we went to the Race briefing and loved sitting up in the front row.  There was an inspiring message from Mal Law, who described himself as an ‘ordinary’ runner –  he was about to run 50 marathons in 50 days covering 50 of NZ’s peaks.  Then there was the Athlete’s Q&A with elites such as Nuria Picas (TNF 2014 winner), Jo Johansan (NZ), Michael Wardian (US), Dylan Bowman (US) and Robbie Britton (GB).  Registration was smooth and easy.  We had an afternoon nap, then dinner at a pub in town. I was conscience of what I was eating all day, knowing that whatever I eat may still be rattling around in my belly on the run the next day, so I didn’t want any regrets (like the huge sticky Bakers Delight bun I’d eaten before the Hume & Hovell last year).

I only got 2-3 hours the night before, cursing the hotel pillows.  I lay there, making up lines for a runner’s version of the book ‘Go the f*!# to sleep’.  I wasn’t worried about the race – I’d laid out all my race kit the night before – it was just the excitement.  I didn’t let the lack of sleep worry me, knowing that the adrenaline and atmosphere would get me through the race the next day. At 5:00am Nick’s wife Andrea drove us to the race start.  It was dark and exciting.  Music was playing and there was a traditional Maori dance.  Then we were off!


The first 5kms were slow going.  There were bottlenecks were we had to walk, but I tried not to feel annoyed, knowing it was going to be a long day at the office.  Slowly the runners stretched out.  I ran with Sydney runner Carol Adams for a bit at the start.  We’d all agreed we were running our own race, which alleviated any pressure to stay together.  I often asked myself “Can I keep this pace up for 100km/16 hours?”  If not, then I’d slow down.

The first 60km were the most beautiful.  The weather was sunny but not too hot (max 27.5).  The course was shady and cool, and the ground was soft underfoot, with the main obstacles being tree roots.  It reminded me of running through Leura Forest.  We ran past beautiful lakes with crystal clear water where you could see the rocks at the lake bottom.  The race organisers had marked swimming spots, but I had my ‘race face’ on and didn’t want to stop.

For me, the highlights included flying down the shady, ferny steps into Okataina (37km) – I felt like I was going so fast, this must be what an elite athlete felt like (if only I could keep up that pace for the other 99km).  I loved seeing the signs ‘200m to Aid Station’ and being greeted by supporters who called out your name (which was on our race bib).  The aid stations had a huge variety of food – even pizza, sweet potato fries and sliced salami – but I mainly had the watermelon & Coke.

The hardest part was the last 40km.  I’d been told it was mostly downhill, but didn’t realise it was mainly forest road which was monotonous and exposed in places.  I listened to music for 70% of the run to energise me and not get distracted by talkers (pot calling the kettle black!).  At the 77km mark there was a 5km ‘loop of despair’ from Awaroa, which was simply a hot climb to the top of steep hill with no real views.  Around 85km, I was feeling tired and just wanted to walk from there onwards.  Then I met another Sydney runner, Gillian – we didn’t talk much (each keeping our headphones in), but each other’s presence was a huge encouragement and we’d push/pull each other along.


With just 5km to go, I was so excited that I was really finishing this!  I was surprised I could still run at a reasonable pace when moments ago I felt I could only walk.  Like a horse smelling the barn!  I still stopped for a few photos going over a bridge just 2kms from the finish line, not wanting to completely miss smelling the roses.  Crossing the finish line was enormously satisfying, knowing I’d done the distance and my body didn’t feel too bad.  The sun was starting to go down, the music was blasting and cider was flowing.  We were weighed to check we hadn’t lost/gained too much.  Beautiful wooden finisher’s medals were proudly hung around our necks.  I was so happy and relieved that all the BBRs had made it across the line in one piece.  We’d all achieved the dream.  I’d finished in 14:27:01, which was faster than I’d imagined I’d do.  I was a little sad that Eric and the kids were not there to share the experience, but also grateful to have this adventure kid-free (thanks hon!).

The next day, on the plane trip home, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.  Usually I’ve cringed when people say running is ‘addictive’ – personally I couldn’t use that word for something which is so hard – but having completed TUM, I finally can relate to that sentiment.  A spark had been lit and I am keen for more!


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