One night in early 2019, in a haze of (a few too many wines) optimism, I decided to sign up for the Tarawera Ultramarathon – held in February each year. I also signed up for the Queenstown Marathon, which was held in November 2019), but that’s another blog post and was a great ‘warm up’ for the ultramarathon!
The date was set, 8 February 2020, and after having trained well for the Queenstown Marathon, in November 2019, I set about building on my hill strength to get me through the full 52km of undulating trail fun.
Training through the summer months was quite tough going at times. I’d often be out on a run, around the coastline of Wellington, and look longingly at the swimmers cooling off in the bays. I finished quite a few of my runs with a cool off of my tired legs at Lyall Bay or would run from my home, across the hilly trails of Wellington, to an outdoor swimming pool to meet up with my family for a much needed post run dip!
The week before the event I started to get really nervous. I knew I could finish the event – there weren’t any tight cut off times, and if I really struggled then I could slow my pace – or even walk, but I wanted to do it to the best of my ability. I’d trained pretty well, but not as much as I’d hoped to do. My longest training run was much shorter than I’d anticipated – only 25km, however I had put in a lot of strength training around my running and was feeling in pretty good shape. I’d ran a total of 200km in the month of January – which was a lot for me – along with a lot of elevation gain!
I was filled with a mix of excitement and nerves, knowing this would be the longest I’d ever ran and on trails too (I’d only started running a few years before – and mostly on the flat and roads – trails are relatively new for me… but doing the Wellington Xterra trails series had got me hooked!).
The weekend of the event tied in with a public holiday on the preceding Thursday – 6 February (Waitangi Day). We drove up on the public holiday, from our home in Wellington, returning on the Monday – giving us four nights and three wonderful days in Rotorua.
The car was loaded up with mountain bikes and outdoor gear. Our oldest daughter stayed in Wellington (having school commitments at college), leaving our younger two to join us on the trip. They were amped to check out some of Rotorua’s many mountain bike trails. I was really glad to have my husband and younger two daughters as my ‘cheerleaders’ for the event. On the way up we made our usual ‘pit stops’ at the Levin playground and Taihape for some gumboot throwing and a cuppa at the Brown Sugar Cafe.
The day before the event we visited the delightful ‘Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park’, set in beautiful native forest with native birds, rainbow trout, eels, kune kune pigs and deer, amongst many other creatures! It was a beautiful place to stroll around and we all enjoyed the natural beauty.
We visited the Tarawera Ultramarathon event hub, where I picked up my bib and felt really pumped about the event the next morning – starting at 7am!
Dinner the night before was relaxed and then it was time to try and get a good night’s sleep – something I never do the night before a running event! I stirred every two hours, until waking at 5.00am to get myself a good breakfast and prepare.
It was a few kilometres from our hotel to the start and hubby kindly volunteered to drive me. It was really lovely to have hubby and daughters at the start line, which was at the incredible Te Puia, a place of incredible geothermal beauty, with smoking fumaroles, mud pools and geysers!
The race started at 7am, but it took me a good ten minutes to cross the start line, as there so many runners and the most challenging part was trying not to trip up over anyone! The first 5km or so we were all tightly packed together, with lots of single trail track winding through forest.
The number of runners packed in together at the start forced me to keep my pace a lot slower than I would have usually ran, which probably wasn’t such a bad thing – I needed to not go out to fast if I was going to have enough energy in the tank to last the distance.
With aid stations placed roughly every 10km along the course I mentally prepared myself to run 10kms at a time with a picnic stop at the end of each – it didn’t sound so bad with all those picnic stops, hee, hee!
The terrain of the course was beautiful, winding through forest, along side lakes and finishing along the sulphur flats.
I felt really strong until around the 42km mark – which coincided with a very steep climb! That climb took me a while and then my knees hurt so bad on the way down – like nothing I’ve ever felt before. A fellow runner from Wellington gave me some moral support at that time and I was so relieved to make it to the flat and the final aid station at the Redwood Forest.
When I was struggling on that last climb I had texted my hubby and asked if our 14 year daughter would be keen to meet me at the last aid station and run with me for the last 7km. I knew she was physically up for it, even though she’d spent the morning mountain biking with her Dad and younger sister!
Event organisers had already said that any family members could join runners from the last aid station, so there was nothing stopping her from joining me and I was so happy that she enthusiastically agreed. Running into that last aid station and seeing the smiling faces of my husband and daughters was a huge boost. My 14 year old joined me at that aid station with amazing energy.
My 9 year old was so keen to join too – so my husband drove her a little closer to the finish line, where she joined me and her sister for the last 2km.
I crossed the finish line with my daughters, hand in hand, feeling so pumped to have completed my first ultramarathon and on such a beautiful course with the most amazing volunteers supporting the runners along the course.
I was so happy with my finish time too. I finished in just over six and a half hours, which considering the elevation gain and that this was on trails – not road – it was an accomplishment I was thoroughly proud of.
The atmosphere at the finish line was absolutely wonderful. After cooling down I headed to the beer tent to enjoy a refreshment (just a shandy for me – hubby drank the ultra brew, as he said to the lady serving, ‘My misses runs ultras, I’m happy to drink them!’).
Such a buzz at that finish and wonderful to see fellow runners from around the country at the finish line area. Others were out on course, having started at 4am to run 100 miles, along with others running 102km.
The next morning I woke up feeling stiff, but also aware of runners that had been out on the course all night – competing in the longer distances! Our hotel room had a view over the sulphur flats and I could see runners making their way to the finish line. I went down to the event hub to cheers some of them over the finish line – pretty amazing stuff (I had a few tears in my eyes watching some of them cross that line!).
My family soon joined me and were keen to go do some sight seeing, so we headed to Te Puia – where I’d started the race the morning before – to enjoy the sights at leisure!
On the Sunday afternoon we headed off for an adrenalin fix – on a zip lining adventure through stunning native forest with Rotorua Canopy Tours! We did the ‘Original Canopy Tour‘ as the longer one might have been a bit much for our youngest daughter (plus I was still a little sore after running 52km the previous day!).
A fantastic experience and couldn’t recommend it more!
Rotorua is a fantastic place to visit and combined with such an amazing running event it was a wonderful long weekend away – maybe I’ll return for the 102km next year!