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2021 Tarawera Ultra Marathon Miler: Redemption

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Time for a race briefing on my second attempt of the Tarawera Ultramarathon Run (New Zealand) 100 Miler I suppose.

This year I went out with two goals in mind 1. Making it to the finish line. 2. Making it to the finish line before 12:30pm Sunday, as this was the cut off time at the aid station I got pulled out at last year by not making it there until almost 1pm.

The start was as expected, feeling fairly easy going, but I guess everything feels easy at the start. Running along in the dark morning, through bits of Te Puia and then on out to the woods.

The first Aid Station was a pretty quick turn around, got my fluids, some lollies and out I went, that's pretty well much how I wanted to get through all the aid stations, mainly cause I know the aid stations from the previous year were a huge factor in what cost me from reaching the finish line.

Saturday was a cooler day than the previous years for the most part, when I say cooler it was still low 20's but the previous year was in the high 20's with no cloud cover. I got through to the Buried Village aid station, sorted my fluids, food a quick bathroom break and out in about a third of the time than the previous year.

I was about 40km in when I heard someone running up behind me, I could tell they were going fast so moved to the side to them them by, I complimented them on how well they were moving, turns out they were just out for a small run and not actually racing. I made my way to the Isthmus aid station and I knew at this point I was already in way better shape than last year and feeling good. I had already made up a saying which I repeated to myself multiple times during the event "Man on a mission". This would help keep me going when I felt tired.

I eventually arrived at the first boat crossing where I managed to pick up some cellphone coverage and flicked off a text to my coach Gary as I had cramp kick in briefly, thankfully he was able to respond right away with some suggestion on dealing with that by shortening my stride and heel first, that worked a treat.

Arriving at the Rerewhakaaitu Aid Station and headed towards the food tent, I heard someone call out and asked if I had a crew there, I was like "Na, just me" I looked up and saw Scott, a guy that Bartosz and I had meet a couple of nights before who was crewing for someone else. He was still waiting for her (Toni) to come in and said he would look after me, he guided me to a seat where Toni's pacer was who also crewing for a few aid stations. Scott got my drop bag, filled my bottles and dropped my bag off again once I had finished sorting everything else, I thanked them both for their help and I was out of there.

When I got to the next aid station I find my friend Modecai's crew was there as he had just left a few minutes earlier. Melanie sorted out my water bottles while I took a restroom break. She then made sure I was good with food and then told me to catch up to Modecai as he wasn't far ahead and would enjoy having me for company. After about 9km down the forest road, I passed a lady whoo was sitting down, she looked up and me and said "Hey, I'm running with your friend", I was puzzled, "My friend" I replied, "Yeah, your friend from Christchurch... The accountant". I was surprised that she knew who I was, did she just recognise my Bib number? I wasn't sure, but I asked "Modecai? really, how far ahead is he", "Just a couple of minutes" she replied, I thanked her for the info and carried on down the road, It took me about another kilometre to catch up to him, but that's fine as I wasn't specifically trying to catch up, just move as consistently as I could.

As the day continued on, we passed each other a number of times, he would take off ahead, I would catch up to him along the way and pass him and then he would catch up again later down the road, a bit of cat and mice all the way to the finish to be honest, but was great seeing a familiar face out there and have someone to talk to instead of talking to yourself the entire time.

I started to have some issues along the way which indicated to me that I perhaps hadn't been drinking enough, it took me a few minutes to decide that I better drink some water, despite not feeling like I should... Thankfully it was the right call and after a few bottles of water things started to feel better.

At about 5pm it was starting to get hot, the clouds had gone away and the sun was still up high, the forest part I was going through was a road and the sun had a direct beam coming down on me for a while. Never expected the hottest part of the day to be so late in the afternoon. Thankfully it didn't last too long.

Leaving the Titoki Aid Station towards The Outlet aid station was great. I had left there the previous year just as it was getting dark which made it hard to see (obviously), this year there was plenty of light which was great, as it meant I got to see one of my favourite parts of the course in daylight which I didn't get too last year.

I was able to get through the Tarawera Falls section rather easily having the extra light, the previous year helping a guy through that section with my headlight as his one had died. I ended up arriving at The Outlet aid station only shortly after it had got dark enough for me to break out my head touch.

I spent about 25-35 minutes at this Aid Station, probably the longest stop of any of the aid stations, last year it was almost an hour at this same point, but being a man on a mission this year I was keen to get out after doing some feet maintenance and refill of supplies. I headed off from here just before 9:15. I was off onto the most technical part of the course, it thankfully wasn't as bad as previous years, I believe this was because I had brought myself a waist belt light which made a huge difference, I know they say don't do anything new on the day.... This waist belt was an exemption to the rule, this was the first time I used it and so glad I did, after almost a year of trying to justify the $250+ price-tag on it.

I met my friend Modecai again along the way, he was starting to get a little sleepy, I had a spare bottle of coke in my belt pocket, so I gave him half of that to help him out, I knew we weren't far to the next aid station and I would have plenty to get me there. We jumped onto the boat and got to enjoy a short rest while we were transported around a slip that had happened a couple of weeks earlier due to an earthquake.

Arriving at the next aid station I heard the people cheering me in and then a voice calling out "Go Jono". I looked up and saw my mate Cameron, he had flown up from Christchurch on Saturday morning to Auckland and driven down to Rotorua to surprise me. For those of you that don't know, Cam was my pacer at my first 10km race and my first Ultra marathon which was the Tarawera Ultra 102km race back in 2018, he has also been a great running buddy for lots of my training and a few of my other races. He became my support crew from that point for the rest of the night and day to follow.

I left this aid station at a little before 1:30am, compared to the same aid station last year which was around 5:30am-ish. Modecai picked up his pacer Mel at this aid station as well and left shortly after me eventually catching up to me around 20-30 minutes later. About half an hour out from the next aid station I passed Modecai, he didn't seem in a good state, very sleep deprived, sitting down on the side of the track and almost falling asleep. I suggested perhaps a power nap for 5 - 10 minutes, personally I've never done that, but I know people who swear by it... Honestly I didn't know how he was going to cope, I looked at him and tried to chat to him, but he just didn't seem to comprehend what I was saying... He had Mel with him, so I left him with her and carried on my way.

Before I knew it I was through Miller Road aid station on to Blue Lake, I was getting a bit emotional here, this is where I knew last year things were going to be close, but this year I knew unless terrible happened I was going to make it. My mind was mostly right and I was feeling good (as well as I could considering I was approaching 150km). I reached the beginning of Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and saw a Tarawera Ultra Marathon car pull up, Paul Charteris the race founder jumped out and came up to me and gave me a big hug and congratulated me and how well I was doing and sent me on my way.

Reaching the Tikitapu aid station I saw my friend Cam and my mate Bartosz who had completed the 102km smashing his previous years time by about 5:30 hours. My support Crew sorted me out and a call from a friend in Christchurch telling me to get my ass moving in the next 5 minutes had me out of there in reasonable time. As I left I saw Modecai had arrived and he was looking in much better shape than when I left him. Sounded like from Mel that the power nap worked well.

It was off to Redwoods, I was looking forward to getting to this aid station as I knew once I got there, it was flat and it would be the home stretch. I came running down a forest road after I left the aid station, I heard someone call out "Go grey shorts guy", I squinted trying to see who it was, then realised... "Is that Rosie" I called out, "Yeah, woohoo go Grey Shorts guy, you're smashing it". Rosie was someone I had met the previous year when doing the Miler in 2020 and we spent a few kms on the road together, her family referred to me that year as "Grey Shorts Guy", so it was good to see another familiar face out there that had come to show support, she had run the 50km the day before, and was keeping an eye on my progress. She gave me a hug as well and told me "Go get that Punamu". I carried on down the gravel road and up and around a hill to get to the water tower, I had completely forgotten about that section and got a surprise when I saw Bart and Cam waiting for me, I'm not sure why I was so surprised as it was a regular spot of supporters to stop at to cheer people on.

Having not got to this stage in 2020, I must have blocked out the memories of the next section from 2019 as I don't recall the mother f'n hill being so bad. My god... The hill went up and I knew it went down again, but I didn't recall it going left and right, toward the finish, away from the finish, down again and up again on and on... It wasn't technical, but boy was it hard on the mind.

I reached the stairs that Bart had mentioned when I saw him at the previous aid station, so I knew it was just down those and I would be near the aid station. A few minutes later I could see the bright spot lights coming from the Aid station. Seeing the crowds of people there as I came in, I think I got more emotional there than I did when I got to the finish. The crowd cheering me and the other Milers in to that aid station was overwhelming. I knew right here, it was just 1 Park Run left to go, my bottles were filled with Coke, I gave Bart my poles and gloves and then it was onto the home stretch from there. From here I was allowed anyone to run the last few kms with me, I decided to go it solo. Cam did offer to run out from the finish to meet and run me in, but I decided that I wanted this moment to myself.

The sun started beating down on me for the last few kms, thankfully Bart had suggest some sunscreen at Tikitapu aid station, I had a medic bike pass me and make sure I was ok, I guess because the last few kms goes through the sulphur flats and probably wanted to make sure I wasn't going loopy and would try walk into the mud.

A couple of old people were out on bikes and said "Well done, you're doing well" as I walked away I heard the older lady say "What did he do", "I've got no idea" the guy replied. Later they bike pass me again and he asks, "Just curious what your doing", I told him I was doing the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, "Oh, your walking it, well done", I felt like slapping him and saying "No, I'm not JUST walking it you ass" but I let it slide and carried on...

It was down to the last 1.5km to go and who pops up behind me but Modecai and his pacer Mel... We ended up getting a whole train of runners going on as we met a bunch of other runners all pushing for the finish... This only pushed each of us harder and faster, with my final kilometer being done in 4:40.

Running down the finishing chute, just behind Modecai I could see him and was hoping I thought to myself, could I catch him... Approaching the final bend I felt something fall out of my vest, thinking it was the GPS tracker I turned around and ran back to get it only to find it was just my drink bottle, I quickly grabbed it and headed back for the last 30 meters of the finish. Running down towards that finish line I saw Modecai cross and I wasn't far behind crossing that line either, thinking I would be next across that line, only to be passed at the last second by someone else.

After 32 hours 7 minutes and 24 seconds, I crossed the line, even beating my goal time by over 20 minutes, I was asked to pick my finishing Punamu (Greenstone) which was then placed around my neck.

Job done, now it was off to the hotel to room to sleep and recover. As I headed to the hotel, I bumped into Tim Day, he spotted my Punamu around my neck and congratulated me for completing it, I thanked him and then said to him, "Mate, that hill you put in at the end is just brutal!", he grinned and then just said "Yeah, but ya did it didn't ya".

Well... I couldn't argue with that, I mean after all, when you sign up to an Ultra, you do expect it to challenge you, and thats exactly what it did. Personally I think they should give that hill and specific name like "The Hill of Deception" or "Mind F#@k Hill". To be honest, it probably isn't even that bad if I went and ran it now, but at the time it was just terrible.

Thanks to everyone that helped me out there, crew members, supporters, volunteers, fellow competitors and everyone that has helped me get there, my coach Gary House - RunStrong, Jamie Scott from P3Athletica for the nutritional advice, The Monday Stretch classes at Frontrunner - Colombo from by Dan and hosted by Oska, Massage treatments from Dawnie Armour at NZBMA, and Yvette Parris from My Massage Place Physio treatments from Adrian Hamill from PhysioMed and Caden Shields from Southern Rehab & Sports Medicine

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