Tarawera 87k - a Relay Runner's Perspective
By Jemma Buckland on 21st February 2018 Race Reports
I’ve taken part in the Tarawera 87km relay the last 3 years in a row… working my way to completing each section, before I take on the whole lot.
This year I’ve found myself trawling through race reports from other runners, and trying to find justification in their words for my own long hard slog.
It’s actually helped me realise I don’t need to justify the 5 hours it took me to traverse the 23.6km from Okataina to Blue Lake. I did it. I finished my section, and our team finished the whole course. We set our intention and we got there, and this is a few words from one section of the 87km relay team.
Now that my blisters are healing I’m just about ready to talk about it. Given the 2 days of solid rain leading up to the 2018 Tarawera Ultra, the “fuck-it let’s do it” attitude had really had some time to settle itself into our spirits. I can’t speak for the rest of my team, but it can often be a deal breaker if you let your mind get the better of you when it comes to running in the rain.
Being the third runner in a relay race is a mental game. Being the third runner in a relay in the Tarawera’s where there is bugger all cell reception, minimal checkpoint updates, and no visibility of your team members' progress … it’s a form of torture.
The day before, we collect our registration pack, we lay out our gear, we nerd out over the big names, and we each indulge in our own weird and wonderful pre-race rituals. We make our “plan” and set out our intentions for each runners segment; and we also discuss the worst-case scenario for our timings. This lets us plan which runner needs to be at their relay change over at which time.
With the course reversed this year, and the forest roads only open to spectators busses, we decide there is not enough time for me to get into the forest, see the first runner off, and get back out to my starting line. I stay at home with the 4th runner, and we nervously keep checking the app for updates and calculate in amazement at the 100 milers efforts.
It’s the first time I’ve not been out with the team the whole day. It messed with my head — I felt like I wasn’t really taking part like I usually do. It’s not my style, but I knew it was logistically the only option.
We head out to Okataina, to eagerly await the 2nd runner, so I can get started. Despite not knowing when I’ll start, I have to plan and time my food just right… easier said than done. Both runners 1 and 2 exceed their worst case scenarios, and I have an extra hour before I start running. While I’m waiting completely unknown of when I might get out there… I nibble on a muesli bar, and our runner comes in! It’s all go. Except I’m still eating. Smash that down, and stroll out of the aid station… because now that I’ve just eaten I don’t want to start my run with the stitch!
40minutes in, my GPS watch has got stuck — it thinks I’ve only gone a few hundred metres, and my pace is 45minute kms! I know thats not right, but it starts messing with my mind. I’m not the most experienced runner, so rely a lot on my watch to keep my mind in check. Maybe I can reconnect it while I’m on this open section — another 40 minutes and it finally connects.
It’s been tough climbs, I know I’ve been going slow — I swear I’ve got us into last place of the relay racers, and I have no idea what distance I have covered. I can tell this is going to be more of a mental battle than a physical one today.
Between Okataina and Millar Road, I manage to fall a number of times, almost lose my shoes in the mud, have many chats with many strangers, and despite being in possibly the worst mental condition I’ve seen myself in for many months… get a compliment that I am the most cheery person they’ve come across. I’m getting past by 100km, 87km, 62km runners… just waiting for a miler to come through too.
I get to Millar road — my one aid station in my section. 16-ish kms in. I’ve told myself I’ll pull out. I’ll let my team down. And good god I am never running anything again.
Millar road aid station is going off. They have a BBQ cranking, loads of awesome volunteers in tutu’s, I jog in through a tunnel of high-fives, and am greeted with Jelly Beans, have a chat with some spectators who assure me I am NOT the last relay runner (yeah sure I don’t believe you, but out of desperation I will); and before I know it I am running off down Millar Road. Hey what? I was going to pull out!
Runner 4 is waiting for me. He’s been being a bit cocky all along, so now I want to make sure he has his chance to see what it’s like out here. Guess I’ll be finishing my section after all. Ooh thats right, I have Tamari Almonds in my pack!
Luckily one of the marshal volunteers warns me there is a photographer around the corner. Best be putting those almonds away and mustering up a little jog for the camera.
Light is getting low, its going on 7pm, and I have to get to Blue Lake — I’m not carrying a headlamp because my “worst case” plan was to be in within 4 and a half hours. It’s been damp and raining all day, so I didn’t think I’d been drinking that much water — so I didn’t top it up at Millar road.
There is about 1km left … I think; based on my delusional calculations after my GPS malfunctions at the start. My water runs out. I instantly start stumbling and struggling. It’s getting dark and I’m back in the forest cover. There’s stupid giant moth things getting all up in my space. A nice runner tells me there’s about 400m to go… based on his watch… but he’s been known to get things wrong before… lucky you added that disclaimer… because that felt like a helluva lot more than 400m!
Queue the being passed by a 100 Miler runner. The Womens winner to be precise. 4 of us stumblers perch on a muddy, very skinny single track edge and let her storm past. She’s looking is such great form; and she’s been out here for 15 hours already. That puts me and my 5 hour expedition into perspective.
I can hear the Zombie Aid station at Blue Lake. My shoe’s have no grip. I’m on my bum again. SO close… must get that cocky runner #4 out into the night.
Turns out he forgot his headlamp and has to use mine from the car. Turns out those batteries need replacing. He’s certainly got his work cut out for him.
My team-mates, and our crew of 2 legends who willingly spend their day out in the rain (moon-boot included) bundle me into Blue Lake to rinse off the mud, into the car, and we make our way towards Redwoods to cheer on strangers in the dark, and wait to check on our 4th runner. We see a dim headlamp, offer him a phone torch which he *gracefully* declines, and he heads back into the dark. Now to make sure we beat him to the finish line.
Our team finishes. We’re not last. We’re not first either. But we finished what we started, and on Sunday on the drive home we’ll already be planning our trip for next year, and putting in our requests to the weather man for a little less rain please.
Big massive huge thanks to the 2 crazies willing to be our crew out in the rain, and huge thanks to the people who I somehow manage to convince to be my team-mates each year, and keep them as friends afterward! This event is becoming a bit of a tradition for me, and it’s only going to get bigger and better in the years to come.