The inaugural Tarawera 100 Miler
By Will Bell on 14th February 2018 Race Reports
Fred DeVito said “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you”. Running 100 miles really puts that to the test.
At 4am on Saturday 10 February 2018, 140 of us lined up for the inaugural Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run.
The start. Photo by Tarawera Ultramarathon/Photos4Sale.
This was my first 100 miler. I had no idea what to expect, except perhaps a bit of rain and a slow ramble through a beautiful part of the country. With me in Rotorua were wife/crew chief Nicola, with Tim and Lauren, so I knew I’d be in good hands.
We set off to the tune of ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers, the first of many delightful musical jokes throughout the day. From the get go, it felt like the mid-pack was trying to kill each other. I flicked off a text to my crew-family:
There are some serious mofos here. They need to calm the f**k down!
I had a goal time and a plan (and several back-ups) and really just wanted to run my own race. As runners came up behind me, I’d slow and pull over to the side. I wasn’t going to be pushed too hard in the early stages of a day-long adventure. So the field thinned out. My mantra was run while you can, walk when you can’t, crawl if you must.
I could feel the mana of my fellow runners in their footprints
The continuing day’s rain made the tracks slick and boggy. The footprints of other competitors were my only company for much of the day. I imagined there might be 50 or so other Miler runners ahead – pros & everyday heros – and I took strength from knowing that we were treading the same hallowed ground. The words of race organisers Paul Charteris and Tim Day swirled around in my head – it’s a privilege to be here.
I’d been nauseous all day & soon started dry retching. I thought about my wife & friends, hoping that no matter how things went today, I’d make them proud. The tears started earlier than expected.
I usually run happy. Even when I’m in the hurt locker, I’m loving it. But I wasn’t myself today. In these early stages, I was utterly miserable. Except, of course, the aid stations, where I got to see my team and the friendly volunteers who had given up their Saturdays to stand in the rain and feed me Nutella sandwiches. I didn’t really want to make friends out on the course and I didn’t even listen to any music. Not my usual self at all.
The approach to the Isthmus aid station felt like it was put together by CrossFitters. We zigzagged through long grass, jumping over logs and under fallen trees. It felt like a cruel joke.
Waiting for a lift at Rotomahana
The boat crossing at lake Rotomahana was a perfect opportunity to refuel and change my socks. I opted to wait a few minutes for the next runner (overall 17th place finisher, Kazushi Tsuda). As I made my way along the rural roads towards Rerewhakaaitu I thought I could see superstar Sally McRae’s green hat on the horizon…surely not. Sure enough though, as I entered the dogleg to the aid station, superstars Fiona Hayvice and Sally McRae were heading the other way. It’s a dream of mine to actually get to see elite athletes on course, so I was stoked to be able to cheer them on.
Rerewhakaaitu was the last time I’d see my team for 50km/7-8 hours. I became deeply philosophical, focusing on the moment. Not worrying about who was behind nor what lay ahead. Just enjoying the feelings, the scenery, the now. When rambling through such a beautiful place, remember to look up from time to time.
Hauntingly beautiful trails make up most of the course
No sooner had I realised this than BANGI clotheslined myself on a tree hanging over the path. Right in the mouth…I pressed on.
I rolled into Wihape shouting “Are we happy, Wihape?!” and dancing to Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ (another delightful musical joke, that I imagined was on repeat all day for them).
From Tarawera Outlet I started to catch up to some of the 102km runners and became aware of the utter carnage that was unfolding in the mud today. I saw someone curled up in a foil blanket, their race was done. I would later learn her ankle was broken and that it’d take the recovery team three hours to walk in to get her and maybe another six to get her out on a wheelbarrow stretcher. It’d been quite careful all day, ensuring each step was viable before fully committing to it. Utterly exhausting, but ultimately worth it.
I had to alter my nutrition strategy on the fly and ditched a day’s worth of One Square Meals in my drop bag. Tailwind, Cliff Bloks and oranges were the order of the day.
Not as perky as I usually am (around 90km in.) Photo by Tarawera Ultramarathon/Photos4Sale
I started losing my mind and took great delight in speaking a few words of encouragement to anyone with a Japanese flag on their bib. In my mind we had a lengthy conversation, in reality it went:
“Gambatte ne!” (good work, keep going!)
“Oooo! Arigato! You too!” (thanks)
At just over 100km I got to see my team for the first time in over 7 hours. My extramural crew, Andrea, even phoned in for a quick pep talk. Over dinner, my crew-family cleaned me up & turned my day around. With my longest run to date being 102km, it was all new territory from here. And I was determined to start enjoying it.
I learnt that throughout the day, my crew-family had adopted another runner (women’s 2nd place & overall 7th place finisher, Hannah McRae) and her crew, and jumped in with a few others, including 2nd place finisher Grant Guise and the legendary Jean Beaumont (13th place overall finisher). They’d even become quite emotionally invested in other runners such as Christian Warren (9th place overall) throughout the day.
60km to go
Glutes & hammies: OK
Feet: too disgusting to think about
I just had to survive another 25km in the failing light, then I’d get to hang out with Tim. As night fell, I started to see mundane things that probably weren’t there: dogs, broken glass, bats. I heard voices calling to me from the darkness, but they turned out to be real people with a megaphone.
My math abilities slipped away from me and I had a momentary meltdown at 118km when my goal time seemed impossibly out of reach.
Night monstering intensified with the zombie paraphernalia as I approached Tikitapu. Then vanished when I saw my team again.
After crewing with the girls all day, Tim joined me around 9:45pm. I wasn’t particularly chatty, but he kept me going through the night. Two big climbs. My uphill speed was adequate. Run while you can. Downhill speed was probably about a third of that, inadequate.
Searing pain shot through the fronts of my shins with each step. I experimented with a few different ways to make it down: backwards, sideways, 45 degree grape vine…I’d lost control of my foot flexion so had to live with 20+ min/km downhills. …walk when you can’t…
“Keep grinding on through it, mate”.
“Keep sipping away, mate”.
“One foot in front of the other, mate”.
Earlier in the day I’d been almost 3 hrs up on my goal pace. By now I’d almost eaten up those hours, but was glad I had them up my sleeve. Fighting sleep, I’d allow myself to close my eyes for 5 seconds every now and then. I was moving so slowly that there was little risk of tripping over anything, or moving at all really.
Each time I saw the dream slipping away into the darkness, Tim wound turn around to light the way for me. Through a touch of night blindness, I imagined a look of cold disappointment and winced onward with each tentative step.
Is he getting too cold at this pace? Will he be disappointed if we don’t break 24hrs? I think he’d really enjoy it if we did…
With 6km to go and 55 min left, we didn’t think it was going to happen. But that final aid station had a secret weapon…Batman fans.
Ooooh snap! I showed them my Batman shirt beneath my Icebreaker layers
“You must’ve seen our Bat signal!”
After joking all day about the frontrunners having 5K throwdown to finish, we threw. It. Down.
“I just want to say thank you for being here, Tim…” sobs…
“Don’t waste energy on tears now, mate! Your face is wet enough already”
“4K to go…”
“Can you call out our splits please?”
We rounded the final bend, full noise towards the finish, high-fiving Lauren in the chute. Crossing the line in 23:39:22. Boom. Job done.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings of that moment. Gratitude. Joy. Love. Pain. Pride.
Life boils down to moments like these. Life changing moments when anything seems possible. Because it is.
Anything is possible. Photo by Tarawera Ultramarathon/Photos4Sale
The physical toll of running this distance is immense. My feet and ankles are swollen and bruised, most of my toe nails will fall off and new parts of me start to hurt as that pain subsides. But the emotional toll is indescribable. Is there anything else in this world that could emotionally bankrupt you and leave you richer than you ever were before?
I’ll never quite be able to express my gratitude to my wife and my friends who helped to get me to the startline, let alone across the finish line, and ultimately help make my dreams become reality. Thank you all. I hope one day I can be a part of you realising yours.
Before I get too emotional, I’ll leave you with my parting words to organisers Paul & Tim:
Thank you so much for putting together the Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run. It took everything in me, even stuff I never knew I had…
See what others had to say about the Tarawera Ultra by reading the Reviews on our Partner Event page.
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This blog originally appeared on Will's own blog page WILL.I.RUN