Both the men’s 100-Miler and 102km races will be stacked with elite international athletes sprinkled with local stars hoping to mix it with the best in the world at this weekend’s Tarawera Ultra Marathon event in Rotorua.
Race Director Tim Day says the increasing depth in fields for both the men’s 102km and 100-Miler is a sign of the growing maturity of the race and its international reputation.
“We have had so many rock-stars in the world of trail running over the years, last year was notable with Jeff Browning dominating the men’s 100-Miler, but I think it is safe to say that this year will likely be the toughest to predict the winners, with any number of contenders on the start lines in both of our blue riband events.
“The 102km event in particular is so tough and with the race featuring as part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, competition will be fierce with any of a dozen or so runners having legitimate claims to a podium finish if they can put together a great day on the trails.”
In an endurance event such as the Tarawera Ultra-Marathon however, nothing can be taken for granted, with athletes having to manage hours on their feet in sometimes changing and challenging conditions as they manage the lack of sleep, balance their nutrition and hydration, and maintain their own race pace in relation to other contenders.
Adding to the excitement is the fact both the 102km and 100-Miler events see runners vie for qualifying spots at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, adding yet another layer of intrigue to an already fascinating race.
Men’s 102km Preview
Leading the way in the men’s 102km race, which is a round of the Ultra-Trail® World Tour, are a host of international contenders, featuring current 100 Mile world record holder Zach Bitter (USA), multiple winner of international races in recent times Patrick Reagan (USA), 2013 & 2014 TUM 100km champion Sage Canaday (USA), 2019 LA Ultra 555km winner (held in the Himalayas of Northern India) and the in-form Tom Evans (GBR).
27-year-old Evans is a repeat visitor to New Zealand but will be competing at Tarawera for the first time and arrives in great form with a stunning third place finish at the prestigious Western States Ultra in 2019.
“Trail running has been a way to test myself physically and mentally in some of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s a unique sport that anyone can take part in and is challenging for everyone! I have been to New Zealand before, but I can’t wait to get back and see more of the epic country,” said Evans.
Zach Bitter has previously honeymooned in New Zealand but has never raced here, this time he and wife Nicole (a contender in the women’s 102km race) will be in the country on more serious business and would love nothing more than a pair of podiums to take back home to the States.
Local hopes will rest with the likes of well-performed Andrius Ramonas (ex-pat Lithuanian) and local athlete Will O’Connor. Ramonas can always be relied upon to race strongly, especially in his own adopted backyard and will be looking for a strong performance in a quality international field on Saturday.
O’Connor will bring the added edge of local knowledge and support, the Rotorua athlete has established a reputation in the long-distance triathlon racing and is transitioning into more trail-running, having taken on his first event at the Taupo 100km in 2016 and winning the Taupo 50km last year.
“I love the hype and international field and the way the whole town gets behind the race. It’s awesome that we get to showcase our amazing city to the trail running world,” said O’Connor.
The 102km course is an official round of the Ultra-Trail® World Tour and takes runners from Firmin Field in Kawarau to the finish line at the Lakefront in Rotorua, taking runners on a combination of trails and forestry roads with native bush, conifer forest, farmland, parkland and thermal landscapes.
An expected time for the first 102km finisher (estimate only) is 2:45pm on Saturday afternoon, with the final finisher expected over the line at 1pm on Sunday. Runners are encouraged to have supporters, family and friends run with them over the closing stages from the Redwood Forest, supporting runners can do this free of charge.
Tarawera Ultra Marathon, Leading Men’s Contenders, 102km
- Tom Evans, GBR: All the way from the UK, Tom had a great outing at Western States placing 3rd in 2019 and with great results at CCC previously he’s gunning for the win here.
- Zach Bitter, USA: The current 100-mile world record holder, Zach brings incredible running ability and a great presence in the trail running world to Tarawera Ultra.
- Patrick Reagan, USA: Patrick is yet another great athlete on fire at the moment from the USA choosing to race in New Zealand. Patrick is a three-time winner of the Javelina Jundred and Brazos Bend and several top 10 finishes in other races in 2019. Third at the 2016 World 100km Championships, Patrick is a serious contender for the win.
- Sage Canaday, USA: A relatively late decision to return and try and claim a crown he won back in 2013 and 2014. He truly owned this race in those wins so will have great memories of the country, the region and the trails.
- Andrius Ramonas, NZL: A consistent performer who typically brings his best every race-day, especially at home in New Zealand where the ex-pat Lithuanian has been super impressive.
- Will O’Connor, NZL (Rotorua): The step up against world class international opposition is a big one, but Will is relatively untested in the early stages of his trail-running career and certainly has the potential to upset his more storied rivals.
- Simon Cochrane, NZL: Yet another former long-distance triathlete turning to trail-running and making his 100km race debut this weekend.
- Kris Bob Brown, USA
- Ryan Bak, USA
- Kyle Weise, AUS
- Benn Coughbrough, AUS
- Riccardo Tortini, ITA
- Mathieu Blanchard, CAN
For full 102km course information and map, CLICK HERE
Men’s 100-Miler Preview
In the 100-Miler, look for Zac Marion (USA) to lead the way as he looks to put the disappointment of last year behind him, when he was forced to withdraw part way through the event.
A return to Tarawera is a chance to put that right, but also to again connect with a race with a culture and spirituality that resonates strongly with the American.
“I absolutely love the culture that surrounds the race. The spirit of the Maori warrior is palpable the entire week and awakens a part of the soul that I’ve only ever felt on the island, despite traveling all over the world in search of something similar. I’m looking forward to harnessing that emotion again and letting it drive me to that finish line and compete against the other runners toeing the line that day in true warrior spirit.”
Marion welcomes the mental and physical exhaustion that must be overcome in any ultra-trail run, but especially over the 100-mile distance.
“I toe the line because I’m looking for that deep dig and that hard effort. I wanted to get to the point of exhaustion and find the ‘tough’ because that’s where the unique introspection of ultra-marathons comes into play for me, especially 100-mile races.
“And the only thing that’s going make it stop being tough, is finishing. Which is all the more reason to just press on and get my ass to that finish line sooner rather than later!”
Look for Carl Read (aka the Flying Mullet) to make a genuine race of this. Having cut his teeth over many years in the world of long-distance triathlon and Ultraman racing, 40-year-old Read is turning increasingly to trail-running for his elite competitive fix and is amongst the genuine contenders for a podium.
Read announced his potential with a win at the 2019 Taupo 100km race (8:27) and promises to bring his aggressive racing style to Tarawera this weekend.
“I’m very new to Ultra Running. I come from a Pro Ironman / Ultraman Triathlon background. I’m looking for new challenges and I know Ultra Running will deliver this. I’m a sucker for punishment and love being in deep in the hurt box!
“This will be my first race at Tarawera Ultra and I can’t wait to see how I go against the best ultra-runners around. I will not be holding back!”
Another to watch will be Brendan Davies (AUS), especially given the bush fire disrupted preparation he has endured just to get to the start line, with the 43-year old Woodford runner adjusting his training regime on the outskirts of Sydney as a result of the devastating fires in Australia, as he told Blue Mountains Gazette prior to leaving for Rotorua.
“The bushfires were a terrible time and disheartening. In times of crisis it’s good to keep your life as normal as possible,” said Davies.
He’s been training in the Marramarra National Park in the Hawkesbury, the Heathcote pipeline trail, and around Dural, Berowra Waters and Hornsby.
One of his longest runs was the newly opened 80km Bondi to Manly Walk, which he completed in just over 8 hours.
“It’s a great track to showcase Sydney harbour,” Davies said.
“I’ve been trying to get trail body ready and get the body tough enough to get the body through 100 miles.”
The 100-Miler course starts at Te Puia in the early hours of Saturday morning, taking runners on a one loop journey through a combination of trails, forestry roads and some sealed road through native bush, conifer forest, farmland, parkland and thermal landscapes and again includes a section through the Buried Village – with tea and scones on offer at the aid station!
An estimated time for the first 100-Miler finisher is 7:00pm on Saturday evening, with the final finisher due home at 4pm on Sunday afternoon. Winner projected times are completely subjective and estimates only.
Tarawera Ultra Marathon, Leading Men’s Contenders, 100-Miler
Zac Marion, USA: Trail-running royalty, 34-year-old Marion did not enjoy a good day last year having to withdraw through injury. Redemption headlines might be seen around the world post-race if Marion can put those wrongs to right on the weekend.
Carl Read, NZL: Affectionately known as the ‘flying mullet’ thanks to his distinctive hair style, Read is another to have cut his teeth in long distance triathlon before turning to the increasingly popular trail running scene. A relatively unknown quantity over the distance but will as always, pour his heart and soul into the race.
Brendan Davies, AUS: 43-year-old Davies is an endurance based athlete preferring the many flowing single track trails that feature in the Tarawera, he will be one to watch on the weekend.
Adam Kimble, USA: Adam is a fascinating contender with a background across multiple sports and survival type TV programmes. There is no director yelling ‘cut’ though this weekend, will have to come through the tough moments if he is to contend.
Vlad Shatrov, AUS: Vlad takes on his first ever 100 Mile race, the Aussie is these days mixing race directing with competing, will be interesting to see how that life balance is taken into a big race day on Saturday.
- For full 100-Miler course information and maps, CLICK HERE
Racing gets underway on Saturday morning, with the 100-Miler field setting off from Te Puia at 4am, the 102km race from Firmin Field Kawarau at 7:00am, the 50km at 7:00am from Te Puia, and the 21km race is also hosted on Saturday, starting at 10:00am at Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake). All events head to the finish line on the Lakefront Reserve.
The event will host a record 3,000 plus athletes across all events, an increase of over 50% on 2019 as the event attracts trail runners from throughout New Zealand and around the world, with an astonishing 59 countries represented this weekend.
2020 Tarawera Ultra-Marathon Trail Running Festival www.taraweraultra.co.nz
- February 5 to 9, 2020
- Rotorua, New Zealand
- 21km, 50km, 102km and 100-Miler (165km) race options
- 48% female, 52% male
- Courses through the Rotorua, Tarawera region and enjoys the cooperation and support of local Iwi
- The 102k race is part of the Ultra-Trail® World Tour.
- The 50km, 102km and 100-Miler are qualifying races for UTMB, the world’s largest trail race.
- The 102km and 100-Miler see runners vie for qualifying spots at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race
- International competitors predominantly from Australia, Europe, Asia and the USA