New Zealand’s Ruby Muir is set to make history this weekend if she wins the 100km-long Tarawera Ultramarathon and becoming the first three-time winner in the race’s eight-year history.
Muir first won the race in 2013 and returned last year to win the 2015 event in an impressive time of 9:02, smashing the previous course record by 90 minutes.
This past year she has been on terrific form, winning the Kepler Challenge near Te Anau in Fiordland, the Wellington Marathon and the Hounslow Classic in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
In Muir’s way this Saturday, February 6, stands 102.7km of trails and forestry roads, with nearly 3000 vertical metres of climbing and even more descending.
“I’m not feeling too anxious about Saturday. It’s a good race with a great community feel and I’m really happy to be coming back for a third year of racing,” says Muir.
“What really motivates me is having a good race with a good competitive field. I’ve had an injury for the past two months but had a great winter before that, so it’s a great achievement to have made it to race week.”
Tarawera Ultra Race Director Tim Day says Muir is somewhat of an enigma.
“The Tarawera Ultra course features a number of long climbs, technical roots and rocks over DOC tracks and forestry roads. Usually a runner might excel on one part of the course and be comparatively slower at others.
“Ruby appears to have absolutely no weaknesses at all. She has a fearsome reputation as one of the best runners of technical terrain in the world and her Wellington Marathon win (her debut road marathon) shows she can excel of the flat roads as well.”
The Hawke’s Bay-based athlete does much of her training in the hills behind her home and in Tongariro National Park with her husband and mentor, Kristian Day (no relation to Tim Day) himself a top-ranked ultra distance runner.
As a Kiwi ultra runner ranked on the world stage, Muir is in good company. New Zealand women have excelled this past year in the sport of trail ultra running. Taiwan-based Kiwi, Ruth Croft, placed second at last year’s Tarawera Ultramarathon and went on to win the Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix 100k race in the French Alps – once of the biggest races in Europe. Dunedin’s Anna Frost won the Hardrock 100 mile race in Colorado USA – considered to the toughest mountain ultra run in the world.
The mountains of the United States await Ruby this year as well, having been selected to run in the Western States 100 mile Endurance Run in California. Western States is the oldest trail ultramarathon and the most prestigious.
One of Muir’s toughest challenges is likely to come from Wellington’s Fiona Hayvice, a runner who has consistently climbed the ranks in the sport and the winner of November’s Tarawera Trail 50km race.
The men’s field again has some depth with names like Jonas Buud (Sweden) toeing the line. Bud is better known for fast and flat (2015 IAU 100km World Champion), but has proven chops in the mountains, too, with a a second place UTMB (2012) and a bunch of in-New Zealand mountain running down in the lead up.
Big name ultra runner Ryan Sandes will be on trail, how he goes with a lacklustre back half to his 2015 season including a DNF (Transvulcania & UTMB) and DNS (Western States) in big races due to sickness. Maybe Tarawera is a comeback? He’s been in NZ for a while now, with the Red Bull Defiance adventure race in his legs (5th in Mixed Teams). Mike Warden will also be a contender, knowing the course well with two years at the event behind him (8th and 5th). Kiwi Vajin Armstrong is never to be underestimated on his day, too, with seconds (2011/12), thirds (2013/14) and a fourth (2015) – he has the consistency and with a good run could take his first title.
Other names to watch include Jason Schlarb (USA), Yoshikazu Hara (Japan), Ford Smith (USA) and in the Aussie camp David Byrne has been pinged as the strongest contender fro across the Ditch.
The Tarawera Ultramarathon is a 100km trail run from Rotorua to Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty and is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, a series of the 12 most prestigious ultra-running races in the world. More than 600 runners are entered in the 100k race.
See more at: www.taraweraultra.co.nz