Muir poised to make Tarawera Ultra history

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.

Ruby Muir in action at Tarawera 2015. IMAGE: Lyndon Marceau

Ruby Muir in action at Tarawera 2015. IMAGE: Lyndon Marceau

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.

Mt Buller

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.

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Tarawera Ultra pumped for Ultra World Tour

American champion trailite Sage Canaday from the USA, Brendan Davies of Australia, Japan’s Yoshikazu Hara and Brazilian runner Manual Lago are just a few of the international trail stars lining up as favourites in next year’s Tarawera Ultra, which is now only three months away.

With its new status as part the inaugural Ultra Running World Tour, Tarawera is set to cement itself as one of the bucket list races worldwide for both elites and weekend warriors alike.

For Tarawera Ultra Race Director, Paul Charteris, the World Tour status is an amazing opportunity for the Rotorua-based event, which “started as ‘crazy dream’ six years ago with a field of just 67 runners.”

In 2014 the numbers of entries will be close to 1000.

“Being invited to be part of the Tour is a real honour,” says Charteris. “As the Tarawera has grown we’ve attracted really quality fields and next year the very best international runners will be on the start-line.”

Sage Canaday (pictured right), who won the event in a blistering performance in 2013, reckons the Tarawera is worthy of a return Down Under.

Screenshot 2013-12-17 09.54.32“Paul Charteris really knows how to put on an amazing event, with a talented field of international runners,” says Sage. “His vision to grow the sport of ultra running both in New Zealand and on a world-wide scale is very inspiring to me and many others.”

Defending Kiwi honour in 2014 will be Vajin Armstrong and Marty Lukes. The standout runner in the women’s field is Napier’s Ruby Muir. She’s the defending Tarawera Ultra champion and recorded four wins in four countries in 2013.

Charteris says the Tour is all about bringing runners together in the spirit of friendship, adventure and competition. With less daunting 60 and 85km distances to choose from and family-friendly relay team options (where each runner tackles a half marathon) the Tarawera Ultra also appeals to a wide range of runners.

The other races on the Ultra World Tour are all successful, well-established events with long histories, big race fields and massive media interest. They include the Hong Kong 100k, Australia’s TNF 100 in the Blue Mountains, The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in the USA, the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, The North Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in France, Italy, and Switzerland, the Ultra-Trail Mont Fuji in Japan and Grand RaiScreenshot 2013-12-17 09.56.13d on Reunion Island.

Being part of the Tour and with Eurosport TV coverage to over 100 million viewers across Europe and Asia guaranteed, the Tarawera Ultra will showcase Rotorua and New Zealand to a worldwide audience.

“A beautiful environment and superb athletes – it really is a recipe for a fabulous day of racing,” says Charteris.

“The international runners who have raced in the Tarawera Ultra have all loved being here. Our beautiful lakes and the forests, spa and geothermal features and Maori culture are a unique and seductive combination.”

For more information and online entry:


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Drama unfolds at Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon

Billed as the most competitive ultra marathon trail run in New Zealand’s history, the Vibram Tarawera ultra lived up to the hype and delivered its fair share of drama on the weekend.

Now in its fourth year, the race is a 60, 85 or 100km long offroad run from Rotorua to Kawerau. Each year the field grows larger with 299 starters this year.

Hiroki Ishikawa (Japan) 5th place in 100k, Daniel Scarberry (USA) winner of 85km run, Vajin Armstrong (NZL) 2nd place in 100k and Mick Donges (Aus), winner of 100km.

163 competitors started the 100k race with finishing numbers proving the Tarawera as a tough course, as upset stomachs, technical trails and the unrelenting distance took their toll.

Pre-race chatter focused on the anticipated battle up front. Martin Lukes had just come off a win at the Bedrock 50k, Vajin Armstrong looked to go one better on his 2012 result while two of the top Australian runners, David Eadie and Mick Donges, promised to turn the event into a trans-Tasman battle.

However the standout performance of the event came from the women’s field. Canadian mountain runner Nicola Gildersleeve won in an impressive time of 10hr 26min taking over an hour off Fleur Bromley’s course record set in 2010. Aucklanders Amy Campbell and Vicky Plaistowe were second and third in 11hr 18min and 11hr 24min, respectively.

Running with the lead pack was a tall lanky runner that none of the local pundits had picked.Daniel Scarberry from San Francisco ended up easily winning the 85km run in a time of 7hr 47min, taking 13 minutes off the course record. Jeremy Moody took second in 8hr 36min while Australia’s Sarah Carpenter was third in 9hr 20min. Carpenter took an astounding one hour and 40 minutes off the women’s course record.

Team New Balance Hamilton Flyers won the relay division for the fourth year in a row with a time of 6hr 16min, breaking their previous record by two minutes. Kerry Suter and Phil Murray set fastest-ever times for the first and fourth relay legs. They were followed closely by Team Forest Gump Appreciation Society in 6hr 22min and Team Lake City Hurricanes in 6hr 38min.

The 60km run saw the first ever photo-finish between two athletes. James Kuegler from the Vibram ultra distance team battled 2010 Ultraman World Champion Mike Le Roux from Cairns, Australia. Kuegler would overtake Le Roux on the technical sections only to get reeled in on the more open parts of the course. After the 55km mark, the two athletes decided to finish together in a time of 5hr 39min, mirroring the famous TNF100 (Australia) finish of Stu Gibson and Andy Lee in 2010. Local favourite Diane Bulled took out the women’s win in 7hr 16min, half an hour ahead of Jo Bannister.

But to the main game, and 127 runners finished the 100km distance. The swiftest among them was new Salomon Trail Team member Mick Donges from New South Wales in 8hr 51min closely followed by Vajin Armstrong in 9hr 01min. The decisive move came at The Outlet Aid station where Armstrong and Donges sat down to stock up on Hammergels and Heed and to remove stones from their shoes (several sections of the trail were flooded in 2012 due to heavy summer rains). Donges could not see where Armstrong sat down, and assumed he had left and so and began sprinting down the trail. Meanwhile, Armstrong looked up from his feet to see Donges had gone and began the chase. The two runners remained almost within sight on the open stretches through the Tarawera forest.

Mick Donges wins the 2012 Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon

Martin Lukes cramped badly only 4km from the start line and spent more than 20 minutes massaging and stretching his quads back into life. Frustrated he started walking back to the start and was greeted by the second-to-last runner of the day. Seeing Lukes walking, he said “If you can walk back to the start, you can walk in the direction of the finish”. Lukes took the advice to heart and began to walk, jog and then run. By the time he hit the marathon point he’d passed more than 260 other runners and lay in 16th place overall. At 70km he’d moved into fourth place and would overtake Hiroki Ishikawa for an unbelievable third place finish in 9hr 20min. Australia’s David Eadie was only 12 seconds behind Lukes.

127 runners would go on to the finish the 100k distance, 82 would finish the 85km run while 100 finished the 60km run. Many runners ran longer than they ever had in their lives.

With it’s obvious popularity and ability to attract large numbers of athletes from all corners of the globe it seems likely the Vibram Tarawera Ultra will become a firm fixture on the world trail ultra running circuit.

Check in to the latest edition of Trail Run Mag, free to download, for an interview with Tarawera winner Mick Donges, plus plenty more trail goodness. 

Images above courtesy Paul Petch/Outdoor Photography (NZ) and the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon