Tarawera Ultra Marathon (102km)

  • Distance: 102km
  • Time: 13 hours 39 mins
  • Place: 25th/150 female

My First 102km

Where to begin! Ticked off my first 100km race (yes that means there will be more) A couple of years ago I didn’t even know ultra running existed. I ran my first ultra just over a year ago and have now completed four – 51km, 60km, 80km and 102km. The distances appear to be getting longer and longer. I once said out loud ‘’I don’t think I could ever run a marathon’ Oh how things change! What a fun journey to be on.

A year ago I watched the Tarawera Ultra Marathon take over social media channels for the weekend and was rather captivated by it. I knew I could do 100km, I just had no idea how to get there and decided I needed help. A few weeks later my coaching with Merryn Johnston and Peak Endurance began. 

It’s awesome to have achieved a goal I set myself a year ago. I wouldn’t recommend less than a year’s build-up if you want to come through a race like and still mentally and physically be in one bit. It takes ages for your body to accept this is what we do now (lol) and be happy about it. It’s a painful enough experience without having skimped on the training.

Kate and I at the start
Julia, Minette, Kate & Me at the finish

Support Crew

I had a great support crew at this race which I am super grateful for including my Dad, his partner Cristina, and three of my best friends – Kate, Julia and Minette. Supporters make a huge difference out on course and their smiling faces give you something to look forward to along the way.

Kate, Julia, Minette and myself all met and university and have been close friends ever since. In September last year, we all went to Mexico to celebrate turning 30 and all got matching tattoos to commemorate the journey we’d been on together over the past 10 years. The tattoo is a lotus flower that includes a little dot for each of us. So it was very special to have us all together and extra awesome for me!

The best friends!

Mental Game

A good mindset and a strong mental game are key for an endurance event. It’s probably the area of running that interests me the most. I’ve watched a lot of Youtube videos on sports psychology and learnt tips and tricks along the way about how your brain works, how it’s hard wired to avoid pain and the best way to collaborate with your mind.

It’s extremely hard to push through pain and fatigue and keep on running, for hours and hours when every ounce of your being is screaming at you to stop. I’m still learning, I’ve semi mastered the keep on running part, but being able to push myself over this distance is something I would like to be better at. But it’s terrifying, knowing you have 8, 9 or 10 hours plus still to run. How do you push yourself knowing if it goes wrong, it’s not just sore legs for half an hour or so it’s potentially – extreme pain/fatigue, vomiting, hallucinations, injury and going into a dark dark place mentally – for hours.

 

Despite the above, the plan was simple. Break the course down into manageable chunks – aid station to aid station, keep up the nutrition, use the support of my friends and family and above all have faith in my training and enjoy the journey.

Zoned Out
Oh Camera
Grin!

Nutrition

One of the most important aspects of a long-distance race and one of the hardest things to get right is nutrition. Fail on your nutrition and you will fall apart. My plan (everyone is different) was to have roughly 60g carbs and 500ml of liquid every hour.

Majority of what I needed came from Tailwind and Pure gels, and I topped this up with Nuun hydration tablets, Em’s Power Cookies, and bananas from the aid stations. Gels are either loved or hated by ultra runners, I’ve never had any issues with them so continue to use them as taking on solid food during something I find very difficult.

Race Day

On raceday it was up at 4.30 am to get organised before the one hour drive out to Kawerau where the race began at 7 am. The race start was full of excitement and long queues for the toilets – as usual. A few butterflies were fluttering around pre-start but I was ready to get underway.

There were 650 runners in this distance with a male-dominated field of 400, and 150 women. Once the race started I tried to settle into a comfy rhythm and made a conscious effort not get too caught up in the fast race start, I put some music on and set off at my own pace.

Due to high fire risk in the forest, they banned all spectators from coming to the aid stations for the first 58km so until then I was on my own but it all went relatively smoothly and there were great volunteers at the aid stations. The terrain was mainly a mixture of single track, trails and gravel roads. Each aid station I did a similar process – fill up drink bottles, grab a small snack, and wet my sleeves/face with water to freshen up.

Around 50km I hit a small low patch – the track had turned quite narrow and technical and I tripped over roots and kicked my toes a few times, got stung by a wasp and started to feel nauseous from all the gels/sugar I had been consuming. Once you get a bit tired it’s hard to focus on technical terrain and can be quite frustrating.

Okataina Aid Station - 58km

A very welcome sight was the Okataina aid station, this was the first aid station that spectators were allowed at so it was packed full of people, with lots of cheering and encouragement happening as you arrived. 

My Dad, Cristina and Kate were all there and gave me a hand to re-stock my pack with gels and top up my bottles. Within a few minutes, I was back at it for the second half of the course.

Dad & Cristina getting me sorted
Dropbag with all the things!

The Climb

From Okataina was the biggest climb of the day, I decided to use my poles for this to give me a hand and reduce the fatigue in my legs. I moved along at a steady pace, hiking the steep parts and running where possible. This was one of the longest sections of the day (about 16km) and took several hours to reach the next aid station. There is a big chunk here I don’t remember so I guess I was just in the zone moving along.

75km Boost

After emerging from the climb and finally reaching the next aid station I was feeling pretty good and had looked after my legs well. I decided if I wanted to have a little push now was probably a good time. The track had emerged from the bush and come out onto the road and went through a small town which gave me a bit of life. I played a game of passing as many people as I could with my surge of energy. I passed 8 females and a similar amount of males over the next 15km. It’s a great feeling to be feeling good this far into a race and have the energy to pick up the pace. I text my support crew to let them know I was about an hour under my predicted time of meeting them at the Blue Lake aid station.

Arriving at the Blue Lake aid station was awesome! My original crew were now also joined by Minette, Julia and Dan and they were holding a big Run Holly Run’ sign. I was at 86km now and could feel the finish getting closer – only 16km to go!

 

90km Bonk

At 90km’s things started to get pretty tough, my surge of energy from 75km wasn’t seeming like such a good idea. The extra fatigue in my legs and lack of energy hit me pretty hard. I had to get through 10km until the final aid station and I kept telling myself that was only about an hour, but in reality, it was more like an hour and a half and the terrain was a lot more undulating than I was expecting. At one point I came around a corner and there was a big line of stairs. I paused for a second – sort of looking around for someone to blame for this, surely this had to be someone’s fault, and whoever it was, was a very mean person (Lol).

Myself and Julia
102km Done
Myself and Kate

The Final Push

Approaching the final aid station I had about five volunteers tell me the aid station was 200 hundred metres away, they were all about 200m apart themselves hah! I remember thinking at the time, unfairly on them – that they should get their facts right! (haha). it seemed to take forever.

The last aid station was Mexican themed (ironic having just been to Mexico with all the friends supporting me). I felt pretty rough at this point 96km in, but from here, Kate and Julia could run the final leg with me which was great! Their enthusiasm definitely outweighed my energy levels at this point but I was grateful for the company and the faster pace they were pushing me along at, even if I did give up talking and responding to them completely towards the end.

 

And then it was over! 102km and 13 hours 39 minutes of running. My goal time was around 15 hours so I was happy to have been well under that.

Finish Line Hugs
Proof!

The medics weighed me at the end and I’d actually put on weight throughout the run. They were concerned about hyponatremia, where your sodium levels get so low your body starts to retain fluid. Grateful for their concern now, at the time it was very overwhelming, I really just wanted to tell the medic lady to go away (haha) she probably got that from my grim expression. But I knew she was just doing her job and looking out for me.

I had some salty food and no water post this interrogation and was fine – minus not being able to walk about 10 minutes after I finished.

 

I’m so grateful for everyone that was part of this journey it was such an awesome experience.

 

xx

 

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