2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Preview

Tarawera Ultra - logoLet the Southern Hemisphere shenanigans begin! The 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon kicks off at 6 a.m. local time this Saturday, February 6–that’s 10 a.m. MST on Friday in the U.S.–from the redwood forests, hills, and lakes outside Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand. As in past years, the 100k event features fast international talent that will mix with some of the local speedsters. The Tarawera Ultramarathon is also the second stop on the 2016 Ultra-Trail World Tour.

We’ll covering the race live, of course! Stay tuned.

2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Men’s Preview

Top-Five Contenders

Jonas Buud - 2015 Les Templiers

Jonas Buud

While Jonas Buud (pre-race interview), of Sweden, has been more recently known for his successful escapades in flat ultrarunning–he’s the 2015 IAU 100k world champ (interview) and he won the 2015 Ultravasan 90k (interview)–he’s previously had great success in mountain ultras. For example, he’s been the victor at the Swiss Alpine Marathon at least seven times and he finished second at UTMB in 2012–one of the rain-shortened but still mountainous years. If he’s got some mountain training in his legs–which is looks like he does as he’s been training the last couple weeks in New Zealand–he will contend for the win.

I’m just gonna’ call this one as I see it. South Africa’s Ryan Sandes (pre-race interview) had a tough 2015 race season. After a huge first half of 2014, which included a win at Transgrancanaria (interview), an FKT on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (interview), a second at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (interview), and a fifth at Western States, he lapsed into a lengthy sickness that it seems he wasn’t totally recovered from in 2015. We saw him not finish both Transvulcania and UTMB, and not start Western States. What a bummer. Hopefully Ryan is healthy and ready to rock and roll again. He, too, has been in New Zealand training for a few weeks.

Jason Schlarb (pre-race interview) from the United States went boom! on the international ultra stage when he took fourth at the 2014 UTMB (interview). In 2015, his big turnouts were a second at the Eiger Ultra Trail and a win of the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. Jason doesn’t race a ton, but when he does, he always seems to turn up primed.

I don’t quite know what to think about seeing Yoshikazu Hara (Japan) on this list. This guy is either hot or cold when it comes to ultrarunning. Though he’d been running ultras well for several years before, he came onto our radar with his win of the 2013 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. He has run mountain ultras successfully since then, but he seems to excel more frequently at flatter, faster terrain. Last year he was third here. He was in Hawaii running the HURT 100 Mile last month, but he DNFed after the halfway point. Does anyone know what happened to him there and if he’s recovered?

Vajin Armstrong - 2014 Tarawera 100k

Vajin Armstrong

If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on Kiwi Vajin Armstrong for a strong finish. At Tarawera, he’s finished second in 2011 and 2012, third in both 2013 and 2014, and fourth last year. The man is consistent! If his past theme carries to the present, he should finish fourth this weekend, shouldn’t he? Also last year he took sixth at the Ultra-Trail Australia and third at the Swiss Alpine Marathon.

It wouldn’t be a weekend of racing if the U.S.’s Michael Wardian wasn’t on the roster. This is Mike’s third year at Tarawera, having finished eighth in 2014 and fifth last year. He should finish round about fifth again this weekend, but he ran to an off-his-mark finish at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k just two weeks ago. Wait, that’s like a geological epoch in Wardian racing time. The runnable terrain of Tarawera should suit Mike’s strengths.

Ford Smith (USA) was the 17-year-old upstart who knocked everyone upside the head with his arrival on the American ultra scene two years ago when he finished fifth at the 2014 Bandera 100k and an eighth at the 2014 Rocky Racoon 100 Mile. Last year, he won the 2015 Black Canyon 100k. Now he’s 19 years old and going international, so let’s see what he can do in the land down under.

France’s Cyril Cointre has been doing the ultra thing for about a decade and a half, and as time goes on, he seems to get stronger. He races long, mountain ultras with frequency, but his best finishes in 2015 included a fifth at Transgrancanaria and second place at the TDS, a UTMB sister race. Like a number of guys on this list, he’s been in New Zealand and training for a couple weeks, too.

Other Men to Watch

  • David Byrne (Australia) — David has been holding his own against top Australasia runners in the last couple years, and in 2015 he was second at both the Six Foot Track and Kepler Challenge.
  • Anthony Hancy (New Zealand) — Anthony finished 10th overall here last year.
  • John Tidd (USA but living in Uruguay) — The dude is strong in the longer mountain ultras, and perhaps his top finish has been a 10th overall at UTMB in 2013. In 2015 he was 16th place at UTMB.

On Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Craig Kirkwood (New Zealand)

2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Women’s Preview

Contender for the Win

Ruby Muir - 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion

Ruby Muir

Notice I speak in the singular with that header. The women’s race is just not a deep one this year and is likely to be a one-woman show: Kiwi Ruby Muir should dominate. She was the 2013 and 2015 Tarawera champ (2013 and 2015 interviews), and she’s also a four-time Kepler Challenge winner, including in 2015. Last year, she had to fight all the way to the finish for her win against a chasing women’s field, but this year I don’t think there will be anyone close after about 30k.

Top-Five Potential

Heather Anderson (USA) — Perhaps more recognizable by her trail name, ‘Anish,’ Heather holds overall self-supported speed-hiking records on the Pacific Crest Trail (article about this record) and Appalachian Trail (interview), two iconic long trails in the U.S. To be clear, she’s hiked these trails self-supported faster than any other woman or man. Let that sink in. She’s been racing trail for years now, including a third place at the 2014 HURT 100 Mile.

Fiona Hayvice (New Zealand) — She finished fourth here last year, about 55 minutes back of winner Ruby Muir. She was also fifth at the event in 2011. Last year, she finished third at the Kepler Challenge, about a half hour behind winner Ruby.

Jo Johansen (pre-race interview) (New Zealand) — Jo was the surprise local winner of the competitive 2014 edition of this race (interview). She’s unfortunately been plagued by physical issues that have held her back and kept her from finishing several races in some of the time between then and now. She’s been on and off and back on the starters list this week–does anyone know how she’s doing?

Marieve Legrand (Canada) — Winner 2015 Sun Mountain 50k.

Luciana Moretti (Argentina but living in Uruguay) — We’ve seen Luciana race a couple of times, but she sure surprised us with her sixth place at the 2015 UTMB, a big step up from her previous results.

Paige Pattillo (USA) — Paige was fifth at the 2015 Crystal Mountain SkyMarathon, and seems to specialize in shorter-distance trail racing. Does anyone know if she’s previously raced an ultra?

Melissa Robertson (Australia) — Melissa took fourth in the competitive 2015 Ultra-Trail Australia and second at the 2015 Great North Walk 100k.

On Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Nerea Martinez (Spain)

Call for Comments

  • Who do you think is primed to win in New Zealand?
  • Anyone that you think will surprise the world this weekend?
  • Know of any major contenders who won’t be racing or are coming in at less than 100%?
  • Anyone that we should add to the preview?
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Senior Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 4 comments

  1. Wes

    Don’t be surprised to see Dave Byrne on the podium. He has been eating his training for breakfast all at a freakish pace. If he doesn’t blow up he be a real smokey.

    1. Pat Byrne

      Well called Wes! They might even let him start of the front of the grid next time :)
      Although he slowed for the last 25KM, its the first time he has raced over the distance and he should be all the better for the experience.

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