2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Preview

Let the Southern Hemisphere shenanigans begin! The 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon kicks off at 6 a.m. local time this Saturday, February 11–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 Australasia speedsters and hilly but relatively fast terrain. The Tarawera Ultramarathon is also the second stop on the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour.

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

2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Men’s Preview

Top Contenders

2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon - Jonas Buud

Jonas Buud

Sweden’s Jonas Buud (pre-race interview) is the defending Tarawera champion (post-race interview), and he brings with him an incredible resume over his decade in trail and ultrarunning. In 2016, his best results included a sixth place at Transgrancanaria and a seventh at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail. His top results over recent years have been a second place at the 2012 UTMB, a second at the 2013 Comrades Marathon, a win of the 2015 IAU 100k World Championships (post-race interview), and four more second places at the IAU 100k World Championships. Relevant to this weekend’s race, Buud’s one of the few people who has legitimately beaten Jim Walmsley. At the 2015 IAU 100k World Championships, the pair ran pretty much together for about 50k before Walmsley accelerated, ran faster than the pair had been going, blew up, and finished in 28th place. At the same time, Buud held steady, allowing him to storm the race’s final quarter for his first win of an event he’d finished second at four previous times.

2016 Western States 100 - Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley

The USA’s Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) is all the rage in American ultrarunning, as he’s fresh off being named UltraRunning magazine’s (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year. This is a result of an insane stretch of 2016 performances highlighted by course records at the competitive Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) and the historic JFK 50 Mile. In addition, he also set new Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKTs (run report). Lord only knows what he will do in 2017. The way I figure it, given his style of racing in the past year, his presence on the starting line of any race is basically notice served to anyone else trying to race that the pace will start out fast. The combination of Jonas Buud’s patient racing style and Walmsley’s go-from-the-gun aggressiveness should make for excellent spectating.

Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius won the 2016 Ultra-Trail World Tour on account of his third place at the Hong Kong 100k and a trio of second places at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview), Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and UTMB (post-race interview). Clearly a high performer at long mountain courses, he’s also gone fourth place at the more runnable Western States 100 in 2015. Though the fast-and-flat-ish Tarawera course is probably not ideal terrain for him, I still expect Grinius to factor into the race for the men’s podium competition.

2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon - David Byrne

David Byrne

Australia’s David Byrne (pre-race interview) will factor interestingly into the men’s podium race. He landed firmly on our radars last year in finishing second here–his first 100k outing–and 22 minutes back of winner Jonas Buud (post-race interview). He’s a former national-level track runner with PRs of 13:49 for 5,000 meters and 29:06 for 10,000 meters. These are pretty much dead on with Jim Walmsley’s PRs of 13:52 for the 5,000 and 29:08 for 10,000–except that Walmsley’s are nine-ish years newer. It looks as if Byrne had a rough go of both the Mont-Blanc Marathon and the Eiger Ultra-Trail this past summer, finishing but out of competitive position in both.

I believe it will be iRunFar’s first time watching Sam McCutcheon (New Zealand), but I’m excited to see what he can do in this field. He took third at the 2015 Kepler Challenge, just a minute or so back of second place David Byrne. In 2016, he’s taken 10th at the 105k Buff Epic Ultra, which was the Skyrunning World Championships for the Ultra distance, and he won the Kepler Challenge.

When he’s fit and healthy, Matt Flaherty (USA) has the kind of leg speed and, in addition, the skill set that’ll suit him well for this race. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen him run to seventh and 12th, respectively, at the 2015 and 2016 Ultravasan 90k. For reference, he finished the 2015 Ultravasan 36 minutes behind winner Jonas Buud. Also in 2016, he took third at the Chuckanut 50k and sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, 53 minutes back of winner Jim Walmsley.

What, another Lithuanian? What are the chances? Andrius Ramonas (Lithuania, but lives in New Zealand) has been running trail and ultramarathons for several years, but caught our eye for the first time at the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon where he finished 10th. Since then, he’s gone on to finish fifth in the competitive 2016 Ultra-Trail Australia and fourth at the 2016 Kepler Challenge behind winner Sam McCutcheon.

Michael Wardian - 2016 Vibram Hong Kong 100

Michael Wardian

The dude doesn’t stop, does he? You know I’m talking about the USA’s Michael Wardian. Less than two weeks before the start of Tarawera, Wardian set a record at the 2017 World Marathon Challenge, which involved running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days with a 2:45:57 average. He’s a three-time Tarawera Ultramarathon finisher, having taken eighth, fifth, and seventh in 2014, 2015, and 2016, respectively. I expect he’ll be good for a finish in the back half of the top 10.

More Men to Watch

  • Matt Carroll (New Zealand) – 2nd at 2016 Ultra-Trail Australia’s shorter 50k event
  • Kristian Day-Muir (New Zealand) – 2nd 2016 Tarawera 60k (one of the Tarawera Ultra’s shorter events)
  • Yassine Diboun (USA) – 3rd 2016 HURT 100 Mile. He’s been hanging out for weeks in New Zealand already, so he’ll be used to Tarawera’s time zone, climate, and terrain.
  • Rhys Johnston (New Zealand) – 2nd at last November’s 2016 Tarawera Trail 50k, where he was five minutes behind winner Andrius Ramonas and ahead of 4th place Craig Kirkwood. I think this will be his first 100k.
  • Craig Kirkwood (New Zealand) – 4th at the 2016 Tarawera Trail 50k behind winner Andrius Ramonas, former national-class track and road runner with a 13:53 PR for the 5,000, 28:37 for the 10,000, 1:03:43 in the half marathon, and 2:13:17 in the marathon–but all at least a decade and a half ago, of late participating in Ironman triathlons

On the Entrants List, but Not Racing

  • Scott Hawker (New Zealand) – Injury

2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Women’s Preview

2016 Western States 100 - Magda Boulet

Magda Boulet

I feel like we need to remind ourselves every now and again of just how freaking fast the USA’s Magda Boulet (pre-race interview) is. The Olympic marathoner has a better marathon PR than most men in this race, 2:26:22, which she set in 2010. At the end of 2013, she turned her sights and that leg speed to trail ultrarunning. In that time, her top results have been one win (2014) and two second places (2013 and 2016) at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (post-2013post-2014, and post-2016 interviews), a win of the 2015 Western States 100 (post-race interview), second at the 2016 CCC, and fifth at the 2016 UTMB. Magda will almost certainly challenge for the win.

Camille Herron - 2015 IAU 50k World Champion sq

Camille Herron

The USA’s Camille Herron (pre-race interview) is another American speedster who has applied her fast leg speed–from previous careers in collegiate running and national-level road running–to trail and ultrunning. She set her marathon PR of 2:37:14 at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. During her time in our sport, she’s won the 2015 IAU 100k and 50k World Championships (post-100k interview), run a certifiably ridiculous 5:38:41 for 50 miles at the 2015 Fall 50 Mile–which is a women’s world’s best for the distance–and taken fourth at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Camille races aggressively, often among the top few men for a long time in long ultras. As such, I expect her to be the women’s race pacesetter and a challenger for the win.

Fernanda Maciel (Brazil) has been racing ultramarathons for about seven years, and in that time she’s shown that a professional and specific approach has allowed her to have success in lots of different kinds of races, even if they aren’t her specialty. While mountain ultramarathons are her forte and Tarawera may be a little flat and short for her, I think she’ll go top five here with ease. Her top 2016 performances were third at the Marathon des Sables, third at Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and fifth at the 105k Buff Epic Trail, which was the Skyrunning World Championships for the Ultra distance.

2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon - Fiona Hayvice

Fiona Hayvice

New Zealand’s Fiona Hayvice (pre-race interview) is the women’s defending champion (2016 post-race interview), having won last year following sequential improvements of seventh and fourth places, respectively, at the 2014 and 2015 events. She had a strong 2016, including second place at Ultra-Trail Australia, third at the Mozart 100k, and fifth at the Kepler Challenge. I suspect her to factor into the women’s top five.

Having run ultras for a number of years, Canada’s Alissa St. Laurent stepped up big time in 2015 when she won the Canadian Death Race outright–beating all the men and women. Among her 2016 performances, she took fifth at the Western States 100 and second at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile.

Sophie Grant (New Zealand, but lives in the UK) has had an incredible couple years in trail ultrarunning. She’s finished 12th and 10th, respectively, at the 2015 and 2016 UTMB. She’s also been sixth place at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous, sixth at the 2016 Transgrancanaria, and third at the 2016 Hoka Highland Fling.

Sally McRae

Sally McRae

Sally McRae (USA) has had strong results in trail ultrarunning for several years, most notably 10th, seventh, and 11th, respectively, at the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Western States 100. Also in 2016, she was second at the UROC 100k, but 90-plus minutes behind winner Camille Herron. She just completed the Zolkan 4 Days stage race in Chile a week before Tarawera race day, and will need to do some massive travel to get from there to New Zealand, so it’s hard to imagine her in peak form this weekend.

I believe that Kellie Emmerson (Australia) has been running ultras for about six years. She’s a three-time winner and course-record holder at the Surf Coast Century 100k. Last year, she took third at the Ultra-Trail Australia, finishing 20 minutes back of second place Fiona Hayvice.

More Women to Watch

  • Sue Crowley (New Zealand) – Lives in Rotorua and, thus, is as local as you can get, winner of last November’s Tarawera Trail 50k, this will be her first 100k but locals say her leg speed should factor into the women’s race if she can hold it over this distance.
  • Cecilia Flori (Italy, but lives in New Zealand) – Winner 2016 Taupo 100k
  • Alicia Hudelson (USA) – 9th at both the 2015 and 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, with her 2016 finish at over an hour behind fourth place Camille Herron.
  • Becky Nixon (UK) – 2nd 2016 Northburn 100 Mile
  • Katrin Webb (New Zealand) – 10th 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon

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 13 comments

  1. Nelson

    Meghan, what do you mean by saying Buud is one of the few people who have “legitimately” beaten Walmsley? What about the other 26 guys in front of Jim that race? And what about the 16 (was it 16?) that beat him at Western States? Were any of those results not legitimate? I’d strongly disagree to that, but maybe your point is more nuanced.

    Buud’s resumé is really impressive, but it’s hard not to pick Jim for the win. He’s got youth on his side and comes from a really strong season. Grinius is also very strong and consistent, but maybe more of a mountain runner? Btw, do we know if Jim is going to Zegama this year?

    Magda vs Camille! I’m really excited for the women’s race. Fernanda is a very admirable athlete, but yes, this course doesn’t seem to play to her strengths.

    Go Camille!

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Nelson,

      That statement was definitely meant more tongue-in-cheek than literal. As you mention, a number of men have legit beat Walmsley in his trail and ultra career, and this statement is not meant to denigrate any of those guys. I just find that pair’s previous head-to-head match-up (as in, they were basically running together for a long way in that race before each employed different strategies in the race’s second half) and ultimate result super-relevant to this weekend’s race. All respect meant for anyone out there!

      1. Ben

        We knew that’s what you meant Meghan ;)

        And you are right, it should make for fascinating spectating if they each employ their assumed preferred strategy. The hare vs. the even faster hare? (I don’t think saying it’s a tortoise vs. a hare is anywhere near appropriate in this case ;)

  2. Mitchell

    I’ve gotta pick Walmsley. His training right now is ridiculous and he’s just so so confident. In 2014 and 2015 I think he was beatable, but now I’m not so sure.

  3. WeiDe

    followed jims progress on strava. he did a 48k run that was on avrg faster than germanys most competitive 50k even two weeks ago…he would have won that with a training run effort..

  4. AJW

    My prediction: For what it’s worth. Jim will race hard enough at the beginning to get a big enough lead and then back off enough to win but not trash himself. He still wants that Golden Ticket and as such he knows he needs to keep a bit in the tank for Gorge. He’s actually a lot smarter than he looks:))

    1. Rob

      I know racing is different than training runs, but considering the high mileage Jim is putting in and 2 solid months before Gorge, my guess is he’s got the hammer down and not backing off. Buud has got a ridiculous resume of high-profile races; speed and endurance won’t be a problem.

  5. Mir

    Jim will win and will have a course record. Can’t wait to see two races in near future, UTMB and WS100. He needs to beat Xavier in UTMB!!!!

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