This coming Saturday, March 16, at 6:30 am local time (which translates to 11:30 am Mountain Daylight Time on Friday), runners from Australasia and the rest of the world will meet, play, and race the heck out of each other in the New Zealand bush. Though this is the fifth year that the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon has taken place near Rotorua on the North Island, this is the first year in which such a deep field of local, near-local, and international runners have turned up.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve also previewed the 2013 Tarawera men’s field.]
In the summer of 2009, Tarawera Ultramarathon race director Paul Charteris and I ended up in the same “training camp” in the Sierra Nevada of California. Along with a couple other friends, we camped in a gorgeous campground, and, around a campfire, I remember Paul talking about this race which he’d just started in his home country. His exact words escape me, but his sentiment was that the trails around Rotorua were so awesome that he wanted to grow the race and someday show the world some of the best of New Zealand.
Well, Paul, that someday is this day, as the Tarawera Ultramarathon will serve as both an introduction of international-caliber athletes to Kiwi-land’s stellar trail scene and an introduction of New Zealand’s and Australia’s fastest guys and gals to the rest of the world. This will be a wild ride!
Background on the Races
The Tarawera Ultramarathon sports three race distances, a 100k, an 85k, and a 60k. As we’ve got speedsters turning out for all the race distances, let’s begin with course records to get a feel for travel time on Tarawera’s trails.
- Sam Wreford in 2011 at 8:33:50 (men’s)
- Nicola Gildersleeve in 2012 at 10:26:28 (women’s)
- Daniel Scarberry in 2012 at 7:47:08 (men’s)
- Sarah Carpenter in 2012 at 9:20:09 (women’s)
- Kerry Suter in 2009 at 5:12:25 (men’s)
- Kathyn Gardner in 2010 at 6:54:52 (women’s)
All of that said, CR’s won’t be in play this year as a “fire route” has been initiated due to high wildland fire danger in the area through which the second half of the regular race routes travel. Paul estimates that this region has had only 10% of normal rainfall this summer. (It’s summer down there now.) The new course layouts are a teensy bit more complex than the following, but, essentially, each of the races is now an out-and-back format, where runners go “out” as far as officials allow, and then come “back” far enough to cover approximately the proper racing distance.
Aside from runners seeing each other and some of the same scenery a bit more, what does this mean for the racing aspect? Says Paul, “The new fire route is a fair bit slower than the original course. It doubles back on the most technical and hilliest parts (also the most scenic). The routes will now favour the ultrarunners who have finely tuned trail running skills over runners who are less practiced on rougher terrain.”
Though runners will certainly encounter a passel of elevation change, altitude is not a factor as the starting line sits at just under 1,000 feet above sea level.
And, while we’re a still little far out to fine tune a weather forecast, it looks like runners will start with temperatures around 60 Fahrenheit and the highs could reach somewhere between 75 and 80F. Whether there will be some clouds or mostly sun looks still up in the air, but there’s a near-certainty that runners will “enjoy” something around a 70% relative humidity.
Race Coverage and On-Site Reports
iRunFar will be onsite! We’ll be providing live coverage of the Tarawera 100k men’s and women’s races, with the live coverage page going live Thursday evening Stateside.
2013 Tarawera Ultramarathon – 100k race
Oh boy! I mean, oh girl! This race is a who’s who of Australasian gals with one international import.
Let’s begin with Candice Burt (USA, Salomon). She’s pretty fresh off third place at the HURT 100 in Hawaii, and she also finished second at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 last summer. She finished 20th (and 1 hour, 20 minutes back from winner Emelie Forsberg) at last year’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship in San Francisco and she reports recent injuries and health issues as blockades to her training. I’m going to call Candice’s finishing spot as around fourth or fifth place among this group of women.
Onto the local and near-local gals who’ll be battling it out. The gals I predict to be chasing each other to the win are Beth Cardelli (Australia), Ruby Muir (New Zealand, Vibram and UltrAspire), Shona Stephenson (Australia, Inov-8), and Sarah Carpenter (Australia).
Beth Cardelli is the on-paper favorite this weekend. Beth’s been a part of the Australasian ultra scene since about 2009, but 2012 was a standout year for her and she earned the Australian Ultra Runners Association Ultrarunner of the Year award for it. Among her results, she set a course record at Australia’s The North Face 100k (a race she’s won and podium-ed at before) and another CR at the Great North Walk 100k. In 2011, she ran 22:15 at the Western States 100.
If you’re trying to figure out who Ruby Muir is among the lead women this weekend, just look for the baby face. But at age 21, Ruby’s already started to have trail running success. Perhaps as training races for Tarawera, Ruby just won The Backcountry Runner Kaweka Mountain Marathon and the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon (and bested Anna Frost by about six minutes there), both in New Zealand in February. She was also the winner of last year’s Kepler Challenge in New Zealand and she has a passel of shorter mountain racing victories to her name. The fact that this is her first 100k infuses the only doubt I have in calling her a plausible runaway victor this weekend.
Shona Stephenson will be pushing the lady ranks on Saturday. Just a month ago, she won the Australian Ultra Runners Association Trail National Championships Maroondah Dam 50k. In 2012, Shona finished third (and 40 minutes behind winner Beth Cardelli) at Australia’s The North Face 100k and she set a CR the Great Ocean Walk 100k.
Sarah Carpenter set a CR (and finished third overall) at last year’s Tarawera 85k. Sarah has a solid Australian trail racing history that includes a pair of third places at the Fitzroy Falls Fire Trail Marathon in 2011 and 2012.
A couple other local and near-local women to watch this weekend are
Dawn Tuffery (New Zealand), who won the 2012 Kauri Ultra 70k in New Zealand. Sadly, we hear that she may be injured, though. [Editor’s Note March 11, 3 pm: Dawn’s not racing this weekend.] Deb Nicholl (Australia/New Zealand) has a successful history with the sport that includes a 2009 second place at the Kepler Challenge and a 2011 win of the Glasshouse 100k, but she’s been out of commission with an injury for a while. She’s healthy now, so we’ll see how her fitness stands up to this weekend.
2013 Tarawera Ultramarathon – 85k race
While the 85k race will no doubt involve a lot of good, plain fun, no international elites have entered themselves in this distance. Look out for Mikki Williden (New Zealand) as a possible women’s winner. The speedy road runner (who’s gone at least 1:22 in the half marathon) is taking it to the trails this weekend. [Editor’s Note March 11, 7 pm: Mikki’s running the 60k race.]
2013 Tarawera Ultramarathon – 60k race
Phew, you still with me? Good, because you’ll want to stick around to hear about the high-speed blowout that will ensue in the women’s 65k race.
I’m going to call first and second places as – exempting some sort of terrible, acute incident – already locked up. Hometown girl Hercules Anna Frost (New Zealand, Salomon) will duel out-of-town visitor and out-of-this-solar-system speedster Emelie Forsberg (from Sweden and living in Norway, Salomon). 2012 was a very good year for both of these ladies, with each of them having almost too many international-level performances to list here. Anna’s big 2012 wins were her absolute race mastery of Transvulcania (post-race interview, her race report) as well as her besting of a strong ladies’ field at the Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview, her race report). Emelie took her own running from off-Broadway to Broadway center stage last year with her killing of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado and a win at the TNFEC50 in San Francisco (post-race interview, her race report) against the thickest field of lady runners at any ultramarathon, ever.
These two ladies have a history of running and racing together. Last September, the pair went head-to-head at the Ultra Cavalls des Vent and Anna came out about four minutes faster (with the two of them finishing second and third to Nuria Picas). Anna, too, paced Emelie during the last section of her TNFEC50 win. And, of course, as Salomon International teammates, they find themselves running trails together all over the world on a not irregular basis.
What’s been going on with them lately? Anna took time off this winter to recover from some physical issues she developed during her 2012 of racing. Last month, she ran to third place at El Cruce in South America – a basically off-the-couch endeavor after that time off – and a second place (behind Ruby Muir) at the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon in New Zealand. And Emelie’s not been running much either; instead she’s been testing the ski-mountaineering race waters for the first time and winning almost every race she’s entered.
It’s probably fair to say that, while these ladies both have supreme talent, neither of them are in peak running form. But who will win? How will it play out? I’m gonna’ say that these ladies will push together or nearly together until the last mile or two where it will then be a test of who still has an afterburner.
Nikki Wynd (Australia, Hoka One One), Stephanie Gaskell (Australia), and Vicky Plaistowe (New Zealand) will duke it out for third through fifth places, I believe.
Nikki Wynd was the 2011 Australian Ultra Runners Association Ultrarunner of the Year and her 2012 was a good year for her in the “Land Down Under” as well. Last year, she won the Mansfield to Buller 50k, the Maroondah Dam 50k, the You Yangs 80k, and the Tan Ultra 100k in Australia. She’s already won the Mansfield to Buller 50k again this year, too.
Stephanie Gaskell came second at the 2013 Maroondah Dam 50k last month, and she has seventh and 14th place finishes to her credit at the 2011 and 2012 The North Face 100k in Australia. Last year, she and a partner finished fifth in the Open Mixed category at the TransRockies Run in Colorado.
Vicky Plaistowe ran to fourth place at the 2011 Tarawera 60k and third place at the 2012 Tarawera 100k.
[Editor’s Note March 11, 7 pm: We just learned that Mikki Williden (New Zealand), who we thought was running the 85k, is entered in the 60k. The speedy road runner (who’s gone at least 1:22 in the half marathon) is taking it to the trails this weekend.]
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Which of these races do you think will be the tightest, and who do you think will prevail? Go ahead, pick your favorites for the women’s races.
- Did we miss someone you think needs to be in this preview, or did we miss covering a crucial race performance for someone who is? Let us know in the comments section!