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2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon Preview

A preview of the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon.

By on February 2, 2015 | Comments

Tarawera Ultra - logoThe 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon kicks off at 6 a.m. local time on Saturday, February 7 from the redwood forests outside Rotorua, New Zealand. The starting time and date represent a pair of changes. First, the race was moved to earlier in the year to reduce the chance that either wildfire danger or a typhoon result in course alterations as has occurred for those very reasons the past two years. In addition, the date change spaces out the early-season Ultra-Trail World Tour schedule a bit more. With the race moving closer to the Southern Hemisphere’s summer solstice, the race organization moved the start an hour earlier to retain the Ultimate Direction - 30th Anniversaryspectacle that is the stream of hundreds of headlamps running through the darkness when the race begins. As in past years, the 100k event will feature top talent from around the world while also showcasing local talent on a big stage.

We’ll broadcast the race live, beginning at 10 a.m. MST on Friday in the United States. Before then, we’ll share pre-race interviews with some of the top contenders.

Thanks to Ultimate Direction for supporting our coverage of the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon!

Women’s Preview 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon

Nuria Picas

Núria Picas

Núria Picas (pre-race interview) is the defending UTWT champion and a favorite in many of the races she runs. That will be no different at this year’s Tarawera Ultramarathon. Last year alone, Núria won Transgrancanaria (post-race interview), Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (post-race interview), TNF 100k in Australia, Ultra Pirineu, and Les Templiers (post-race interview) while taking second at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (post-race interview).

Last year, New Zealand’s Jo Johansen (pre-race interview) popped onto the world’s radar with her win at Tarawera (post-race interview). In 2014, she also won the Hillary 80k and took third at the legendary Kepler Challenge. Jo will be back to try to defend her title and, no doubt, continue to share her enthusiasm for trail running.

Ruby Muir - 2013 Tarawera Ultra

Ruby Muir

After having to miss last year’s race due to injury, Kiwi phenom Ruby Muir (pre-race interview) will be back this year. She won the race in 2013 (post-race interview). She’s also won the Kepler Challenge each of the past three years. If there’s anyone who might be able to push Picas, it could be Ms. Muir.

Joelle Vaught is a last-minute entry into Tarawera and one who adds another podium contender to the women’s mix. Heading from the cold winter temps of Idaho in the United States to New Zealand’s warm humidity should be a big change for Joelle. That said, Joelle’s top race of 2014 was likely when she flew halfway around the world to take second to Núria Picas at the TNF100 in Australia. In her other high-profile race of 2014, she managed seventh place at the Speedgoat 50k. She was perhaps a bit stronger in 2013 when she took second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) and sixth at the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships.

Shona Stephenson - 2014 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji

Shona Stephenson

Australia’s Shona Stephenson won the 85k event at Tarawera in 2013, a year in which she saw great success. That year, she also took second at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and third at the TNF100k – Australia. Shona raced numerous high-profile races in 2014, but without quite the same level of success as the previous year. For example, she was sixth at Tarawera, sixth at UTMF, and ninth at TNF100-Australia. Her strongest international showing of 2014 might have been her 10th at UTMB. Expect her to go out strong.

Locals are telling us to keep our eye on Ruth Croft, a Kiwi living in Taiwan who’s raced to many strong podium finishes in ultras there and in Hong Kong over the past two years. For example, she was second at the TransLantau 50k in Hong Kong last March and won the TNF 50k in Taiwan in April. She also dominated in winning the Fuji Mountain Race last year after winning the Mount Kinabalu Climbathon in 2013.  It’s not clear whether Croft has ever raced longer than 60k, which may temper our expectations. In her youth, she represented New Zealand on the international stage many times on the track as well as in cross country and mountain racing.

Claire Walton, who hails from the U.K. and lives in NZ, was second at last year’s Tarawera. She previously won the Tahoe Rim 100 Mile in 2012 and was later the fifth woman at the TNF100-Australia in 2014. She’s been injured for quite a while, otherwise she’d be listed higher. [Update Feb 3: Claire Walton has decided not to run.]

Other women to watch include:

  • Jean Beaumont (NZ) – Won the inaugural Tarawera Ultra (80k) in 2009, 3rd at Kepler Challenge three times, including 2013. Winner 2014 Northburn Station 100 Mile.
  • Fiona Hayvice (NZ) – 7th 2014 Tarawera, fifth in 2011.
  • Mathilde Heaton (French living in Hong Kong) – 5h 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
  • Jackie Holley (NZ) – Winner 2014 Tarawera 63k.
  • Shannon-Leigh Litt (NZ) – 9th 2012 Tarawera, 11th 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
  • Kovo McDonald (NZ) – Multiple podium finishes at NZ marathons in 2014.
  • Jodie Oborne (Australia) – Many podium finishes from 50k to 24 hours in Australia.
  • Nora Senn (Swiss living in Hong Kong) – Many podium finishes in Hong Kong and around Asia. A podium contender if she decides to race.

Meghan Arbogast and Whitney Dagg are listed among the entrants, but won’t be racing.

Men’s Preview 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon

In looking at the 2015 Tarawera Ultra field, it looks like two men are clear favorites: Dylan Bowman of the U.S. and Yan-Qiao Yun of China.

Let’s start with Yun Yan-Qiao, who was likely unheard of outside of Asia before taking second at Tarawera last year. In 2014, Yun also won at least three 1ook races, the TNF100k’s in Hong Kong and Beijing as well as the YiShan 100k in China. He won the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in 2013. With two-time defending Tarawera champ Sage Canaday missing this year’s race, Yun is the top returning runner.

Dylan Bowman - 2013 TNF EC 50

Dylan Bowman

After a few strong years, Dylan Bowman (pre-race interview) raised his game in 2014. He started the year by winning the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile in February (post-race interview) and the TNF ECS Bear Mountain 50 Mile in May. Perhaps more impressively, Dylan took third at the Western States 100 Mile in June (post-race interview) and fifth at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile in December.

Three more athletes–Vajin Armstrong, Yoshikazu Hara, and Jorge Maravilla–could each potentially win Tarawera if they have their day.

New Zealand’s Vajin Armstrong has more experience on the Tarawera course than any other top competitor. He’s been second in both 2011 and 2012, as well as third in both 2013 and 2014. Last year, Vajin was also fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. In 2014, he finished a bit further back in taking 13th at Transvulcania and 17th at Western States. For perspective, Vajin finished five minutes behind Yan-Qiao at Tarawera last year.

Yoshikazu Hara

Yoshikazu Hara

Perhaps one of our Japanese friends can shed some light on why Yoshikazu Hara has been so up and down, performance-wise, over the past two years. In 2013, he won Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, ran a 6:48 100k, and ran 273 kilometers in 24 hours. Last year, he ran a 6:43 100k and ran an amazing 285 kilometers in 24 hours. On the other hand, he dropped from UTMB in 2013 and UTMF in 2014, took 38th at Western States last year, and already dropped from the Vibram Hong Kong 100 this year. He also missed last year’s Tarawera Ultra with a hip injury. If Hara-San is healthy and on, he can win Tarawera. There’s a good amount of fire road late in the race that could play to his advantage.

Jorge Maravilla (pre-race interview) has also run inconsistently over the past year and change. On the upside, he’s taken seventh at the past two TNF EC 50 Mile Championships and won last year’s Bandera 100k. On the other hand, he was 27th at Western States last June after finishing 18th at Transgrancanaria and eighth at the TNF100k in Australia.

Catalan Pau Bartoló will be the dark horse on the starting line. He won the CCC 100k last August along with winning the 82k Transgrancanaria Advanced last March, Ultra Trail de Barcelona in April, and Ultra Trail Haría Extreme in October. His 2014 represented a big step up from his 2013, when his fifth at Les Templiers and sixth at Cavalls del Vent were his top performances. If Pau keeps on rolling like he did in 2014… watch out everyone!

Mike Wardian

Mike Wardian

Three more guys to keep your eyes on are Michael Wardian, Robbie Britton, and James Kuegler. Mike Wardian races somewhere around the world just about every weekend and last year, that included an eighth-place finish at Tarawera. We recently profiled Mike and his prolific racing. The U.K.’s Robbie Britton has logged some solid ultra performances in the U.K. the past two years, including setting a course record at the South Downs Way 100 Mile in 2013 and taking second at the 96-mile West Highland Way last year.

A few others to watch:

  • Michael Büchi (Switzerland) – 2nd 2013 South Downs Way 50 Mile, 14th 2014 Zugspitz Ultratrail. [Feb 5 Update: Michael Büchi of Switzerland was bitten by a spider in the dangerous wilds of Australia. He won’t be running. (We have no updates on the spider.)]
  • Anthony Hancy (NZ) –  13th 2014 Tarawera, winner 2013 and 2014 Taniwha 60k.
  • Ben Malby (Australia) – Winner 2014 Gold Coast Trail Series, 7th 2013 TNF100-Australia.
  • Gregg Porter (NZ) – 12th 2014 Tarawera, winner 2013 Glasshouse 100k.
  • Andrius Ramonas (Lithuania) – 2014 Tarawera 50k champ, 4th 2013 Swiss Irontrail T141,  3:13 50k in 2009.

Moritz auf der Heide of Germany took seventh at Tarawera last year while Kiwi James Kuegler won the 60k event at Tarawera in 2012. Both will run the 60k this year.

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?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.