Former track speedster David Byrne of Australia went out hard at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. While he wasn’t able to outrun Jonas Buud, he did hang on admirably the final 40km to finish second in his 100km debut. In the following interview, David talks about how his race went, what his running history looks like, what brought him to trails after a long hiatus from running, and where else he plans to race this year.
To find out how the race played out, read our Tarawera results article.
David Byrne Post-2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with David Byrne after his second place at the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon. Congratulations, David.
David Byrne: Thanks, mate. Thank you.
iRunFar: I think you surprised a lot of people around the world yesterday.
Byrne: Yeah, I think largely because I’ve never done any of the long stuff, so no one would have known I existed.
iRunFar: You’ve done some trail races in Australia and New Zealand, but you haven’t traveled much abroad for those?
Byrne: No, I raced the Asian Skyrunning Champs last year, and I had a really bad day. The technical, really hilly stuff doesn’t suit me so much. Yeah, most of my racing has been domestic or New Zealand.
iRunFar: Your background—let’s start there.
Byrne: Yeah, I was a track runner, so my background is that I ran 800’s and got bored with that, well, not so much bored but more of a case that it hurt too much. I went up in distance.
iRunFar: It is the hardest race in running.
Byrne: It’s horrible. It’s horrible. Then I went up in distance to 1500 meters and basically ran it for years. I ran a 3:40 which is pretty solid, but I always wanted to run it a bit quicker. I was always a good trainer, but I have to admit I’m a bit of a head case; I never raced as good as I should have. Then in the end, last years of athletics, I ran a couple of 5ks and some 10ks.
iRunFar: How fast did you end up going in those 10ks?
Byrne: Not quick. I only ran a 29:06, but I only ran a couple, and I was doing it on 1500 training. I’ve run quicker on the road, but you can’t count road.
iRunFar: So, in the 28s?
Byrne: Yeah, high-28s—28:40.
iRunFar: Did you ever, on the road, progress up to the marathon distance?
Byrne: No, once I stopped running in 2006, I had a few years in limbo just hanging out and work and getting “relatively fat,” so basically still being skinny but having a little bit of a belly. I got inspired to run again. My business films Ultra-Trail Australia, formerly The North Face Australia. I was filming it and was seeing all these guys and women doing incredible stuff, and it blew my mind. I tell this to everyone. What I loved most about it was the community. The people were so friendly, even the elite guys. We interviewed Ryan Sandes at the end of the day before the race. It was cold and horrible outside, and we did an interview out there. He didn’t care. He was relaxed. Track runner, “heck no. I holding in my hotel room.” No, the trail running community is unreal. That’s why I’m running.
iRunFar: So really, you got inspired to start running again by being at…?
Byrne: By spectating at ultras, yeah.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. How are you enjoying ultras and the trails now that you’re out there?
Byrne: I love it. I think it’s the places it takes you that are the biggest draw card for me, and the people as well, as I said. You travel to amazing destinations. It’s incredibly rewarding. Not only the feeling of accomplishment at the finish but throughout the event. Yesterday there was this massive waterfall unexpectedly. It was this huge waterfall. Unreal!
iRunFar: You’ve raced Kepler, which is sort of a classic New Zealand race with some pretty good views.
Byrne: Yeah, it’s a cracker, as well. We had poor weather, but it was still unreal at the top of the mountain. In Australia we’ve got some pretty nice races. It’s very different country.
iRunFar: You did Six Foot Track?
Byrne: Yeah, I’ve done Six Foot Track the last couple of years. It’s a different sort of country in Australia. We don’t have pointy mountains, we have round mountains. They are more hills compared to the Swiss Alps or something, but there are still awesome races there, as well.
iRunFar: Was yesterday your first 100k?
Byrne: Yes. Prior to that, Kepler was the longest I’d done, 60k, back in December. I made the decision to jump up to the 100k purely because I saw the field. You don’t get a chance to race those sorts of fields very often at all. The minute I saw Jonas Buud’s name pop up, I thought, “Ooh, what a chance!”
iRunFar: Well, that’s the perfect transition. So, you go out and lead with Jonas Buud. How’s that feeling early on?
Byrne: Yeah, good. Look, I have to admit I always… my belief is all or nothing. I don’t like the idea of trying to come fifth or just hanging in there. One thing I always try is to put it out there. It’s like track running. You’ve got to back yourself and then have a go. With Jonas, we were running along, and the lead would swap at checkpoints because he would stop or I wouldn’t and then I’d get in front. We just ran together. At 50-odd k I felt amazing. I felt incredible. I thought, “This is amazing”. The plan was to roll home. Then literally 20 minutes later I was in a hole. The second I had a bad patch, Jonas was gone.
iRunFar: Jonas doesn’t have bad patches.
iRunFar: When you guys were running together the first 60k, he said you were pretty evenly matched in terms of your skillset.
Byrne: Yeah, yeah, we were running along. On the steep downs we’d stick together, and on any little climb we’d be together. On the flat stuff we’d move at the same tempo. Yeah, it wasn’t a case of hanging on. Sometimes you can be trying to hang onto the leader. This was more that we were happy running together, and I think we both had the same race plan of get to 60k and then roll. I didn’t roll. I sort of went backwards, and he rolled.
iRunFar: You went backwards, but to your credit, the parachute didn’t come out. It briefly looked like, “Oh, boy. This new 100k guys is going to get blown back.”
Byrne: No, it got ugly. The minute it started to get ugly, I did go into that consolidation mode. I knew I wasn’t going to win, so I went “Well, If I’m not going to win, then I want to come second.” So I was pretty smart. I was forced to back off. I was going to say I backed off, but I was forced to. In the end, it paid dividends. I settled a bit and then got going again and then had another rough patch, but by the time the last rough patch came, we were at the end.
iRunFar: Overall, a good experience?
Byrne: Yeah, great experience. It’s an awesome race, a beautiful course, and even with all the rain, it was still unreal. It was a nice mix of trails. There were no massive climbs or anything like that. It’s a good starting point, I think.
iRunFar: So you filmed Ultra-Trail Australia, formerly The North Face Australia the past couple of years. Will you be on the other side of the camera this year?
Byrne: No, we’re filming again this year. I’d love to, but we have to film it. I’d love to run it, but I think there’s a 22k race that I’m going to run.
iRunFar: Like the Thursday before?
Byrne: Yeah, leading into it. I don’t have to be… there are enough people to cover that without me, so I can have a bit of fun.
iRunFar: Any high level races on your calendar for the rest of this year?
Byrne: Yeah, for the rest of this year—Mont Blanc Marathon is probably the big one. I’ve been to Chamonix before. It’s a beautiful place. The race itself probably doesn’t suit me. I’m not really a big climber, but I think if I can knuckle down and do some really specific training for it, I’ll have another crack, as well.
iRunFar: Nice. Congratulations on your run yesterday. Good luck this season. Keep enjoying the trails.
Byrne: Thanks. Yeah, I will.