Jason Schlarb returns to the Tarawera Ultramarathon for a second time this weekend. He had a rough go here in 2013, but has had phenomenal results in selective racing the past few years. In the following interview, Jason talks about what happened during his previous Tarawera, what it’s like training for and racing a major event during the winter, and what his mental ammo will be during the race.
Jason Schlarb Pre-2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jason Schlarb before the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon. How are you, Jason?
Jason Schlarb: I’m doing great, Bryon.
iRunFar: You’ve run Tarawera before in 2013. That time you were coming off the summer because you and Maggie and Felix had spent some time bike touring in New Zealand. This year you’re coming from winter. How do you prepare for a grueling 100k race?
Schlarb: Yeah, it couldn’t be more different—last time, spending four months on a bike and jumping into this in the summer; and now, I’ve been spending a lot of time up high on skis preparing to ski Hardrock for a video project and running four days per week. I’m doing some speedwork on the bike path and then spending time way high doing some skiing. I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I’m just going to basically see how it feels. I’m fit, but I don’t know how ‘Tarawera fit’ I am.
iRunFar: How does that play into how you’ll actually run the race? Do you run it as if it’s a race during the summer where you’ve prepared for a couple months from the outset, or do you just run conservatively and see what you have left at the end?
Schlarb: Well, my style has always been to be conservative and never go out front on the long, big A race. This one in particular I will take extra conservative because last time I was here, I walked with two sticks in my hand. I was absolutely miserable and almost in tears. It just sucked. This year, I want to complete the course and have fun and push my body. The way the course lays out, the first half is a little more technical and a little more climbing and descending. I will hopefully be able to stay with the top five fairly comfortably and just see how the body is feeling after four or five hours. Then I’ll decide if I really want to hold on to get a good place or just finish the race and feel good and have a great time out here.
iRunFar: That last half of the course, which you haven’t run before, is incredibly runnable. There are hills for sure, but there are broad paths.
Schlarb: Like a fire road.
iRunFar: It’s fire road, a lot of fire road. How are you mentally preparing to have long stretches of continuous running?
Schlarb: I think the mental ammo I have is, Wow, it’s green and so lush. There are beautiful trails. I’m running with my shirt off. It’s hot and warm. I hope that that distracts me from the fact that every race but this one is extremely steep and high altitude. I think that will keep me going along and just that opportunity to be here and not be running on the bike path or skiing. That will kind of get me through those long, hard road sections.
iRunFar: Normally, you’re someone who races infrequently and prepares really well. UTMB, Run Rabbit Run—come August and September, Jason Schlarb is going to have his A-game and he’s going to show up and he’s going to race. How do you choose to do a race in the off-season? For the experience?
Schlarb: I have a pretty good answer for that. The last three out of four years I’ve been New Zealand. Last year, I came to do a video project on the South Island, and I ran a short 60k race. This year, I love Paul [Charteris], I love New Zealand, and I love escaping the winter for a little break. That’s the big motivation behind this and to be able to do a race with a lot of competition and be on the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT). It all culminates to me picking this off-season race. But you’re right, I’m not in my A-race kind of form. I’m having fun skiing and doing some speedwork. This is kind of that kind of effort.
iRunFar: You’re talking about running with the UTWT this year. You had to make a tough choice about things later in the season. You had a spot in Western States, but then you got the Hardrock.
Schlarb: Yeah, I have a spot in Western, a spot in Hardrock, and a spot in UTMB. That was really tough, but living 50 miles from the start of Hardrock, and the fact that it could be three more years before I could get into that race, I decided to make the tough choice and dropping Western. I’m doubling up and doing UTMB six weeks after which will be tough. Basically after Marathon des Sables (MdS), I’ve got Hardrock and UTMB. Hopefully that will equate to a two-race-big season kind of thing. Maybe I can get in and have a good effort at UTMB as well.
iRunFar: It kind of breaks down well that the first half of your season is on quite runnable terrain because the MdS is quite quick. Then Hardrock and UTMB are in the same vein.
Schlarb: Exactly. Exactly. I plan on being in really good hiking, climbing shape for Hardrock. Then that will basically just pay off for UTMB. Right now I’m running literally on the bike paths and trails that are packed and flat.
iRunFar: You’re talking about the 60k you ran last year, what race was that?
Schlarb: Motatapu down by Queenstown on the South Island. It was absolutely a brutal, crazy course. It was more of an adventure run. It was called the adventure run. It goes straight up and straight down, through rivers. It was super, unbelievably cool terrain.
iRunFar: Having just come off that track last week, that would be ridiculous to run that course.
Schlarb: It was phenomenal—the coolest 50k or 60k race I’ve ever done.
iRunFar: I clocked it. There was something like 10.5 miles and 5,700 feet climb and loss with saddles in between. The steeps were so intense.
Schlarb: It’s all without trees and just beautiful alpine rolling mountains that just don’t have switchbacks. It’s really cool.
iRunFar: You’ve had a chance to run a variety of races over here, experiences… do you see yourself continuing to come back to New Zealand? Is this a place that really draws you?
Schlarb: Yeah. Maggie and I and Felix plan on returning and spending Christmas time here and hope to do the Shotover Moon…
iRunFar: Shotover Moonlight Marathon?
Schlarb: Yeah. I’d like to get that one under my belt.
iRunFar: That’s in February. I actually stayed a couple nights on that Ben Lomond Station this past week. Yeah, you’re in for a treat.
Schlarb: New Zealand is the running paradise of the Southern Hemisphere as far as I’m concerned.
iRunFar: Enjoy your time here, Jason. Good luck on Saturday.
Schlarb: Alright, thanks, Bryon.