Jim Walmsley and Camille Herron ran with off-the-front authority for 102 kilometers through the lakes, forests, and hills between Rotorua and Kawerau, New Zealand to win the 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon.
2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Men’s Race
Is there anything else to say except that Jim Walmsley (pre-race and post-race interviews) was dominant? From “go,” Jim set the pace. He was accompanied for some four kilometers before breaking free of everyone else and running solo for the next 98k to the finish line. We’d prepared a set of “Walmsley absolutely ridiculous splits,” which we developed based upon a 7:15 finish time that we thought implausible, but not impossible. However, we basically ended up using them to key our next moves all day long. When the route came out of the woods briefly at just over 11k, Jim came out talking about how he’d almost been knocked out cold by a run-in with a massive tree branch a kilometer or so prior. He was okay, all was okay, and he would later say he continued on without more than a few-seconds delay. At 57k, it looked like he might be experiencing a low point. He later attributed it to the fact that he was coming off the race’s most technical terrain where he tried hard to chill and not push hard. On the cruise-y terrain after 72k, I’m guessing Jim’s GPS data will show he logged some of his fastest splits. Without a doubt, Jim’s performance was a step above what men are doing at the ‘front of the pack’ in our sport right now.
In the days ahead of the race, defending champion Jonas Buud (pre-race and post-race interviews) defined his goals around improving upon his own previous performances. He simply wanted to run faster this year than last year. Ultimately, he found himself limited by problems running downhill starting at 30k into the race, what would evolve into blown quads by the finish. After the race he said that perhaps this was the result of less running training and more cross training over the winter and unseasoned quadriceps. Despite his ailing quads and running a bit slower than last year, he held things together better than everyone but Walmsley, and ended up in second place. As early as around 11k into the race, Jonas had settled into his totally expected position, within the chase pack of men running a controlled pace. It would be ages and ages, until something like two thirds of the race had passed, that he would be able to shake the rest of the runners and assume the second position, which he would hold to the finish.
Before the race, several people said in describing New Zealand’s Sam McCutcheon (post-race interview), “He’s the real deal.” The guy who’s had a couple years of success nationally took things abroad in 2016 to take 10th at the Buff Epic Ultra, one of the Skyrunning World Championships races. All of what we knew about him led us to believe that he could contend for the men’s top five. And here he is, having finished third, a position he ran near to for much of the race, and less than two minutes out of second place. From the very first time we saw him after 11k, he was in the top-five mix, a position he’d maintain all race. Sam moved up into third position in the race’s final quarter, easing up close to, but never in sight of, second-place Buud.
David Byrne (pre-race interview), second here last year, came back for a fourth-place finish, running a couple minutes faster than 2016. 2016 Ultra-Trail World Tour champion Gediminas Grinius rounded out the men’s top five with a totally steady performance.
2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Men’s Results
- Jim Walmsley (Hoka One One) – 7:23:32 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Jonas Buud (ASICS) – 8:10:58 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Sam McCutcheon (Altra) – 8:12:35 (post-race interview)
- David Byrne (Nike) – 8:19:56 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Gediminas Grinius (Vibram) – 8:23:16
- Andrius Ramonas (The North Face) – 8:29:30
- Matt Flaherty (Salomon) – 8:39:29
- Michael Wardian (Hoka One One) – 8:49:36
- Craig Kirkwood – 9:13:16
- Romain Mirosa – 9:35:59
[We’d previously listed Ben Gerhardy as the tenth-place man, but he’d dropped down to the simultaneous 87k event.]
2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Women’s Race
I find a number of fascinating parallels between the men’s and women’s races. Both champions ran off the front, without cueing from their competitors for pretty much all of the race’s 102 kilometers. Both second places described their days as equivalents of ‘not easy,’ yet they persevered through in solid positions and fended off tough and talented fields of women and men. And both third places are more local stars who broke out into the world of international competition with their performances here. Let me elaborate a bit on the women’s side of things.
From the start, Camille Herron (pre-race and post-race interviews) set into what she called a sustainable pace for her, holding it–and the lead–all the way through the finish. She would later describe her experience as an incremental step forward in her still-developing career in trail running. She described feeling the changes in the trail, like curves, rocks, and other technicalities, and responding to them by easing off the effort and moving comfortably through them. Last year when bonking during a race, she discovered beer as a way to refuel. Employing that strategy here, she said at the finish that she drank 24 ounces of beer in the race’s second half. At each aid station, Camille added small amounts to her time gap on the field, what would lead to a 24-minute win. She looked a little rough at the finish, having put it all out on the trail, but revived after a bit to join the day’s festivities. With her dominant performance here and following a challenging 2016, it looks like Camille has returned to the form we saw her first enter our sport with in 2015.
Magdalena Boulet (pre-race and post-race interviews) would say after the race that the day wasn’t easy, but that she made it through. I’m of the opinion that Magda suffers better than most because, honest to goodness, I can hardly tell when she’s having a hard time. Magda ran in second position for pretty much the entire race. At times, she looked quiet and focused, while in others she opened up smiles for her husband and son, who crewed her. Early on, she kept the gap to leader Camille within just a couple minutes, before it opened wider in the race’s second half. Magda was challenged by a late-charging Cecilia Flori during a time when she didn’t feel very well. The pair worked together before Magda pulled ahead to take second by a narrow margin.
Cecilia Flori (post-race interview) is Italian who lives in New Zealand. To be frank, at the time of this writing, we don’t know much about her–we’ll interview her post-race, though, so stay tuned! As far as we understand from iRunFar’s Kiwi friends, Cecilia is a relatively new trail and ultrarunner, and possibly a new competitive runner. In 2016, she won another local race, the Taupo 100k, in a time that would have been quite good for many men and a time that made people take notice of her. For whatever newness she may have, Cecilia did not come out of the gate carefully and conservatively. By 17k, she moved right into fourth position, and held it there for a good, long time. Cecilia made her way into third position in the race’s final third. If Sam McCutcheon is the real deal, then Cecilia is, too.
Kellie Emmerson, an Aussie trail phenom, showed she can play with the big guns in her fourth-place finish, and Margie Campbell took a strong fifth place.
2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Women’s Results
- Camille Herron (Nike) – 8:56:00 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Magdalena Boulet (Hoka One One) – 9:20:13 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Cecilia Flori (Altra) – 9:21:42 (post-race interview)
- Kellie Emmerson (2XU) – 9:42:03
- Margie Campbell – 10:04:30
- Fiona Hayvice (Salomon) – 10:06:11 (pre-race interview)
- Fernanda Maciel (The North Face) – 10:24:03
- Alicia Hudelson – 10:27:47
- Kath Carty – 10:27:57
- Sophie Grant – 11:01:55
[We’d previously listed Katrin Webb as the tenth-place woman, but she’d dropped down to the simultaneous 87k event.]
Special thanks to Jim Robinson and Kerry Suter for their on-the-ground reporting. Thanks to Tegyn Angel for some last-minute photo assistance. Thanks to the boat and shuttle drivers–Tarawera race volunteers–who helped transport iRunFar safely around the race’s backcountry course. Finally, thanks to Kurt Matthews for the wheels that got us around the first 40 kilometers.