David Byrne returns to the 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon after a successful second-place finish here last year in his debut 100-kilometer race. In this interview, hear what Dave learned over the last year of racing that he’ll apply to this weekend, how he sees the men’s race unfolding, and where he thinks he’ll factor into the men’s racing dynamic.
To see who else is running, read our Tarawera preview. You can also follow our live coverage of Tarawera starting at 6 a.m. local time this Saturday, February 11, which is 10 a.m. MST on Friday in the U.S.
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David Byrne Pre-2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a couple days before the 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon. I’m with David Byrne of Australia who is the returning second-place finisher from last year. Hey!
David Byrne: Hey. Second place.
iRunFar: I know, that doesn’t sound so good, does it?
Byrne: No, it sounds great! It was a surprise. It sounds really good.
iRunFar: We got to know you for the first time in watching you race here last year. You were sort of diving head first into trail running, and that was your first 100k.
Byrne: Yeah, I’ve done a bit of trail prior to it, the longest being 56k.
iRunFar: Double the distance, double the fun?
Byrne: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Double value for money. It was great. I loved it.
iRunFar: Since then, if you look at your results, you’ve just taken another dive deep into trail running in the last year.
Byrne: Yeah, for me, to be honest, it wasn’t my number-one priority. I love the running and all, but I kind of have to fit it in around life and work and everything. The past year, I haven’t had the opportunity to race as much as I would have liked. Plus, I want to do things I’m really bad at, so I wanted to run up steep mountains or what I thought were big mountains. I went and did that in Europe as part of a holiday over there. I went to the Tour de France and, then, did that. It didn’t really pan out as I would have hoped.
iRunFar: I found results for a couple races, the Eiger Ultra Trail and the Mont Blanc Marathon. It looks like you had rough days there in both.
Byrne: Yeah, it was shocking. I was in great shape, and I should have run really well, particularly at the first of the two, Mont-Blanc. Rookie error—I had a support crew, and they weren’t at the checkpoint. I run pretty lean in terms of what I carry. I’m very small, so I try and minimize everything. Fueling-wise, I didn’t realize how much fuel I should be eating. Majell Backhausen educated me well in that department now. I didn’t have a support crew, and I kept going, and I just dug myself in a horrible hole. I ended up going from the front to where I ended up finishing. I just wanted to finish. I always believe in finishing a race. If you drop out, people forget you were even there. That’s kind of a cop out. The same thing, that put me on the back foot because once again, I’m a small human… I’m tiny. More robust guys and girls typically can bounce back from those rough days quicker—that’s my thoughts on it anyway. I find it takes me a very long time even after a long, hard training run, to get going again. It put me on the back foot essentially for when I got to the Eiger. I was still not feeling terribly good. Then, regardless, I was never going to miss that race, and I was never going to not finish. I started off at the front again feeling great, and then I just went backward. Once again, I had to finish, so I just kept going. I walked it in and finished it from there.
iRunFar: I think that was about the same distance as Tarawera, but a huge amount of extra time.
Byrne: Yeah, a lot of climbing and heaps of snow and ice, and I’ve never run in that before. You’re headed up a mountain, and they were using poles—I don’t know how to use poles. I almost bought some the night before. I was walking around the streets—I should buy some. I was googling videos on how to use them. Yeah, that was awesome. Now, I own a pair of poles. I still haven’t used them. I bought some since then.
iRunFar: I have them for next time. Let’s talk a little bit about the perspective you’ve gained with a year’s worth of experience. You ran your first 100k here last year. You went out into the wide world and learned some things and made some mistakes. You ran a whole lot longer than you’re going to need to this weekend. What new vision or what new way do you look at the same race a year later?
Byrne: The big thing for me, or really the only real change, is fuel. Last year, I think I consumed seven gels…
iRunFar: The whole race?
Byrne: Yeah, and some Tailwind. That’s half of what I should be consuming for me. That’s the biggest change is the fueling side of me. My racing will never change. I always race from the front or toward the front. I don’t really see the point of trying to sit back in eighth and trying to roll through to third or fourth. I don’t really see the point in that. I’d rather try and break myself and have fun and bang heads and have a good day and, hopefully, good enough to hang on and run well. If I have a rough day, then it’s okay if I look like an idiot and come 50th. That’s alright.
iRunFar: Maybe not 50th. Maybe seventh, right?
Byrne: Back in the field, yeah.
iRunFar: The race dynamic this year, you’ve got the same guy you hit it off last year, Jonas Buud, here. There’s the extra chemistry of Jim Walmsley who is another top-end leg-speed guy who switched over to trail running and who has kind of an aggressive off-the-front racing style. Do you or have you envisioned how it’s going to play out with the three of you this year?
Byrne: I’ve envisioned Jim running off the front and leaving everyone behind. Then, the likes of Jonas, myself, Gediminas [Grinius], and Sam McCutcheon—a New Zealand guy I think most people are missing who is extremely good—will be sort of doing our own thing unless someone jumps on the Jim train.
iRunFar: That’s a legitimate question. Is anyone going to jump on the Jim train?
Byrne: If it’s not stupidly quick, I’ll jump on just to see what happens and to say that I’ve run with Jim for a little while. I don’t know. Jonas is so experienced and so strong and almost metronomic in how he runs, he’s probably going to do his own thing. I expect him to run well through. Gediminas is more the mountain guy but is still awesome.
iRunFar: I think he’s got more leg speed than most people give him credit for. He just hasn’t raced short stuff so we don’t know.
Byrne: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I think it’s going to be an extremely hard race to plan for. If someone goes with Jim and you don’t, are they going to leave you behind? Do you get on it and potentially pop at 50k but have a big enough gap on the next guy to hang on? It should be fun regardless.
iRunFar: Is your mindset then to kind of see what Jonas does or just go into your own comfortable place where it doesn’t matter who’s in front or who’s in back?
Byrne: It really does come down to if anyone gets on the Jim train and how hard Jim goes. My attitude, like I said, is I’ll try and race to win even if someone as awesome as Jim there. You’ve still got to have that self-belief. If he’s not going stupidly quick, then I’ll probably get on that and see how long I can hang in. If he’s going ridiculously fast, that would be suicide for me and probably suicide anyway.
iRunFar: Last question for you—you were a ‘newbie’ here last year. I’m sure you learned a lot to take forward into races this past year and this weekend. There might be some people watching this who are in the same position as you last year. Any pieces of advice on how to do it well or how to avoid disaster?
Byrne: Fueling is a big part—get lots of fuel in early so you’re ahead of the curve a bit later in the race. The end of the race, so much of it’s canting downhill and is so runnable and fast, if you’re feeling good and you’ve got good legs, you can really go hard the last 30k. A lot of people, me included, make the mistake of going out really quick, and you feel good, but you’re possibly costing yourself a lot of time in the back half. It’s just about having an even distribution.
iRunFar: An even distribution of effort—do you hear that everybody? Best of luck to you. I’m looking forward to the dynamics of the men’s race. I’m not going to lie.
Byrne: So am I.
iRunFar: If I’m looking forward to it from the outside looking in, to get to live it on Saturday will be fun.
Byrne: It’s going to be awesome.
iRunFar: Good luck to you.
Byrne: Thank you.