The 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion Dylan Bowman doubled back to win the race’s 2018 edition. In the following interview, Dylan talks about why the 2018 race was far more difficult than 2015, the combination of early speed and later strength he feels was required to succeed, and how the men’s race dynamic played out from his perspective.
For more on what happened at this year’s race, read our 2018 Tarawera results article.
Dylan Bowman, 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Dylan Bowman. He’s the champion of the 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon. Congratulations, Dylan.
Dylan Bowman: Thanks so much. Tough day.
iRunFar: For somebody who seems immortal most of the time, or at least that’s how I think of you, you’re having a very mortal moment right now?
Bowman: Yeah, I am wrecked right now. I’m smashed from that race. I was not expecting it to be as difficult as it was, but, of course, I’m super happy with the result and glad to get it done.
iRunFar: Let’s back up a bit to before the race. You were the 2015 champion. You talked about in your pre-race interview with us the looming memory of Ultra-Trail Cape Town not working out. Did you feel some pressure or some… what was going on in your head… like, I’m here to perform. I’ve got to do this?
Bowman: Not so much pressure. I was obviously highly motivated to come here and do the race. Yeah, the disappointment of Cape Town definitely added to the motivation. I was, honestly, a little nervous after that unfortunate circumstance that if I came here and laid an egg and, then, had two really, really unfortunate races in a row… it’s hard to recover from that mentally. I’m super, super glad it worked out well today. Yeah, the disappointment from Cape Town is now a little easier to bear.
iRunFar: You went one direction in winning the race in 2015, the ‘downhill direction,’ and, then, you went uphill today. I was listening to some people talk at the finish line, and they added up 3,800 meters of climbing. Did it feel uphill?
Bowman: I wouldn’t say it felt ‘uphill,’ but it was just really hard, because of the weather recently. We’ve gotten a lot of rain, and the trails were in really bad shape at least compared to when I ran this in 2015 when it was a perfect, sunny, blue day. I think it’s also a little bit more difficult getting the fast miles done early and, then, having the hardest part of the race come last. To be honest, I think that worked to my advantage, because I’m more of a strength runner. The slowness of the track, because it was so sloppy out there, slowed down guys like Cody Reed and Vlad Shatrov, who I ran with a lot, and, then, when they started to get tired, I was able to use that strength and luckily hold them off. It felt much, much harder than my 2015 race.
iRunFar: Yeah, let’s talk about the first 40k. You guys came through the 41k aid station, which is essentially a marathon in 2:47.
Bowman: That might be my PR.
iRunFar: It’s pretty easy running, but it’s not flat by any means, and there are some little icky sections. Did it feel fast?
Bowman: To be honest, I felt pretty darn good. I was surprised to be with Cody and Vlad given their track and road speed. I was pleasantly surprised to be close. Once we hit the singletrack, they gapped me a little bit, so I was a little fearful…
iRunFar: Oh, so after 40k?
Bowman: As soon as we got into the singletrack section. It wasn’t a big gap, but it made me think, Oh, I’m so silly. I should have eased off in that first 40k, because I wasn’t feeling too hot. Luckily, I found a second wind…
iRunFar: Third wind, fourth wind…
Bowman: Yeah, I guess so. I was able to get separation on Vlad about 45k and then got a little bit of a gap at Okataina. I was able to hold on.
iRunFar: You and Vlad and Cody were together for basically the first 40k. Were you sharing pace setting? How was that working out, that dynamic?
Bowman: I was pretty much the caboose the whole time. Those guys are super fast and super talented. I was kind of surprised to be with them on the road section early in the race, but once we hit the singletrack… I actually got through the second aid station a little quicker than both of them and it took them a bit to catch back up, but, then, they gapped me pretty quickly after that. We ran together at least 50k and Cody and I even longer than that.
iRunFar: Out of Okataina it’s a big climb up on some singletrack. I think I heard you saying to somebody else at the finish line that you intentionally tried to push there and go?
Bowman: Approaching Okataina, I sort of realized that Cody was no longer behind me. I was feeling pretty good at that time, so I figured maybe this was a good opportunity for me to try and get a little separation. I got through Okataina really, really quick. I barely stopped. I made quick work up the climb and tried to really push it. I figured, again, being more of a strength runner, it would play more into my hands. I think that was where I was able to get a bigger gap on Cody. The trail up there was in such, such bad shape. It was such a slog. I kind of lost energy thereafter and was kind of worried the rest of the race that I may have pushed too hard and the rest of the guys were going to catch me.
iRunFar: So between Okataina (58k) and Blue Lake, the 81k aid station, you put 16 minutes on Cody which is a huge gap. Then, in the next section from Blue Lake to Redwoods, another 13k, you gave back six of those minutes. I don’t know if that was you having highs and lows. He had Sam McCutcheon knocking on his door, as well, so there might have been some of that there. Were you having some rough feelings from Blue Lake to Redwoods?
Bowman: Yeah, that last 15k was really hard for me. I wasn’t doing very well nutritionally. I had received a report that I had a 15-minute lead with 15k to go, so I thought I was probably safe, but I was not feeling good at the time. I just tried to grit my teeth and suffer through it, which is basically what I did. Those last 15k were really tough for me.
iRunFar: You came down—this year’s finish line was this long 100-meter chute—you had this shit-eating grin on your face the whole way. You must have been able to put the hurt away and let winning just wash over you?
Bowman: Yeah, again, going back to the disappointment in Cape Town, it was just a huge load off my shoulders. You and I spoke about how my wife has been in really poor health for the last couple months, and it’s been tough. Quite honestly, I almost didn’t make the trip because of it. I was thinking about her and basically just, Where the heck is the darn end? As soon as I saw it, I was elated.
iRunFar: Harmony, we hope you feel better soon.
Bowman: Love you, sweetie.
iRunFar: The finish line of the Tarawera Ultramarathon is a very intense place. The local Māori tribe performs this haka and they get right in your face to do it. For me watching, it’s actually kind of difficult to watch. It’s super intense. What’s it like to be on the receiving end of that?
Bowman: It’s so cool, right? It’s the most intense New Zealand expression of indigenous culture. It’s luckily my second time receiving the haka at the finish line. It’s a great honor. I think it’s a really cool thing that Paul Charteris and Tim Day do to include that cultural component. That definitely added to the positive feelings at the finish.
iRunFar: Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji is next. Time to return to Japan and see if the race is able to put on its full 100-mile distance. One hundred miles in April!
Bowman: Yeah. I’m really excited about it, to be honest. If I’m speaking honestly, the trails today were worse than the trails at Fuji two years ago when it got rained out. I think the weather is a little more stable in the spring. I have historically always raced my best in the spring. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just the rhythm of my body and training. [Jason] Koop and I have talked about it a number of times. It makes sense. I’m motivated to do it. It’s early in the year, but I can recover quickly from this and, then, put in a lot of good work. Luckily, I travel so much, I’ll be able to stay home for the next hopefully two months and put in a lot of good work for that. I can’t say enough good things about my experience at the race two years ago even though we got rained out. I just had such a good time. I’m really looking forward to getting back to Japan.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your win today. Happy recovery. Put your legs up and get some liquids and food in you and turn toward Mt. Fuji, right? Congrats.
Bowman: Thanks so much. Yeah. Thanks so much.