After a third-place finish last year, Sam McCutcheon returns to hunt for another Tarawera Ultramarathon podium spot in the 2018 edition. In this interview, Sam talks about the international racing he did in 2017, why he thinks he’s fresh going into Tarawera, and how he thinks this year’s reversed course and rainy weather might play into the men’s racing dynamic.
Sam McCutcheon Pre-2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Sam McCutcheon. It’s the day before the 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon. I’m back and covering this race. You’re back and running this race. You were third place last year. How’s it going?
Sam McCutcheon: Yes, I supposed it’s going as good as it can be. I’m excited to be back to Rotorua. I’ve had a hectic time over the Christmas and New Year’s period—not as much running. But I’ve been doing a lot to try to catch up, and here we are.
iRunFar: Yeah, you’re a newlywed. You’ve been busy getting married.
McCutcheon: Yeah, which is actually harder and takes a lot more time than I thought despite my wife saying she did everything. It was really good. We got married mid-January which was fantastic. We had a cool time. Then after the wedding I realized that Tarawera was a couple weeks away. So I’ve got a bit of a crash course fitness regime, so let’s go.
iRunFar: Is that right? So after you got married in mid-January, early January?
McCutcheon: 13th of January.
iRunFar: So you did a little bit of training really quick and then a quick taper?
McCutcheon: Yeah, pretty much. It wasn’t like I was zero before, but yeah, we had the wedding and, then, a week around the North Island which is fantastic—lots of good wine, lots of good food, and not as much quality running.
iRunFar: So you’re saying you’re ‘fresh?’
McCutcheon: Fresh, real fresh.
iRunFar: Take me back to a year ago. You came into Tarawera which is an internationally competitive race last year with lots of national level results—a little bit of trail running, some road running… a real diversity of stuff. It seems like you’ve been doing more trail running and more ultrarunning stuff in the last year?
McCutcheon: Yeah, I’ve been trying to get more of that experience. Coming to Tarawera is awesome because you get to race the best runners—Jim [Walmsley] and Jonas [Buud] and Dave Byrne and stuff which is fantastic. As well as the local New Zealand races, we managed to get a couple weeks in Europe last year seeing how they go… and they go really well. It was fantastic. We did Transvulcania and the MaXi-Race in Annecy. Then, we came back and did some local stuff here and it was the same as you said—mixing it up, trying to keep up with the road guys, trying being the key word. It’s good to keep your foot in both camps.
iRunFar: “I’d like to emphasize the word ‘try.'”
McCutcheon: That brings me back here to the start of 2018.
iRunFar: I remember when I interviewed you a year ago after you finished third, you said, “I want to go to Europe. I want to try European racing.” So you went to the Canary Islands to race Transvulcania, and, then, you went to France to race the Maxi-Race. What did you think of the Euro trail ultra scene?
McCutcheon: It’s fantastic. The races are incredibly well-supported by competitors and people in the general area. Every family is having a barbecue on the side of the course. They’re super into it. They’re also super good. I think that really highlights the difference in the styles of running. I found Transvulcania really technical, which is not my forte. I was getting smashed coming down that volcano.
iRunFar: The final long descent?
McCutcheon: Yeah, from the high point down to the beach. It was fine. It was still a cool and amazing experience, but it was just tough. It shows you all these skills I need to develop and work on.
iRunFar: Having gone there, Transvulcania, you were inside the top 30? And the MaXi-Race, inside the top five?
McCutcheon: Yeah. Yeah.
iRunFar: Did that show you your potential? Did it show you, “Here’s where I can come back to New Zealand and work on things?” Does that make you want to go out and try again? What was going through your head?
McCutcheon: I think a combination of things, but I think one of them was discovering whether the hills or the more runnable stuff was more where I sat. I think it helped me to realize where some areas to work on where and where some specialities were. But also, I was a bit disappointed with Transvulcania, and, then, MaxiRace went a little bit better for me though still a long way behind Francois D’haene and Max King and those guys. It was really motivating. Europe was just amazing coming from New Zealand. More money and more time, we might get back over there and give it another crack.
iRunFar: Yeah, it is kind of a long way from New Zealand to western Europe.
McCutcheon: Yeah, and we get four weeks holiday which is fantastic, but I’d love more… so if my employer is listening…
iRunFar: “Hey, there. Sam wants to go to Europe.”
McCutcheon: Yeah. It’s good.
iRunFar: Let’s talk New Zealand again. You came back. You had another go at the Kepler Challenge and your second win there, third podium. How was that? That was just pre-wedding?
McCutcheon: Yeah, it was. I had a good build up to Kepler. I didn’t really do much the couple months before it, much racing, so that allowed a good training block. I wanted to give Kepler a really good crack this year, so I was really happy with the result. The race went how I planned it except for Andy Good was flying up the hill, and I sort of wanted to lead most of the way—him and Stu. Then Stu Gibson flies past me, so I wasn’t expecting so much competition so early on. In the end it came out for good.
iRunFar: How did that suss out? That race has two different parts to it. It’s got the mountainous first half and then the flat almost 20 miles or something like that?
McCutcheon: Yeah, I think you could say it’s 30k which… I don’t know is that 20 miles… just under. I think that’s probably where I was fortunate that I’d run it before and knew that there was the mountain and the flat. I think that was Stu’s and Andy’s first time. They went quite well on the hill, but I reserved a little bit more for the flat, and I think that paid off for the rest.
iRunFar: So here we are. It’s the day before Tarawera. We’ve just had the Māori pōwhiri welcome. You represented the runners. You were the runner’s chief being the fastest-returning male. For me, watching that ceremony, there’s some intensity to it. You can kind of feel the intensity of it. What’s going through your head the day before the race? You podium-ed here last year. You probably have some goals inside your head. What’s there right now?
McCutcheon: Yeah, the first thing was the welcome which was fantastic. I’m very aware of New Zealand culture, but I’m not a fluent Māori speaker, but I can follow along. I think it’s fantastic when they showcase New Zealand culture like that to the world. There’s some intensity there. It’s a completely different experience that you can only get in New Zealand. Also, everyone is sitting there thinking, I’ve got to pony up and run 100k or 100 miles, or whatever. I think this year is really hard on me. Last year, everyone knew Jim was going to crush it and everyone else was going to see where they fell in line. This year, we’ve got some awesome runners with Cody [Reed] and Dylan [Bowman] and Vlad Shatrov and stuff, and I don’t know how it’s going to unfold. There are a lot of nerves, but I think it’s also a long way, and I just have to go out and make sure I don’t kill myself in the first 60k and see how we go from there.
iRunFar: The course is flipped around. You get the more runnable stuff and, then, the technical bit in the middle and then the kind of hilly close.
McCutcheon: Yeah, I personally think it will be a lot slower for a number of reasons. One it’s more uphill now than downhill. There’s been a little bit of precipitation over the last couple of days. We’ve managed to find a bit of a gap at the moment.
iRunFar: Yeah, I think it’s going to rain hard tonight and then maybe a little bit more during the race tomorrow.
McCutcheon: Yeah, at least it won’t be too hot.
iRunFar: Ha! Look on the bright side.
McCutcheon: Yeah, trying to find positives. I think part of the track, the roads will be okay, but once you get on the trails, I’d say they’ll be pretty slippery and slow. So I think it will be a combination of a runnable grind and, then, whoever starts feeling right in the midsection.
iRunFar: All the way until the last 5k you’re going through hills in the forest. It’s runnable track, but there are hills.
McCutcheon: Yeah, I’m trying to think back 12 months, and I remember going down some of those hills, and we’ll be going up those now and I suppose vice versa. I think after the top of Okataina, I seem to remember there’s a little bit of downhill for quite awhile, so I imagine that will be a long grind uphill now. That’s going to be about 70-odd kilometers in. It will be a more challenging race, I would say, and the times will be slower. But does that mean it will be a tighter race or play into other people’s hands? We’ll find out.
iRunFar: That’s a good way to end this. Good luck to you tomorrow, and we’ll find out. See you out there.
McCutcheon: Thanks, mate. Cool. Cheers.