They say that neither rain nor shine will stop the mail carriers of the world from delivering their mail, and the same can be said for ultrarunners.
While a significant storm about a week before the 2023 Tarawera by UTMB 102k race weekend caused a landslide and other issues around the remote course based in the city of Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand, the race organization rerouted the course last minute and the show went on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Tarawera for the last few years, with the 2021 event held for local runners only due to the country’s borders being closed, and the 2022 event canceled due to a country-wide outbreak. For 2023, New Zealand’s borders are reopened and Tarawera once again welcomed runners from far and wide.
While going on a decade, the 100-kilometer race at Tarawera has attracted international talent, it’s also been a Western States 100 Golden Ticket Race for a few years, wherein for this year two women and two men are awarded entry to the 2023 Western States 100.
All of these variables collided early Saturday morning, February 11, as 776 runners streamed off an improvised starting line on the northern shores of Lake Okataina, east of Rotorua, heading for the Rotorua finish line.
Some 100 kilometers of racing later, beginning in cool, humid weather and running through warm and still humid weather with peeks of sun through a decent cloud bank all day, it was the national talent that ran best. New Zealand’s Nancy Jiang topped the women’s race and Daniel Jones took home the men’s win.
Read on for more details about both races.
2023 Tarawera by UTMB 102k Women’s Race
If the 2023 Tarawera 102k women’s race is a predictor of what this year is going to look like for women’s trail ultrarunning, we all had better pay attention. It was the women’s race that stayed competitive wire-to-wire, with the top five women finishing within 12 minutes of champion Nancy Jiang of New Zealand. This marks the closest women’s race in the decade-plus of Tarawera 102k history — by a long way.
The U.S.’s Amanda Basham was the early race leader, pushing what other women called a hot early pace. She led for roughly the race’s first third before slowing to an ultimate eighth place. Then, before the race’s marathon mark, Stephanie Auston of Australia assumed the race lead. But a passel of women stayed close all day.
At the final checkpoint, around six kilometers from the finish, Jiang and Auston ran together, a couple of meters separating them, with Jiang at the helm. When Jiang crossed the line in victory, only 90 seconds of daylight separated her and second-place Auston.
Jiang is a multi-time champion of New Zealand’s iconic Kepler Challenge, and in 2022 she was 22nd at the CCC in France. Preceding Auston’s second place at the Tarawera 102k by less than two months was a victory at the 2022 Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB 100k in her home country.
Spain’s Aroa Sio spent the entire race running within the women’s top five. Vacillating all race between second and fifth positions, Sio crossed the line in third place and just about three minutes behind second. Sio appears primed for another big year, following up on her strong 2022, which included taking third at the Canyons by UTMB 100k, 12th at the Western States 100, and eighth at UTMB.
Following the women’s podium only five minutes later was fourth place Anna McKenna of Australia, and China’s Fu-Zhao Xiang in fifth, the pair only separated by another two minutes.
At the time of this article’s publishing, it was not publicly known who (if anyone) in the women’s race has yet accepted the Western States 100 Golden Tickets. Two are given out, runners have a couple of weeks to decide if they’d like to accept them, and the tickets roll down as far as fifth place as needed. Among the top five women, no woman already has a Western States 100 entry by other means.
2023 Tarawera by UTMB 102k Women’s Results
- Nancy Jiang (New Zealand) — 9:26:08
- Stephanie Auston (Australia) — 9:27:29
- Aroa Sio (Spain) — 9:30:41
- Anna McKenna (Australia) — 9:35:28
- Fu-Zhao Xiang (China) — 9:37:41
2023 Tarawera by UTMB 102k Men’s Race
I was really rooting for New Zealand’s Daniel Jones to get a Western States 100 Golden Ticket, as he’s been trying for four races to earn one. Jones intended to race the 2022 Tarawera 102k, but it was canceled last minute due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its Golden Tickets were doled out at other events in the series. Then, a few months later, in April of 2022, he took 10th in a tough day at the Canyons by UTMB 100k, another Golden Ticket Race for which he traveled to the U.S. to participate in.
After not earning a ticket there, he stayed on in the U.S. to attempt another shot at a ticket, mistaking the 2022 Lake Sonoma 100k for a Golden Ticket Race. He won the race, but heartbreakingly learned after the fact that it wasn’t part of the series — in all fairness the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile was a Golden Ticket Race for many years — and went home without that Golden Ticket.
All this is to say that when the men’s race fired off in the 2023 Tarawera 102k, I couldn’t help but really want Jones to earn one of those tickets. But some 102 kilometers worth of earning he would have to do.
Sam McCutcheon, who is from New Zealand, but who lives in the U.K., was the race’s early pacesetter. Like Amanda Basham on the women’s side, McCutcheon largely set the pace for the men through the event’s first third. However, there were always other guys right there, running within seconds of the lead.
After the 38k aid station, Jones and the U.S.’s Hayden Hawks shook free of McCutcheon as well as the rest of the men’s field, settling into what looked like roughly a shared leadership of the pole position. According to the pair, they are friends and have been training partners over the last year both when Jones traveled to the U.S. and when Hawks traveled to New Zealand. There was some leapfrogging, we believe, before Jones was able to shake free of Hawks too, to lead the race solo.
At the penultimate aid station, 87k into the race, Jones led solo with a five-minute gap on Hawks, which he extended to more than 14 minutes by the finish line. We understand that Jones is eagerly accepting his Western States 100 Golden Ticket.
Hawks crossed the line in second, saying afterward on social media that he’d run his own best race and was happy with his performance. Hawks already has an entry to the Western States 100 courtesy of a second place there last year, which means the second Golden Ticket rolls down the finisher’s list.
Ryan Montgomery from the U.S. raced smart, shadowing those pressing at the front but setting their own sustainable pace. That meant running in the back half of the top 10 for the race’s first third, moving up to podium position around the close of the race’s second third, and holding that spot through the finish line, some 40-plus minutes behind the leader. Montgomery, who identifies as nonbinary but who raced in the men’s race, wrote on social media that they are excited about earning that Western States 100 Golden Ticket.
McCutcheon ultimately rolled across the line in fourth place, and Australia’s Rhett Gipson took fifth.
2023 Tarawera by UTMB 102k Men’s Results
- Daniel Jones (New Zealand) — 7:27:55
- Hayden Hawks (U.S.) — 7:42:13
- Ryan Montgomery (U.S.) — 8:11:21
- Sam McCutcheon (New Zealand, lives in the U.K.) — 8:16:51
- Rhett Gipson (Australia) — 8:24:19
The Tarawera by UTMB event held races over three other distances, including 21k, 50k, and 100 miles.
Two more 2023 Western States 100 Golden Ticket Races remain, Arizona’s Black Canyon 100k on February 18, and the Canyons by UTMB 100k in Auburn, California, on April 28.
Call for Comments
- Were you at the Tarawera by UTMB event over the weekend? Leave a comment to share your perspective from on-site!
- How do you see the rest of the Western States 100 Golden Ticket series races going?