Race Rundown: Tawawera Ultramarathon, 11th February 2023

By Chris and Abie Hearmon.

11/2/23  Rotorua New Zealand.

Although a foot injury stopped me running for the latter half of 2022 my aim for 2023 was to be fit to walk two of New Zealand’s multiday hikes on our retirement holiday. During our trip as well as the walking we did a few parkruns, Christmas eve in Napier and New years eve in Queenstown! We completed the 54km Milford track and a week later the shorter but steeper 32km Routeburn. Later on in the itinerary Abie had planned to do her first ultra – a 50km trail run in Rotorua. However after falling off a mountain¬† bike and breaking her arm requiring surgery, training was somewhat interrupted, although she was back running parkrun (Blenheim this time) only 10 days post op. Disappointed not to be joining her friends in the 50k, she suggested we do the 21k event as we had already booked our accommodation for the event and the cut off time was 9 hours which we were pretty sure we’d make, even if we walked the whole way! We ran a 10km once and that was training complete.

The UTMB event had races ranging from 21km to 100 mile. Sadly due to recent cyclones and flooding the longer races were rerouted but half marathon course was unaffected. The 100milers had started at 4am, whereas ours was a civilized 9am. Angus dropped us off in the bus queue to get to the start and went off to do the Rotorua parkrun around the corner. As in all races, wherever in the world you are, there was a long queue for the loos. We were entertained by the last bus driver demolishing a few bollards as he tried to turn around, then there was a karakia (Maori prayer) before the race started. Our 1st section was a circuit of Lake Tikitapu, and was mainly flat and a good surface. Then we headed into the beautiful Whakarewarewa (Redwood forest), on walking and mountain bike trails. There were some tough uphills and a lot of tree roots which sent a few people flying, but we both managed to stay on our feet. At times some speedy 50k runners zipped past us, and occasional bikers had to pull over as a sea of runners came towards them. The Aid stations were well stocked, not that we needed much, but those doing the longer events were being well supported. The volunteers were all very enthusiastic in their support. At 15k we left the forest, having descended a lot of steep steps and headed towards Rotorua. Though flat, this section headed towards the lakeshore at Sulphur Point. There were some lovely rotten egg smells to complement the bubbling thermal pools and interesting mineral deposits. Lack of training was now telling for us both and Abie was trying hard to keep me motivated.

However we reached the grass of the event village and crossed the finish line in 2 hrs 57mins 52 seconds, having run much more than we’d expected to. Medals received and post race snacks eaten then there was the opportunity to foam roller on the grass. Post race ice cream then beckoned and we spotted Kate Avery, formerly from Shildon who had come 3rd lady in the 50k event. We saved our post race beer token for after lunch when we returned to see Abie’s friends, Hannah who finished the 50k in 7 hrs 30 and Immy passed through the half way point in her 102k run. At 4am when Immy finally finished she was welcomed by Abie and Hannah who dragged themselves back out of bed to see her home. Next day we all took advantage of the Rotorua thermal waters for some well deserved recovery. Amazingly our legs felt fine after the healing waters! The following day Cyclone Gabrielle hit, causing extensive flooding and damage to roads throughout the North Island and we had to stay sheltered indoors, no running possible!

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