Tarawera Ultra 2011

Race Report from the 2011 Tarawera Ultramarathon

Mike Hale

It was never going to be easy. After last year, where Myles Robinson and I stunned ourselves with great first time efforts at the 85k distance, this race had been lurking in my mind more than any other. I knew it hurt, but then it also felt so good – the conquering of your own weakness while running yourself into oblivion. 2010 showed that good results were possible, now what about if I were to increase the training – maybe make it a focus, not an add-on?

Come late 2010, I knew I wanted to do it again. The plan was to have a good summer holiday with regular 2-3hr runs, then do some more long runs including 2 x 50k buildup runs  to total at least 10 runs over 2 hrs (as opposed to 1 x 50k with a handful of 2-3hrs runs  as in 2010).

I got a bit of set back on Boxing Day when I was foolhardy and went for my first barefoot run in months (careful), for 40 minutes (way too long), on sand-dunes (silly, silly boy). Calf pain followed and would hamper my efforts for the next month. I was able to run occasionally, but had to swap my summer holiday long runs for summer holiday long (hill) walks. This was good for strength, and hill running, but not so good for endurance or aerobic conditioning. It also took me out of the Maungakiekie Endurance Club battle for the Stroke n Stride series.

But soon enough, I was back getting the long runs in. I managed the 50k crash training /make or break session in late January. Me, Dave and Myles battled for 6 hrs in Cyclone Wilma, the toes were hurt, but the calf endured – great success!

The Coastal Challenge came and I went into it with more long runs under my belt than ever before. I felt strong and like I would endure, albeit not very fast. That race was another great battle with Mikey Licht, he got 8th and I was 1 minute back in 10th – the field have got stronger I tell ya!

The 33k speed endurance of the Coastal made a great sharpener for the Tarawera, so I approached this year’s race with high expectations. This year was made much better by having a huge contingent of mates going down competing and supporting. There was me and Dave Robbo in the 85k solo (with Todd Calkin and Charles Belcher as pacers respectively) and Mat Raffills and Jake Parsons teaming up for the 85k two man team.

A mean south westerly front passed over as we drove down to Rotorua on the Friday. It could have been ugly on race day, but fortunately had blown away and race morning brought nothing but blue skies.

We started in the dark, this year with plenty more competitors (237) in the field. Word must have got out that this event is the business. It also appears that more of the talent in the field are now taking on the 100k option (over 100 starters), and bypassing the 85k.

The hooter went and we plunged in to the darkness. This year I was more conscious of slowing my urge to race at the start, and I happily jogged along at an easy pace while a good 30 or so athletes took off ahead. I had forgotten how much uphill there was – it wasn’t all that steep but it was consistent. Very soon we were looking out back across Lake Rotorua and the whole district. The sun came up, revealing beautiful pine forest all around. I had some good chats as I marveled at the view. It was just a pleasure to be running. We came down into Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and I was merrily cruising in a group of four. I pulled ahead of them just prior to the aid station. The raucous welcome of our crew was fantastic – I love those guys and girls! An easy road section down to Okareka wound up the first leg (18.5k), I did 1:50, about 2 minutes slower than last year and was feeling 10/10 as I left the Miller Road aid station.

I took on extra fluids (sculling 3 cups of fizz) before heading into the isolated Western Okataina track. Last year I was punished with thirst during this section, and I wasn’t going to have that again. I was quickly by myself and turned on the speakers to get a happy tune in my head. Speakers were distorting – a flat battery (note to self, something to check before the race next time).  Last year I ran with Myles and a couple of others along this trail before their fast pace pushed my HR too high and I backed off and fell into a sad state of solo running. This year I was master of the controlled response. I ran when it made sense to, and backed off when my HR was too high or the track was too slippy to make it worthwhile. I was very consciously keeping my effort in check and yet I was still catching people – brilliant!

It wasn’t too long before we crested the summit and started the steep descent. I emptied my right shoe out and tightened my laces as the toes were getting quite pained and I wanted them on my side come the last 30k. Three guys passed me and I ducked in behind as we formed a train all the way to Okataina.

Okataina came in 2:04. This was 3 minutes faster than last year. Not only was I a bit faster, but I was feeling way better both in the body and in the mind. I gave huge smiles to my crew and took on some more lollies (where were the power cookies this year? I was planning on eating those!). I took off onto leg three, my weakest section in 2010. I happily progressed over the next hour, tiring but still good. My thoughts were self affirming – “look at me, I can do this, I have these ultra’s down – an easy start and look at me go!” I pulled into Humphries Bay Aid station and was definitely starting to hurt, but had passed half way and was making good time. My somewhat cocky attitude blinded me to my own intensifying ache. I got passed by a couple of guys, but held them for a few minutes. My guts were a bit dodgy and my hip flexors were groaning.

I came to Tarawera Outlet and my delusions of grandeur were over. I was sore, very sore, and lots earlier than I remembered last year. Plus, my guts felt really crook and I didn’t want to eat anymore lollies (why couldn’t there be some power cookies?). Todd joined me and was a great lift, but pretty soon the guts dominated and I had to hike into the forest to fertilise the flora. Those few minutes were well worth the relief they brought. Now all that ailed me was intensely sore hip flexors and tired legs, oh and a mind that had now come to wear me down “you were so far ahead and now you are so sore already and are going to be slower than last year, but you still have 30km of PAIN to go… enjoy”. Todd was fantastic at helping me shift the dark cloud. It took a while and I even toyed with exiting at 60 km, but we had a big walk up a long incline while Todd told me of what he had been reading etc. I loved hearing the passion and just the experience of being with a brother in the forest. My head changed – “OK its sore and my PB is gone, but this is actually a cool thing to be able to do.” So I pressed on, still in lots of pain, but now with a good mind. Nevertheless, the pain worsened, and pretty soon I was walking long stretches again. I thought this would be my lot until the finish. Then, out of nowhere, Jacob caught me. He was off ahead and I was still struggling to lift my feet up off the ground. I though how cool it would be to run as a three man team: Jake, me and Todd. I started to run again and told Todd, “I’m gonna catch Jake.” We halved the gap down to 30m but then I couldn’t make the last part. I was ailing and was about to break into a walk when Jake did first – I seized the moment, caught him and we all walked together. This began a super hour of great comradery. We all walked and Todd and Jake talked while I grizzled along. Just being with them helped, and soon I found that walking was just as sore as running (so why not run?).

Again, the support from our crew at the stations was tremendous. They would seize the empty bottle, pass a full one and shout and cheer and make you feel great. They are some great friends. Eventually the tired three came upon the last aid station, with the deceptively marked sign “4km to go” beside. I frankly doubted this sign and challenged the old birds who manned the station, they assured me it was accurate. Fueled with chips and watermelon I launched ahead, ready for the last effort home. At this point Jake was faltering and it was sad to see him drop as I had imagined we would cross the line together. Soon enough, it became apparent to me that Todd and I had run for 2km and hadn’t even got close to the bridge which had another 2km after it. I was cursing the evil sign and the mongrel who wrote it as I imagined breaking down due to an over-exuberant final effort. A short walk helped to bring me back and I ran on, more conservatively now. I just wanted to see the bridge!

At last  we came to the bridge, and got into the never ending sports fields. This year, I was ready. I knew they went on and on and so just kept the pace up, but not smashing it until the finish was assured. I saw the final corner and let loose. It was great to finish so strong! I ran across the line and noticed that my hips were now virtually pain free – how did this happen? I got 9:41, enough for 5th place,  and about 12 minutes slower than last year.

So in reflection:

  • I was better prepared than last year.
  • My first half of the race was near-perfect: well paced and good nutrition/hydration.
  • The hip-flexor issue hit much earlier this year and really laid me low. I should have countered the mental lowness better, but will need to look to prevent the physical issue too (it never happened in any of my long training runs).
  • The nutrition in the second half could be improved, I need to make sure I get enough lipids and protein (perhaps drop bags/ crew if they won’t provide power cookies next year).
  • It was a decent run, I’m a bit disappointed not to get a PB, but there were many areas of improvement over last time.
  • I recovered much better than last year
  • I have not mastered the ultra, and have much to learn in keeping the mind and body happy.

Finally, a last word of thanks to all who helped and supported me in this run. To do it solo would have been miserable and uninspiring compared to the great celebration that I experienced. Much love to Heather, Heidi, Dad, Dan, Todd, Emily, Jake, Matt, Monique, Mikey, Charles, Dave and Jo (and all the well wishers from back home too0>


Michael Hale – 5th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)

Dave Robertson – 15th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)

Mt Atkinson Bograts – 2nd team of two (out of four teams of two) or 12th team (out of 19 teams)


85km Overall Statistics

Avg Time
Fastest Time
Slowest Time
Two Person Relay 4 4 09:40:03 07:44:45 11:22:02
Four Person Relay 15 15 09:00:06 06:18:40 10:23:31
Solo 41 27 14 11:35:28 08:10:36 14:28:03

My splits: (Legs 1 and 4 slower; legs 2 and 3 faster than 2010)

Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka 01:50:26 01:50:26 08:52:10 11 4 11 19 66 10.3
Leg 2 – Okataina 03:54:33 02:04:06 10:56:17 11 5 11 37 48 8.7
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 06:52:04 02:57:31 13:53:48 18 7 18 60 25 8.1
Leg 4 – Kawerau 09:41:57 02:49:52 16:43:41 19 5 19 85 8.5

Mt Atkinson Bograts (Matt Raffills and Jake Parsons)

Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka 02:00:26 02:00:26 09:02:10 16 2 16 19 66 9.5
Leg 2 – Okataina 04:10:58 02:10:32 11:12:42 16 2 16 37 48 8.3
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 07:05:06 02:54:08 14:06:50 14 2 14 60 25 8.3
Leg 4 – Kawerau 09:53:22 02:48:15 16:55:06 18 2 18 85 8.6

Dave Robertson

Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka 02:07:29 02:07:29 09:09:13 24 14 24 19 66 8.9
Leg 2 – Okataina 04:36:41 02:29:12 11:38:25 30 13 29 37 48 7.2
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 08:03:26 03:26:44 15:05:10 33 14 31 60 25 7.0
Leg 4 – Kawerau 11:06:51 03:03:25 18:08:35 25 8 24 85 7.9

Race winner of 100k Sam Wreford – amazing splits.

Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka 01:35:29 01:35:29 08:37:13 1 1 1 19 81 11.9
Leg 2 – Okataina 03:12:34 01:37:05 10:14:18 2 2 2 37 63 11.1
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 05:26:12 02:13:38 12:27:56 1 1 1 60 40 10.8
Leg 4 – Awaroa 07:03:01 01:36:48 14:04:45 2 2 2 80 20 12.4
Leg 5 – Kawerau 08:33:50 01:30:49 15:35:34 1 1 1 100 13.2
Dave Robertson’s Report:
Hey Dudes, just a little (long) report from the ultra.
Pre-race went to plan- started with a feed at 5.30 and took on heaps of fluids. struggled at times to get the food down with the nerves keeping me honest. The nerves did help the bowls get into action though which was great to get out the way before the start!!
Jo dropped me off at the start where i caught up with Mike and Matt on the start line. It was dark and pretty bloody cold! 7am the gun went off and it was the most chilled race start of my life. Heaps of talking and heaps of walking on the immediate hills! Mike was off and i wouldnt see him again until the finish. The plan was to start slow and hold back on the hills. In the first hour i had to stop and pee 3 times and did some good gagging trying to knock back the first gel!!
The support team of Jo and Charles were in fine form early on meeting me at the 13km and 18.5km stations to swap the bottles, grab some food, and have a good morning kiss! This first section really took me by surprise with how many hills there were. I got pretty frustrated at times with not being able to get any consistant running in. The other bummer was we were close to 1000m at one point and there wasnt any view!
The second section of the course was even more brutal than the first. I had a lot of realisataions during these 3 hours. One was that i defintely needed to train on way more hills..and when i say ‘hills’ i mean long steep hills..and when i say ‘train’ i mean walk! I lacked strength in my arse and hamstrings and after 3 hours they were blown. Walking was painful from this point on as the muscles were not used to this. What was worse was being passed by so many people walking..this was doing my head in! I got quite dark at times until i was albe to run again. Running felt great and to be honest i always felt fresh and strong on the trails. It was always nice to pass people too! So at the halfway mark i was about an hour behind my target time. I had completely underestimated the hills and the amount of walking that was required..
Section three was a turning point. The undulating trails were rooty and technical but i got into a real good groove. Its funny that after 6 hours you can suddenly get a boost of energy that propels you for the next couple of hours. I loved this section with its awesome lake side running and beautiful native bush. I also loved it as i managed to pass a lot of people through this section. Nothing got me in a better mood that day than seeing others hurting more than me! I managed to meet some great people on the trail through this point too which made the time pass. It was also cool because i had never run this far or for as long before..it was all new territory which was quite exciting!
At 55km the pacers were able to join the race. It was awesome to pick Charles up here and do the final 30km with him. To have company of a friend at this point and some feet to follow through the tricky trails did the mind a lot of good. The Tarewera Falls were and awesome sight and the slight downhill gradient allowed us to get a good clip on. At 60km i got a word from a marshall that the course was ‘mostly flat’ from here to the finsh. I LOVED this news and decided to pick the pace up as i was feeling great. Charles had his GPS going and we knocked out a couple of 5 minute km’s no probs! But then we turned a corner…suddenly it was hill after hill after hill all over again. BUGGER! Back to walk run walk run blah blah blah. I was so dark again and just had no strength to get up the hills..I only got passed by one person but i felt i was starting to lose the battle. With 10km to go i didnt know if i would make it..the heart rate was through the roof, the legs were exhausted, i had multiple blisters giving me grief, a rash on the bum, sore knees, sore ankles…etc etc..everything was saying STOP!
I can honestly say at this point i wouldnt have made it home if it wasnt for Charles and Jo. They are legends and truly got me to the line!
From 75-80km i mostly walked and lost a lot of time. Approaching the 5km to go station a girl came round the corner behind me and was running me down. If anything was going to motivate me this was it. I stopped at the station for 2 minutes and hoovered back two hand fulls of jet planes, a snickers bar, 3 cups of coke, 2 cookies and some sour snakes..mmmmmmm!!! With the sugar hit i got a run on..and then kept running..and kept running..and kept running! It was a crazy finish. The last five k’s went in just under 30 minutes which i thought was pretty good for having already run 80k’s! And the girl..well she never caught up.
Seeing the crew at this finish was awesome. I managed to hold back the tears but it was pretty emo! After 11 hours and 6 minutes on the feet it felt amazing to crash onto the grass!
So stoked its over. I was an hour slower than i hoped but i completely underestimated the first half of the course. At the end of the day i did the best i could have.
For interests sake i made a list of what i can remember eating and drinking on the day on the day:
– approx 6 litres electrolites, 1 litre of water, 600ml of coke
– 1 banana
– 1 one square meal
– 2 Snickers Bars
– 3 Museli Bars
– 6 Gels
– 1 Danish
– 4 Cookies
– 5 handfulls of lollies
– 1 Brownie
And after all that i still lost a couple of kilo’s!
Until next time. Love

3 thoughts on “Tarawera Ultra 2011

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