The idea to enter Tarawera originated on a trail run with friend Leanne. She planted the seed and I was intrigued and excited at the thought of running beautiful NZ trails. Almost immediately I began considering the 100 mile option, could I actually finish the 100 mile race? Eventually entries opened and I decided to just jump in.
I began to search for everything I could about running 100 miles, training, planning and executing the race. I found Podcasts, audiobooks and personal experiences from Facebook groups. I purchased Hanny Allston’s Find Your Feet 100Mile training planner, after using her other plans in the past I knew it would help me to prepare well.
I officially began training in August 2019, for the Feb 2020 race. In July I had finished the Elephant 100km in Port Macquarie so I had a great base.
Staying focused and doing the work for a long-term goal is never easy, this time was especially challenging as we moved into a very hot summer, with bushfires closing the trails and choking the air with smoke. Somehow, I got it done. I trained as hard as I could, listening to my body intently to avoid overdoing it and trying to minimize injury risk.
Race week rolled around and on Tuesday my family and I flew to NZ. We picked up our hire car and drove the 3hrs from Auckland to Rotorua. I now had a few days for final preparations, rest and sightseeing. I ended up taking quite a bit extra rest after catching a head cold complete with sneezing and blocked sinus.
2:15am Saturday (12:15am Sydney time) my alarm went off. It was race day. I jumped out of bed so fast that I felt dizzy and had to lie down again. Not the best start. I had tried to get to bed early the night before, but I just lay there from 8pm wide awake. My kids were being excited and noisy, my nose was still blocked from the head cold and I was very nervous.
I got dressed, covered my feet thickly with gurney goo and put on my Injinji socks. I had my porridge with banana and a coffee and off we went.
The start line at Te Puia was so magical. After a few warm days the weather had changed, and it had begun to rain lightly. In the dark I could see the steam rising from the geyser. A nervous excitement filled the air. Despite the rain I just wore a singlet as it wasn’t cold and I knew I would soon warm up. I felt relaxed and ready.
My plan was to run a very easy first 55km, then focus on holding it steady until 120km where I would pick up my pacer (my husband Reece) and push to the finish.
I had a tried and tested nutrition plan with a mix of gels, Clif bars and vegemite sandwiches. I was drinking Koda electrolyte in one bottle and tailwind in the other. I like to eat a little something at every 30min, and I don’t like to stay long in aid stations. I’d given myself 5-10min for each one, only taking more time if something else really needed to be done. A steady consistent effort is how I like to run.
The first 30ish kms I ran nice and gently, keeping the effort as low as I could whilst still running. Around 6:30am the sun rose and I turned off my headlamp. There was a mix of beautiful single track and wider fire trail. The first 2 aid stations I moved through quickly, just topping up my bottles and keeping rhythm.
I had opted to not have a crew, mainly because Reece was already pacing me from 120km and I wanted him to rest during the day. I’m very self-sufficient and was confident I could manage 120km alone.
I took in all of the scenery; I especially loved the crystal clear streams and the lush green vegetation.
We came out onto a downhill road section that felt nice and ran down into the third aid station at Buried Village. My family had come to cheer me on here and do some sightseeing.
Reece helped me with my drop bag, which was a great bonus; I counted out my food portions, topped up my bottles and looked for a loo. There was a queue so I hugged my kids and headed off. Still feeling great I reminded myself to keep the pace easy.
The next aid station was Isthmus 46km, I didn’t know what to expect in this section so just ran to feel, keeping it easy, eating and sipping away. I noticed along this section some runners breathing heavily behind me and I stepped aside for them to overtake, I did wonder why there were in such a hurry so early on in the race. At Isthmus I again just did a quick top up. The volunteers were all dressed up like Zombies; I love the Tarawera Aid Stations! I asked how long till the next aid station and was reminded that the boat ride was ahead. Excited about that off I went again.
This next section went by very fast; as I came down the trail I spotted runners boarding a boat and hurried down only to realize it was full already and pulling away. It was still morning but felt humid and was warming up. We didn’t wait long for another boat, I used the time to chat to a runner from Sydney I’d met at another race, emptied the dirt from my shoes and ate a huge chuck of ice. They had ice and juice here for runners in martini glasses, which just sums up how much thought has gone into making this race fun.
The boat ride across Lake Rotomahana was beautiful; I took some photos, stretched my legs and admired the view of Mt Tarawera.
I knew when we got off the boat we had a long exposed flat section so I reminded myself to stay cool, and to keep eating. For this section I mainly packed SIS gels that are easy to get down whilst running, and vegemite sandwiches. At first it was dirt farm roads, eventually turning into bitumen. Flat running is not my strong point, so I ran gently and walked purposefully when I needed a break. I still felt relaxed and in good spirits. I overtook a couple people on this stretch, which was a little boost that I was coping well. There were some extra buckets and sponges available along the way and I used them every time to stay cool.
Arriving at Aid Station 5 Rerewhakaaitu 55km at 12pm felt good. I quickly got my drop bag and went over to the bench to get myself sorted. I emptied all the rubbish out, counted out my food portions and filled my vest. There was a lot because it would be another 50km before I had access to another drop bag. I always put a little laminated card in my drop bags with bullet points of what I need to do, what to pick up, what to drop off and any handy tips so I don’t have to remember. I topped up my bottles and finally got to use the loo. This is when I discovered that my menstrual cycle was also right on schedule. Not the first time this has happened in a race and I was prepared thankfully, but now had something else to deal with.
Off I went again, I had no idea what the next few aid stations would be so I just focused on running from one to the next. Due to this being flat and wide I put my music in and instantly felt my mood lighten right up. There was still considerable road section initially, I kept a steady rhythm and ate my sandwiches. Eventually bitumen turned into beautiful forestry roads. With lots of runnable terrain, I ran easy the downs and flats and hiked all the uphill. This section is particularly hard to remember though because at some point I got an urge to pee, jumped off the trail, but no result. This has never happened before, and it was very uncomfortable. I’d been drinking to thirst, had not taken any type of painkillers and was at a loss what was going on. Worried about my kidneys I decided I should back off the pace a little and try to drink a bit extra to see if it would resolve. The issue repeated itself over and over for about 20km, it was very uncomfortable and I was frustrated at the constant urge to get off the trail. I otherwise felt fine so ended up trying to relax. Relax I did which lead to me accidentally peeing myself more than once! At the next aid station I went to the loo, no discoloration, and no other issues so I felt relieved. I emptied the dirt from my shoes again and cursed myself for not wearing my gaiters. There was a lot of crap getting in my shoes, I’m calling that my rookie error no. 1.
I was much more comfortable as I approached 100km, just wishing I had new pants. I had put spare t-shirts and socks in my drop bags but no pants, my rookie error no. 2.
I had begun to notice a pain in my right knee. It was sharp, and I cursed myself again for not having put my poles in my drop bag at Okataina 120km. I needed them right now, my rookie error no. 3.
I arrived into the stunning Outlet Aid Station 103km at about 7pm. Thanks to a flatter course I realized that I had just run a PB for 100km and patted myself on the back. Apart from my pants and my knee, I felt good. The trail and water here was beautiful and The Outlet my favorite spot of the day. I grabbed my drop bag, counted out my food portions, filled my bottles and grabbed my extra little handheld light for the technical section ahead. I heard a female runner call out “Go RMA” I thanked her. I love the support of the RMA community. I also saw Scot, a friend from my home trails, I was happy to see him doing so well. We both agreed we couldn’t wait to see our families at Okataina.
It would be getting dark soon so off I went but 200m down the trail I couldn’t find my earphones, realizing then my phone was also missing, I dashed back to the Outlet and found them sitting on the table. Lucky! I headed off again, not rattled but grateful I’d noticed before I’d gone too far.
The trail became increasingly technical, dirt single track that was undulating with lots of tree roots. I like technical trail though so I pushed on. The light was getting lower, but I was sure I could make it to Humphries Bay before needing to get my headlamp out. Along this section I followed behind 2 guys, 1 from Colorado and a local Kiwi from Hawkes Bay. I can’t remember why exactly, but listening to the their chatter was so entertaining.
The trail became very dark, there was still light out but we were in the forest. I grabbed my handheld light and used that when I needed until I got down to the Humphries Bay Aid Station.
At Humphries Bay 111km I got out my headlamp and topped up my bottles. The pain in my knee had increased, and I looked around the trail for a big stick I could use to support it until I could get to my poles. I found this huge stick, almost taller than me and it felt ridiculous but instantly took some of the pressure off. I hiked a lot of this section but ran whenever I could. I was getting excited that I’d see Reece very soon and I knew he’d help me get to the finish. I wasn’t really feeling tired, but I was worried about my knee and a pain in my calf had also become difficult. May calf felt like it was in cramp but wouldn’t loosen with stretching or massage. I put my earphones back in, and pushed on. At one point in the dark there were 2 guys stopped on the trail ahead. I asked them if everything was ok and they said there were glowworms and to turn off my headlamp. Sure enough, I looked at the rocks beside us in the dark and there were tons of glowworms. Just incredible!
A few more kms in the dark and I saw the sign that the aid station was 200m ahead. I tossed my stick away, it had given me a huge blister on my hand but I didn’t care. I was so happy I ran down into Okataina Aid Station 122km at about 10:50pm in a little under 19hrs. I knew this meant that my goal of a sub 30hr finish was entirely possible now. As I ran those last couple of steps, something happening in my right knee, I felt a sharp pain and it almost gave way. It scared me.
I looked around and spotted Reece, Alex and Laura. Seeing their faces was so good after so long. I know I rambled on to them with a lot of crap about my day that I now can’t remember. I didn’t sit long, just a quick sock change, cleaning out the dirt again and covering my feet in more gurney goo. Rubbing my feet felt so good, they must have been sore but I hadn’t noticed, at least there were no blisters.
We grabbed my food, filled my bottles and we were off. Laura took a quick photo just as we were leaving and I will treasure it, I always forget photos.
I told Reece I had started to have some significant pain, that we’d likely have to hike a lot. I took some Panadol and hoped it would help.
The next section from Okataina to Miller Rd almost broke me. It was one of the longest stretches with over 16km between aid stations and also has a big climb. The climb was ok, but the pain had really intensified in my calf and knee, and now a pain had started in my left ankle.
The slower pace, darkness and cold had me feeling a bit tired and eventually I told Reece I needed to put my earphones in to perk myself up. I was still eating ok, but decided to try a caffeinated gel. It tasted foul, and then went straight through me. I leapt off the trail just in time. I didn’t dare touch another one of those! I felt like I was falling apart.
It began to get cold and I put on my arm sleeves. I don’t usually feel the cold, but I don’t usually move that slowly. The temperature continued to drop and I asked Reece to get my jacket out of my pack. I was shaking now and the breeze felt freezing. I put it on, pulled the hood up over my head and walked as fast as my legs could manage to try to get some warmth. The jacket kept out the wind but was still breathable enough to be comfortable. Thank goodness for mandatory gear!
I was struggling now, uphill manageable, downhill excruciating and there was still a very long way to go.
I felt much relief to finally get to Millar Rd Aid Station; on approach we discussed the need to move on fast as it was cold. A friendly volunteer in a Spider-Man suit asked what we needed, I remember telling him I was struggling and in a lot of pain and that I just wanted to keep moving. He agreed we shouldn’t stay long and assured me the worst was over now and the next stretch of trail was much smoother. I grabbed a few of the yummy plane lollies for the road and had some coke. I wasn’t eating much now but the slower pace and the fact I’d eaten well up to this point meant energy wise I was still good. We got going again, on to Blue Lake where I’d get my last drop bag.
During this section my heart sunk, my pace had dropped so much, my time was blowing out. I knew with the intense pain I was feeling in my knee and calf that I wouldn’t be able to start running and have a strong finish. I also thought my hope of a sub 30hr finish was lost. I tried to push this out of my mind though and focus solely on getting to Blue Lake as fast as I could manage.
Reece put up with a lot, I was in a pain cave well and truly and only just hanging on, there was no taking my mind off it. He made so many attempts to lift my spirits and encourage me, but I was just in too much agony.
Millar Rd to Blue Lake was a shorter stretch, and suddenly I could see the lights of the Aid Station in the distance. I was excited, but then realized we had to do a lap of the lake first. I pushed hard round the lake, walking as fast as I could but it just went on and on. Where the hell was the aid station? After a damn eternity of me swearing and awkwardly power walking we finally made it. Even though we were only walking, the pain took a lot out of me.
At long last we made it to Blue Lake Aid Station 150ish km. On approach we agreed this had to be a very quick stop. I was worried if I sat too long my leg might seize completely and we’d never get going again. Blue Lake Aid Station was decorated in a Hawaiian theme; there was loads of pizza, brownies and more friendly volunteers in the cold and dark at 5:30am. All the race volunteers are truly selfless angels.
I was really hungry and I looked for some veggie pizza but instead just ate my vegemite sandwiches from my drop bag, and discovered the can of Red Bull I’d forgotten I packed. I drank the whole thing, laughing and happily telling the volunteers what an awesome surprise it was. Clearly small things make you happy at this stage. I told Reece I was ready to go and I felt determined to get to the final aid station at the Redwoods, so close now. Just as we were leaving someone called out in the dark, it was my brother Alex who had driven out to see me and we almost missed him. It was so good to get a hug and some extra encouragement.
Blue Lake to Redwoods was more of the same, excruciating pain, trying to walk fast, getting frustrated in myself and disheartened when someone would pass me, and plenty did. Apart from the leg pain, I actually felt good so it was tough. Reece told me that we had actually left Blue Lake 10min before my estimated time, and that I could still go sub 30hours, that if we pushed I could even make in under 29. I was quite upset and told him I didn’t want to hear about times, but then I realized what he was saying. I walked as fast as I could, really having to focus hard on blocking out the pain. I asked Reece how many kms to go and what pace we needed for sub30. He insisted we had plenty of time, I wasn’t so sure, and when a few downhills came up, I shuffled them, I was trying so hard to run. We came to a whole bunch of stairs and I went down them sideways as quick as I could. The Redwoods Aid Station ended up being nearly 2km further away than was signposted, it doesn’t sound like much, but by that stage every step was so painful it felt like an eternity.
As we approached Redwoods I told Reece I’d stop at the loo and that’s it. We would walk straight through the Redwoods and not stop till the finish. I wanted my sub 30 now and I was not going to give up.
I saw my family waving and my beautiful kids, I yelled to my kids that I loved them but that we couldn’t stop and to meet me at the finish. I had 6.8km to go and was calculating pace required. I think we had 2 hours so I had nothing to worry about.
We were headed into town now, under a bridge and across the sulphur flats. I was getting passed again, I cheered for these amazing people who were still able to run, I was done feeling sorry for myself. There was another runner here also walking, we chatted and our pacers chatted, it was a nice distraction from my painful leg and I felt so much calmer. I heard a group running up behind us, I turned to see it was Scot again, with his family all around him. He looked so elated and we cheered. He tried to get me to come with them but there was no way my leg could run. I waved them on, I’d be done soon.
As we neared the finish my 2 boys joined me, I felt so emotional and I did manage to run a little across the finish line. I have never ever felt so happy to finish; I burst into tears with a hug from my friend Leanne. I then got to choose my beautiful Pounamu and I have never felt I earned something as much as this.
We moved into the recovery tent, I went and got changed out of my stinking clothes, the same ones I started in 29hours earlier.
I was craving a coffee and as I took a couple sips, I started feeling very hot. I though I was going to vomit but instead passed out.
I came to on the ground, everyone around me, looking down calling my name. I was stretchered into the medical tent where the lovely medics checked my pulse, blood pressure and temp. After a little while it was decided everything was ok, but that my body wasn’t regulating its blood pressure and that I needed to be careful moving around. I wanted to go so was helped out of the medic tent, the pain was epic now and walking was impossible. I was hot and dizzy again and sat down. I couldn’t make it to the car, it wasn’t far but I felt so unwell. Reece drove the car around to the gate at the back of the medic tent and a lovely finish line volunteer and Reece carried me on a stretcher to the car. To this very kind man thank you for helping me, I felt totally useless and it was embarrassing.
I had such an incredible experience, I wanted to be challenged and Tarawera 100 mile certainly provided that. I will always treasure my memories from Tarawera 100mile 2020 and I hope I get to come back again one day.