It’s 7 am here in Rotorua and if everything had gone to plan, I’d still be running. I’d hopefully be leaving the Redwoods aid station and completing the last 6 km of my first 100 mile race.
But instead, I’m here, drinking coffee in my pjs on the back deck of an Air Bnb analysing what went wrong. Feeling like a bit of a failure, a bit of a disappointment and just another example of someone who says they are going to do something and then pikes when the going gets a bit too hard.
It didn’t help that there had been so many fits and starts getting to the start line.
I had first signed up to the Tarwera 100 mile in 2018, but got taken out by stress fractures and came to the event on crutches. I was support crew that day, if you could call it that when I couldn’t walk or carry anything. I learnt a lot that day, things I seem to have forgotten in the five years since. Mainly that the idea of running 100 miles is stupid and crazy and I didn’t want to do that.
Two years later, I find myself signing up for the race, chasing that pounamu. In 2021, the pandemic laws meant the race was local entrants only, so my entry got deferred to 2022, which was cancelled completely due to COVID restrictions.
So when 2023 came around and it seemed like it was all systems go, I really put the work in. I did the training, I tested out the gear, I was the bloody poster child for ‘how to train for an ultramarathon’.
But of course, plans are just that and a week out from race week, I got a cold. I think I probably picked it up when I was out getting my traditional taper week nails done. I was sure it was the big C and I did all the tests but they kept coming up negative. So I stopped training, started smashing all the natural remedies I could think of and gave my body as much time as I could to get over it (I would never normally do that, I usually just keep running and apply the above/below the neck rule).
Then, we arrived in New Zealand ( a bit of a miracle in itself considering the airport was under water due to an extreme weather event only a week before) and the race organisers announced a course change. The original one loop, passing around all the lakes and mountains of the Rotorua region and included boat ride across Lake Tarawera, was not possible, with a land slip on the eastern Okataina track being impassable.
The course had to be changed, and it became a multiple loop course, essentially the 50k course twice with an extra bit thrown in after the slip.
Again, a plan is just a plan, and whilst it was disappointing not to be running the course I had planned for (see obsessive spreadsheet of gear in drop bags, timing charts etc) there were pros and cons to the new course. I was also only planning on doing it once so I didn’t really care if my time wasn’t going to be directly comparable to previous years (they never usually are anyway, weather and course conditions make such an impact on times).
The race was due to start at 4am at Lake Okataina, the new start line. Runners were to catch buses from either a local rugby field near the start or from Rotorua central. There were a few hiccups with the buses and the start was postponed to 4:20am.
I was strangely calm and non shalante at the start. I wasn’t nervous (which is my usual vibe, I would normally give my left tit to get out of doing whatever I signed up for) or excited. I just was. I was going to run from checkpoint to checkpoint, that was my plan, that was how I was going to survive.
The Tarawera Ultramarathons always kick of with a traditional Maori haka and then we were off up a road and into a section of what I’m sure during the day is stunning forest single track. With 600 odd runners starting the 100 mile, there was always going to be congestion heading into the track (more on the size of this event another day).
I wasn’t stressed by the pace, also a new for me, usually this sort of thing stresses me out and frustrates the hell out of me. But I wasn’t in a hurry and it was probably faster than I should have been going anyway. It turned out it wasn’t congestion, it was someone going a lot slower than everyone else who probably should have seeded themselves a bit further to the back.
Once I got around them, I was essentially by myself and cruised towards the Blue Lake Aid Station. My left bum cheek started hurting around then, maybe around the 22k mark. It wasn’t that bad at all, just an ache, nothing out of the ordinary, I figured it would go away.
I shuffled, run walking and making my way to the checkpoint which was chaos as it was also the start of the 21km race. My butt hurt but it hurt more to walk than run, so I just kept running, I was there for a running race after all.
From Blue Lake it was off to the Redwoods, a section that was a lot harder than I anticipated and quite technical in spots. It was fun to chat to a few folks but it was clear my leg was getting worse. The pain was sharp now, stabbing into the side of my hip when I walked, radiating around the front of my hip and quad. If a shuffled with a shorter gate it seemed to help but the walking was a no go as was any bombing down stairs.
The aid stations were so chaotic with so many spectators and crew that it made them a bit hard to navigate. I wanted to get in and out as soon as possible. But as usual the volunteers were on point and so helpful. The Tarawera Buffet aid stations were also in full force.
I really struggled in the heat on the Sulfur flats. It was open and exposed and runners from the 21km race were everywhere. You couldn’t exactly go round them either with boiling hot volcanic water on each side.
I was struggling both physically and emotionally coming out of the Village Green checkpoint. I knew I had two laps to finish, 120k still to go. I’m used to struggling, that’s the nature of the sport, so I kept telling me it would all pass and to keep moving forward. Just keep moving forward. Don’t stop and have a pity party on a rock, walking and crying is more efficient!
As I came into the checkpoint at 55km, I wanted to pull out. I couldn’t run now, I couldn’t walk without a limp. People were passing me left right and centre and offering me all sorts of random advice.
From unsolicited medical advice ranging from stretching, getting a massage in the medical tent or walking it out to offering me a wide range of drugs, I heard all sorts of things from other runners. Everyone was super kind, “you good?”, “you ok?” etc. People offered me lollies and one bloke even offered me one of his poles.
It all changed when I said I thought I was done though. “Oh no you’ll still make the cut offs, you have heaps of time”, “just walk it out”, “take some pain killers”.
It started to seem insane. I’ve done enough races to know the difference between good pain and bad pain, soreness from running a long way to actual doing damage. I was walking, logging 13 min/km, and I was only 60km in to a a 162km race.
Were these people actually nuts?
Running isn’t just about races, getting to the finish line at all costs is frankly stupid. I don’t care what bloody Goggins says. I’m not able to literally break myself so I can say that I “ran” 100 miles because I wouldn’t have. I would have hobbled, injured, and probably ruined my body for god knows how long for the sake of a brag or ego or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted that brag, I hated the fact that I would have to tell everyone following that I didn’t make it, that I wasn’t good enough, strong enough etc and that I didn’t achieve my goal.
But it just wasn’t my day and it wasn’t meant to be.
I took Panadol when I got back to the accomodation which seemed to help a bit, so maybe the damage wasn’t as bad as I thought and I should have just taken a painkiller and kept going but that’s not really my thing, I’ve never taken a pain killer in a race. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Do people routinely do this? It’s meant to hurt.
I can go through all the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve all I like, it’s done now. I can’t change it, I can only learn from it, but that a post for another day.
Thank you to everyone who sent me a message on Instagram after the race. You all said I made the right call, no one told me I should have just sucked it up. Lots of people reiterated the importance of listening to your body and there being another race to aim for a look forward to. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the support.
So whilst I still feel like an epic failure and I’m sad that I came all this way to go home empty handed, having not achieved what I set out to, I’m sure there is some lesson to be learnt here, there always is. I’ll let you all know when I work it out.
One thought on “Time to call it: another DNF Tarawera 100 mile”
Ah no, gutted for you! Definitely the right call, but I feel your DNF pain. Had a similar experience at a 💯 last year. Different injury, same result. Don’t beat yourself up, shit happens on these races as you know. Good luck with the recovery.