Through mud, sweat and possible concussions, four Americans ran (or slid) onto the podium at this year’s Tarawera 102K Ultra on New Zealand’s North Island.
The Tarawera 102K Ultra was the second race in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, making it New Zealand’s most prestigious race and attracting elite athletes internationally. In past editions, the course has been lauded as runnable and scenic, but this year brought new challenges on all fronts.
Organizers expanded and changed the event, adding a 100 Mile Endurance Run, and— for the first time since the race’s creation in 2009— reversing the direction of the 102K course. This move, according to returning competitor and 2015 men’s champion Dylan Bowman, significantly ramped up the difficulty from past years by placing the more hilly and technical terrain in the latter half of the race while also increasing the amount of climbing by 246 meters.
The course reversal was nominal in comparison to the havoc wreaked by a tropical storm that saturated the course with mud and continued to waterlog the runners throughout much of the race. Trail conditions slowed competitors through the already technical second half of the course as they were forced to negotiate slippery, exposed roots and slick mud.
“At the beginning when it was cold and wet and raining. I thought, ‘well, at least it’s not snow,’” said Kelly Wolf, 23, of Telluride, Colorado, on iRunFar.com. “Then, about the middle of the race as I was tromping through mud and slipping and sliding all over the place, I thought, ‘I wish I was back in Telluride and just running in snow.’”
Despite the conditions, the women’s race went well for both Wolf and second-place finisher Amanda Basham, 28, of Logan, Utah. Wolf quickly took the lead with two-time Tarawera champion Ruby Muir, 27, from Napier, New Zealand, and maintained her place unchallenged after Muir dropped back before the 41K aid station. Wolf crossed the finish line at 10 hours 8 minutes, and Basham reeled in second place nine minutes later.
In the men’s race, 2015 Tarawera champion Dylan Bowman, 31, of Mill Valley, California, took off fast with Cody Reed, 26, of Flagstaff, Arizona, New Zealander Sam McCutcheon, 29, and Australian Vlad Shatrov, 39. The pack blasted through the initial flat section together until around the 26K mark, where Bowman, Reed and Shatrov shook McCutcheon by about a minute. The trio stayed together for an additional 25K, where unrelenting trail conditions on the already challenging hill climb after Okataina aid station (58K) finally caused the pack to break up as Shatrov fell behind and Bowman took the lead. “The first half of the race was pretty tame,” says Bowman, “but the second half was pretty extreme.”
Bowman’s strength lies in hill climbing at the end of his races, which played to his advantage on this particular course. “The big climb came after 35 miles of running, and for me that’s where I excel,” says Bowman. “I knew that was going to be my opportunity to get some separation.” He was right, but the conditions took a toll on all of the runners. “I fell probably five times,” he admits. “I’m sure everybody took a couple of face plants.”
Other runners did, in fact, end up eating some mud. During that section, Reed was grinding up the slick trail, head down, when “a tree leaned over the trail, reached out, and slammed into my head,” Reed says.
He went down, “face flat, on my belly, lying in the mud, slightly dazed and thinking, ‘Maybe if I have a concussion, I can drop out and make the pain of running this race go away.’” Taking a moment on the ground, he discovered a chipped tooth, but no injury serious enough to justify a DNF.
“I got up, said to myself, ‘must get to aid station,’ and started running again. It had woken me up a bit as well, which was great,” Reed says, “but I recommend caffeine or cold water to the face rather than bashing your head into a tree.” Recovered, he maintained his place, only losing a few minutes on Bowman.
After changing into fresh shoes at the Blue Lake aid station (81K), Reed caught a second wind and was able to close the gap to nine minutes behind Bowman, finishing strong at 8 hours 36 minutes.
2018 Tarawera 102K Ultra results:
- Kelly Wolf (USA) — 10:08:45
- Amanda Basham (USA) — 10:17:38
- Erika Lori (AU)— 10:53:20
- Dylan Bowman (USA) — 8:27:41
- Cody Reed (USA) — 8:36:34
- Sam McCutcheon (AU) — 8:45:16