It was described as the toughest conditions in the race’s history, and ioCrew member Sputnik struggled through it, in his ioMerino of course, and is ready to give us the inside scoop on what it took to get through this year’s Tarawera Ultra Marathon.
By Sputnik, ioCrew Member

A few years back I ran the 100km course at the Tarawera Ultra and had a really good day out. The weather was good, my body held up well, and I had a blast. This year was basically exactly the opposite! I went in thinking I’d take it a bit easy and just tackle the 60km course, but as it turned out it was super lucky I decided up front to ‘only’ run the 60 as I doubt very much I would have made it through the 100! Considering only 316 of the 623 people who entered the 100 made it to the finish line, my chances would have been 50/50 at best!

I don’t personally mind running in the rain and have run races and trained in all sorts of conditions – even hail storms. That’s the beauty of having great cold weather gear like my ioMerino – the conditions really don’t matter so much. But I’ve never run a 60km race in the rain, and when you add water to the equation for that length of time, the amount of variables increases dramatically – and so do the number of things that can go wrong.

It rained right from the get go, so I needed to think long and hard about what I was going to wear. In the pre-sunrise start I knew it was going to be reasonably cool, but the forecast was for milder weather later, so rather than rug up early then mess about de-layering along the way, I opted for the Altitude Tank and hoped it would keep me warm enough until the temperature went up a little. Thankfully it did exactly that, even though it was wet right through within the first 15 minutes.Anyone who’s ever run in the wet, will know chafing can also be a pretty serious issue – especially over longer periods of time. So I’m happy to report that even though I was soaking wet for a very long time, much longer than expected even, my top stayed super soft and comfortable and I had 0% issues with uncomfortable rubbing or chafing. Which, considering the other things I had to put up with, was one less thing to worry about. The same with my socks – the ioMerino Multi Sport Socks did exactly what they were supposed to do and kept my feet so comfortable I had no problems what so ever with blisters even though my wet feet looked a lot like shrivelled prunes by the end of the day having been wet for so long. While my gear held up beautifully, the same couldn’t be said for the trails, or my body.

The trail itself had taken an absolute battering from the elements in the days leading up to the race, and by the time I got there and a few hundred people had already gone through, it was basically one big, slippery, mud pit. I’m pretty slow going up hill and usually rely on making up time on the flats and downhills, but that wasn’t going to be the case on race day as we were all doing our best just to keep our feet. I took a few light slips and spills early on, but it was the triple somersault with half pike I did at the 40k mark that really brought me unstuck. I was trying to push on downhill and must have missed a rock or tree root in the churned up mud and caught my foot big time. There was no recovering from that and I went flying, making a very hard landing, and coming up with muddy and bloody knees and hands. I suppose, in retrospect, it could have been a lot worse. And it did get worse, although not because I couldn’t stay upright.

When you’re running 60kms of trails, it’s fairly important you keep your body fuelled and hydrated along the way – even if you don’t feel like eating or drinking. And race day delivered 90+% humidity so staying well hydrated in the steamy conditions was critical. I don’t usually have any issues in this department and am happy to take on plenty of food and drink as I go. But on race day, I started feeling quite ill really early on – around the 20km mark. So by the time I got to the back half of the race I’d slowed to a crawl. Almost literally at times, doubled over and needing to throw up. I’m not the fastest runner at the best of times, but when it got to the point I could barely even walk let alone run, I’ll admit I seriously considered pulling out and calling it a day. I’m not there to walk, so I genuinely questioned whether finishing was that important if I was going to end up walking more than half the race.

For some reason, probably because I’m stubborn, crazy, and really wanted that awesome finisher’s medal, I pushed on, even though it was easily one of the least enjoyable races I’ve ever run. I’d gone in hoping I could knock it over in around 8-8.5 hours and after a strong first half I thought I might be well on track for that despite the terrible conditions. When my stomach went, and then my acrobatics slowed me down a bit more, I realised there was no way I was going to get close. Without about 6kms to go I managed to pick the pace back up to a bit of a shuffle hoping I could at least bring it in under 10hrs. I’d walked far too many runnable sections though and having not eaten anything for hours, it was going to be a big ask feeling the way I did. Eventually I crossed the line 10:02 after I started. I’d missed my goal time by a long way, and not quite made my revised goal time either, but I’d finished.

As the race organisers said after the race, “‘Tough’ was the word we heard over and over again, followed by ‘wet’, ‘muddy’, and ‘Oh my God I am so glad to be finished’”. And there’ll be no arguments from me in that department. (My training buddy Sarah bashed out the 100km deposit having a tough day also, so huge props to her as well!).

At times like this, it’s always difficult to know exactly how to feel. On one hand, I was disappointed I’d had such a rough day and not really enjoyed myself along the way on such a beautiful course. On the other, I was grateful to have finished at all. It was only a few weeks later when I saw the official race stats that I realised just how grateful I should be.

148 of the 100km runners downgraded their distance on the day and ran the 60 or 85 instead. (More than 100 of them didn’t even make it to the starting line!) And even though my time was way off what I’d been hoping for, I still managed to finish well inside the top half (124th of 323 finishers) of a field that ended up with almost 100 extra runners in it! And I got my fancy medal!

Sputnik wore:

Altitude Tank

Multi Sport Socks

Highpoint Necktube

Altitude Long Sleeve Zip (carried in case of emergency).

You can follow the rest of Sputnik’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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