Marathon: World's enduro running greats flock to Rotorua

By Peter Thornton

When the going gets tough, the tough turn up to race - the Tarawera Ultra is now a magnet for the stars

Hopes are high for the unbeaten Ruby Muir (right) of Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland
Hopes are high for the unbeaten Ruby Muir (right) of Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland

Paul Charteris, race director of the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon, cannot believe his luck. A field of some of the finest ultra-runners in the world is expected for the annual race next Saturday.

"It's like organising a local bicycle race and having half of the Tour de France peloton show up for the ride," said Charteris. "It's humbling - and frankly, scary."

The 100km Tarawera Ultra is a ridiculously long-distance running race on some of the most beautiful trails in the North Island, with magnificent bush tracks and forestry roads from Rotorua to Kawerau.

It is one of the world's toughest endurance running races and is the brainchild of Charteris. The Rotorua event organiser started the Tarawera Ultra five years ago, and for many of the world's best off-road distance runners it has quickly become a "must-do" on their global calendar.

"The 2013 Tarawera Ultra will be the most competitive long-distance running event in New Zealand since the 1990 Commonwealth Games marathon," said Charteris.

"The race sold out months ago and the 430-strong field is stacked with the world's best. The winners of nearly every major international ultra-marathon race will be on the start-line."

A lot of top Kiwi runners will also be in the field to defend local honour.

"The ultra-racing world is keen to see how 21-year-old Ruby Muir from Napier will handle the distance. She's unbeaten, including winning her first ultra-distance run when she stormed away from the field at the 2012 60km Kepler Challenge in Te Anau."

Muir is expected to receive stiff competition from Dunedin's Anna Frost, widely regarded as the world's top female trail-runner last year.

Frost's Salomon Racing teammates, Emelie Forsberg from Sweden and Candice Burt from the United States, will also be on the start line, with Australian Beth Cardelli.

Cardelli won the last eight events she entered in her home country.

The top of the men's field is a fleet-footed freight train of long-distance talent. Mick Donges from Katoomba, Australia is back to defend last year's Tarawera title against Christchurch's Vajin Armstrong.

The Kiwi finished second over the 100km distance in the past two years and is keen to go one better.

Colorado-based runner Anton Krupicka, who ran a relay leg at Tarawera last year, has already fired a warning shot, posting online that he's coming back to New Zealand for the win.

"This year, I'm looking forward to the technical trail between Humphries Bay and Tarawera Falls most of all," said Krupicka.

Other top runners to watch will be Brendan Davies, Australia's ultra-runner of the year, and Timothy Olson, Jason Schlarb, Rickey Gates and Sage Canaday from the US.

Francios D'haene and Greg Vollet, from France, will lead the European contingent.

Olson and D'haene won the two biggest races in the world last year; Olson, the Western States 100-mile [160km] Endurance Run in California in record time, and D'haene the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc title in his home country against more than 2000 runners.

Canaday throws some freakish speed into the mix - a 2:16 marathoner, he has recently switched to ultra-distance racing and recently became the United States 100km trail champion.

Rotorua is renowned for hosting a number of international sporting events. In 2006, the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championship were in Rotorua and the Single Speed World Champs were held in the Whakarewarewa Forest in 2010.

"A beautiful environment and superb athletes - it really is a recipe for a fabulous day of racing," enthuses Charteris. " It will be a big week for the region."

Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon

When: Saturday, March 16
Where: Rotorua to Kawerau, Bay of Plenty
Event options: 60km, 85km or 100km running distances.

Facts about the race:

• 430 runners from 20 countries.

• The inaugural race in 2009 included 67 runners from four countries.

• This is the fifth Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon.

• Runners pass through exotic forestry, native bush, lakes, waterfalls and follow the beautiful river.

• Most of the run is on single-track trails or forestry roads.

• Runners can compete as solo athletes or in a relay team.

• There will be buffet aid stations, drop bags, pacers, spot prizes and free hot pools for competitors.

- NZ Herald

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