Tarawera Ultra has echoes of the past

By Vicki Woolley

Trail winds through lush landscapes of historical and traditional significance
Jonas Buud will swap running in snow in his native Sweden for Rotorua's pristine trails at the Tarawera Ultramarathon.
Jonas Buud will swap running in snow in his native Sweden for Rotorua's pristine trails at the Tarawera Ultramarathon.

The sport of trail running is almost as old as the hills themselves - most indigenous cultures practised running in their natural environments.

From the Tarahumara "Raramuri" of northern Mexico to the formidable Kalenjin Kenyans, those fleet of foot were sent as scouts, messengers and hunters. Maori were no exception.

Starting in Rotorua, the 100km Tarawera Ultramarathon winds its way through many areas of historical and traditional interest to Kawerau, and event organiser Paul Charteris is acutely sensitive to this.

"The Tarawera Ultra is a time to celebrate our ancestors. Sacred and significant Maori cultural sites are visited by our runners during the event. Legend has it that trail running is no new phenomenon and in fact Maori have been doing it in this region for centuries."

Fittingly, the eighth running of the event takes place on Waitangi Day, a day of significance to all New Zealanders.

Te Puia Board member Ken Raureti has watched Charteris and race director Tim Day take the event from strength to strength.

"The trail goes through our land. Rotorua is the birthplace of tourism; we have a history and culture of welcoming visitors.

"There is a real buzz about the event: as landowners, we realise showcasing our lands and our heritage creates relationship and business opportunities for everyone."

Tarawera Ultramarathon has become New Zealand's most iconic trail-running event, not least because it is on the 2016 Ultra-Trail World Tour - a series of the 12 most prestigious ultra-running races in the world. Charteris is proud and humbled by this.

"The fact we are part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour has cemented our profile on the world stage and recognises what a unique trail and overall experience we have created."

Of the 1300 participants expected at the start line, more than 400 international competitors will represent 39 different countries.

IAAF 2016 100km world champion Jonas Buud is excited at the opportunity to explore an area that is startlingly different from his home environment in Sweden

"I saw video footage [of the event] and thought it looked tremendous. The spectacular views and pristine environment, it just looked like a really great race and different to what I usually run.

"The heat will be the biggest challenge for me, having come from minus 25 degrees and 50 centimetres of snow in Sweden, but the distance and course is perfect."

Other elite men chasing Dylan Bowman's 2015 100km course record of 7:44:47 include Jason Sclarb, Ford Smith and Mike Wardian from the US; South Africa's Ryan Sandes; Yoshikazu Hara (JPN); David Byrne (AUS) and Kiwi Vajin Armstrong.

Defending women's champion and record holder (9:02:45) Ruby Muir (NZ) will be challenged for the win by American Heather Anderson and fellow Kiwis Jo Johansen and Fiona Hayvice.

The race programme spans the better part of a week with a cruise on Lake Tarawera, fun-run rogaine, hilarious elite athlete Q+A and official powhiri creating an unforgettable experience for participants and supporters alike.

Race day starts pre-dawn among the ancient Rotorua redwoods with a traditional Maori kapa haka performance to bid participants farewell and good luck. Runners then head for the finish line at Kawerau over a course that embraces a variety of terrain: breath-taking waterfalls, lush native forest, crystal-clear streams and ever-changing views of four lovely lakes.

Steeped in Maori culture, the Tarawera Ultramarathon is a celebration of New Zealand on its national day, Waitangi Day.

Tarawera Ultramarathon

What: 60km, 85km and 100km off-road run
When: Saturday, February 6
Where: Rotorua
For more information: www.taraweraultra.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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