A race stacked with international stars was always likely to be intense and fast.

That proved to be the case as visitors dominated the 102km race at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua yesterday.
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Tom Evans, of Great Britain, was in control throughout and paced himself brilliantly through to the line, only just missing the magic eight-hour mark.

"It was just one of those days where everything felt right. The support all around the course was incredible, I couldn't have done this without that.

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"Thanks to the organisers, the volunteers and all the people at the aid stations, they were all incredible. I apologise for the sweaty high fives but thank you so much for all the support, it means so much. Being in New Zealand for three weeks and this is job done."

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The 28-year-old former army captain admitted to a rather dodgy moment on course, but he recovered to get back to his race plan.

"Thankfully there were no cameras around, but I took a pretty serious tumble early on. But I split the race into three or four parts and have a goal for each part. For me the beginning was to chill out and then work on the technical sections and finally see if I could carry it home, and it went to plan."

Evans was over half an hour in front of Mathieu Blanchard, of Canada. USA's Kris Brown was less than a minute further back in third. The effort told on the American as he was whisked straight away to recovery after having nothing in the tank trying to chase down Blanchard.

Runners in the Tarawera Ultramarathon took in the best of Rotorua's scenery. Photo / Tim Bardsley-Smith
Runners in the Tarawera Ultramarathon took in the best of Rotorua's scenery. Photo / Tim Bardsley-Smith

Blanchard loved his day on a stunning course, even if he was a little generous with his description of the forest and bush covered trails.

"I enjoyed the jungle, it was super-nice. I thought we might have a super-hot day but in the jungle you run in the shadow and it was cool, we crossed some rivers and I jumped in at one point, which was very nice."

Pre-race favourite and 100-mile world record holder Zach Bitter (USA) did not have his best day, taking a spill at the 35km mark and then backing off to eventually finish alongside his wife Nicole as she finished the women's race in fourth place.

Debutant Manuela Soccol, of Belgium, stunned the women's field with a brilliant victory that left the former Olympic Games marathoner in tears at the finish.

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"In the beginning I didn't think I could win because the race was so fast, but I was feeling strong and I just risked it all. I have no words to describe this feeling. It is just so phenomenal. I think I proved myself today with this win.

"I tried to enjoy everything and the beautifulness, but it was hard and painful at times. The support was just so great, I couldn't imagine anything better."

Manuela Soccol, of Belgium, celebrates as she crosses the finish line in first place. Photo / Kurt Mathews
Manuela Soccol, of Belgium, celebrates as she crosses the finish line in first place. Photo / Kurt Mathews

Soccol proved too strong for fellow debutant Anne-Marie Madden (US) and Naomi Brand (South Africa).

Brand summed up her challenge perfectly when describing Madden and Soccol.

"Today was amazing for me to be on the podium running against such high-quality athletes, the runner with long legs and the dynamite in a small pocket [Soccol] were just so good today."

Tarawera Ultramarathon 102km Results

Men:

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1st Tom Evans, GBR, 8h 3m 26s (new race record)

2nd Mathieu Blanchard, CAN, 8h 39m 56s

3rd Kris Brown, US, 8h 40m 51s

Women:
1st Manuela Soccol, BEL, 9h 39m 49s
2nd Anne-Marie Madden, US, 9h 52m 42s
3rd Naomi Brand, SAF, 10h 31m 25s