Tarawera Ultra 2012

Having had time to sit back, reflect and soak it all in, it is time to share my 2012 Tarawera Ultra Marathon experience. Having often used the excuse of ultra running to take me to new parts of the world, I was excited by what was in store for me in the beautiful Bay of Plenty region in the North Island of New Zealand. The course itself took in 100kms of beautiful trail between Rotorua and Kawerau, following a beautiful river and passing through exotic forestry, native bush, lakes and waterfalls (www.taraweraultra.co.nz).

The team behind the race, headed by the tireless Paul Charteris, leave no stone unturned and have put it well and truly on the international calendar. In true Kiwi style, everyone was made to feel welcome with a down to earth and friendly atmosphere. The volunteers rocked and the food on the course was spot on.


My journey to the Tarawera Ultra kicked off last September when I visited our dear friends Jon & Vicki in Auckland. It was there as a friend I experienced the impact that Multiple Sclerosis has on the individual and their loved ones. It was a real eye opener and I wanted to do my little bit to help. Not surprisingly, I managed to incorporate ultra running into my plan, and combine it with a great cause. As I knew that Jon & Vicki were moving to Melbourne, I got in touch with MS Australia and talked to the very helpful and passionate Julie about my plan to run Tarawera and raise money for Jon. Little did I know what amazing support I would receive along the way – to be able to raise over $1500 made the experience all that more rewarding and enriching.

After years of talking about it I was determined to focus on a more holistic approach to my training. Overall I think I did ok on this front – my diet was ok throughout, I stayed away (most of the time!) from drinking too much beer, and made sure I got plenty of sleep. For me though one of the biggest positives was finding Crossfit King and meeting trainers/friends Jimmy and April. Crossfit challenged me on many levels both mentally and physically – it was engaging and fun and most importantly I got to be part of a supportive community. I also had the support and guidance of John Pearson (my online coach who I highly recommend), an accomplished ultra runner and all-round good bloke.

On reflection, the turning point and defining moment in my build up to Tarawera was taking part in the Fats Festive Fatass, an annual 48km run in the Brisbane Forest Park held two days after Christmas. Carrying a bit of extra weight and running in the QLD heat made for a tough morning, but it proved to a be a good test and kicked off the campaign in style. The stars must have been aligned as I went through the training block with no injuries and my motivation was consistently high. Other than my build up to the Knee Knacker Trail Race in 2008, this was my best build up to date.

The days leading up to a race are a special time; there is that sense of excitement, anticipation and satisfaction in having made to the starting line. With that in mind, Tanya and I arrived in Rotorua on the Thursday to maximise the experience and were joined by my parents who made the journey north from Christchurch to experience their first ultra. The trail running festival kicked off that evening with a 7.5km fun run on beautiful single trails in the Redwoods, followed by the New Zealand premiere of “Unbreakable – The Western States 100“. One of the stars of the film, Anton Krupicka, was in town so I grabbed the opportunity to have my photo taken with him. All in all I was in ultra-running heaven.

Friday was spent driving around to the aid stations reachable by car – a good chance to get a glimpse of what was in store for the next day, and I liked what I saw. It was great for my support crew to get an idea of distances, time, directions etc and make race day that little less stressful. We finished the day at the race headquarters at the Holiday Inn, doing the registration thing and having a browse at the expo, then home for a light meal and to get the kit ready for race day.

Arriving with plenty of time to spare, we joined fellow runners and their crews converging on the Redwoods, making up the largest and deepest field ever assembled at the Tarawera Ultra. The start line of an ultra is always abuzz with nervous chatter, last minute gear checks, and plenty of love and goodwill in the air.

The gun could not go off soon enough and I quickly settled into a pace I was comfortable with (ie, not that fast!). I had a time in my head that I wanted to achieve but did not want that to take away from the experience by obsessing too much early on. The first 60km of the race took in stunning trails through shady native kiwi bush and lakeside views to die for. I ran some sections with other runners, but a lot was on my own and at my own pace. Overall I was running within myself and constantly reminding myself that there was still a long way to go.

At the 60km mark runners left the Tarawera Falls Track and entered the Kawerau Forest. We were now on forestry tracks, a lot which were runnable, so I started making deals with myself, if I ran for a 1km I could then walk for a minute. This worked some of the time, but I probably walked more than I should have. I caught up with a runner I had met earlier in the day, only problem was it took me a while to realise that and I probably asked him the same questions I had earlier. I felt like a complete dill when I realised this but luckily Graham forgave me and we ran together into Titoki Road aid station (69km mark). This is where he, along with the other 85k runners, turned for home and the 100km runners went in the opposite direction. Mentally this was a tough moment, but it was never an option for me to do the 85km, so I didn’t hang around to0 long. By this stage the runners had thinned out and I found myself alone with no others in sight. This is when mentally I had to start digging deep and keep positive. I thought a lot of Jon and how passionate he is about running, how he would give anything to be out on the trails but unfortunately was unable to due to MS. This made my situation pale into insignificance … I had no right to feel sorry for myself!

I think the defining moment of the race for me was completing the loop of despair, a tough 5km loop at the 78km mark. I was feeling pretty shattered and flat as I started the killer 2km climb up a goat track, but knew it was the last real tough section of the race. After the loop, it felt like I was on the homeward stretch and I picked up both mentally and physically. The homeward stretch was 17-18km of very runnable forest roads and I clicked off the k’s in my head to the beep of my Garmin, firstly into Fisherman’s Bridge to see my support crew and then the 10km to the finish line. At the bridge, I left my pack with Tanya and started the final stretch feeling pumped and running strong.

I was a bit surprised at how good I felt in the final stretch and the k’s seemed to fly by. I had a couple of moments where I was hit by a wave of emotion and even a few tears, which you never see coming! About 3km out I ran into friend and race photographer Paul Petch, which was a real buzz. He was able to run with me for a few hundred metres and get a couple of shots, impressive stuff. To have Tanya and my parents at the finish line was a special moment and one I will always savour.

I stopped the clock at 13hrs 11 minutes, just over my goal time and overall am happy with how it all came together.

It takes the support of friends and family to achieve your goals and dreams and I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing people. To my beautiful wife Tanya, thank you for your encouragement, patience and love. To Mum & Dad, thank you for everything and it was so special to have you both in Rotorua to share the experience. To Jon, Vicki and family, you are a source of constant inspiration and we think you guys rock. To everyone that donated to MS Australia and sent messages of support along the way, a sincere thanks and it all made for an experience that I will cherish for a long time to come.

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2 Responses

  1. Mate, so stoked for you, congrats on what was an outstanding run and solid campaign. We need to either; a, get you back over here for a run some day (Meet your Maker 50 in September?) or b, get me over there for something. Still wanna do coast to coast?

  2. congrats Campbell, great race and nice write up and all the better for raising funds for such a great cause. I agree with Pricey but lets go for option (a) – come back over here! Hope you are recovering well and splurged on some post race beers! All the best to Tanya too x

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