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Race Report: Tarawera Ultramarathon 102k

My Race in Rotorua, New Zealand: The Complete Story.

Join me on this blog post as I take you through my journey of participating in an ultra-trail running race. From my preparation on race day to the challenges I faced and the valuable lessons I learned, I'll be sharing my experience with you.

05:30am - Getting In The Zone - 3h30 Before The Start

On the day of the race, I woke up feeling fresh and energetic after getting a good 7-hour sleep - a rare occurrence for me before a race. I have a specific routine that I follow on race day, which starts with a 30-minute breathing exercise in bed to help my body deal with negative stressors as well as focus on my goals for the day. Next, I do 5 minutes of muscle awakenings with elastic bands before heading to the kitchen to have my usual breakfast of 150g of oats, chia seeds, and nuts.

I then put on my lucky charm outfit, which consists of the same t-shirt, jumper, and trousers that I wear before every race. With my headset on, I tune in to my "Race Day" playlist, which I only listen to on race days, to get myself pumped up and excited.

After breakfast, I prepare a 75cl water bottle with electrolytes, a drink which I will consume over the next 3 hours to help prevent cramps at the beginning of the race. As I head to the race location with my friend Augustin, I keep my headset on, preferring to stay in my bubble rather than socialising with other athletes. We arrive an hour before the race starts and immerse ourselves in the atmosphere. 30 minutes before the start we practice a gentle warm-up and stretching routine to ensure that we are fully prepared to give our best.

08:45am - The Haka - 5min Before The Start

As the race is about to begin, something magical happens. The local Maori tribe members, dressed in traditional attire, gather in front of the starting line and start performing the Haka, a ceremonial dance. I’m mesmerised by the display of strength, grace, and passion. At the end of the ritual, the tribe's chief delivers a heartfelt speech, welcoming us to their lands and reminding us that we would be carrying the souls of our loved ones, both alive and dead, with us during the race. The atmosphere is charged with a sense of reverence, and all the athletes have goosebumps. Something I won’t forget.

08:50am - The Fight Begins

Augustin and I are off to a promising start, positioning ourselves amongst what seems to be the first few hundreds runners. The beginning of the race is intense, consisting of a gruelling 5km uphill stretch with an elevation gain of almost 500m. To keep up with the top contenders, I join a group of about 10 runners, all of whom are setting a blistering pace. Though I’m not sure if it’s the best strategy, my competitive spirit refuse to let anyone pass me by without a fight. It’s a war, and I’m determined to come out on top.

After 45 minutes of relentless climbing, I finally reach the top of the hill and prepare myself to tackle the steep descent. My poles come in handy, and my legs aren't feeling as sore as I have anticipated. Capitalising on this, I decide to increase my pace on the downhill stretch, determined to maintain my momentum until the first aid station, which is still an hour away.

At that point, I’m not sure of my standing in the race, but, despite the pain from in my left knee vivid due to a recent ITBS, I know one thing for sure - I feel super positive! I arrive at the first aid station, grab a sandwich, fill my water bottles, and leave as quickly as I arrived.

12:22pm - Flying Like A Bird - 32km

As I enter the final uphill stretch in the lush green jungle before heading to a 15km flat section, I realise that I still feel amazing. My hydration and nutrition plan have been spot on, and my legs are as strong as ever. To top it off, I'm overtaking other competitors left and right. Little did I know, I was already ranked 125 out of the 776 participants. As I begin another downhill section, I put my poles away and decide to give it my all, just as Augustin had taught me. The only problem is that this part of the course is quite technical and packed with other runners doing the 20k and 50k races. I clear my throat and start yelling at the top of my lungs, "ON YOUR RIGHT!!! ON YOUR RIGHT!!!" It works like magic, and I see my fellow runners making way for me. I feel like Moses parting the Red Sea. An exhilarating feeling. When I arrive at the next aid station, I take a few moments to catch my breath, eat some food, fill my water bottles, and hit the road again. I want to make the most of this energy because I have no idea what lies ahead.

03:07pm - Welcome To Hell - 58km

And now it's happening… I'm crashing. The sun is high up in the sky, my legs are wobbling, and I feel like I could pass out at any moment. I have trained for this moment and this is where my mindset takes over. I know it's only temporary, or at least I hope so. I make a deal with myself - I will run downhill, walk uphill, and when it's flat, I'll get to choose what to do. But, no matter what, I will keep moving. When you're experiencing extreme weakness, your perception of time and distance changes, and it becomes a true mind-game. The best thing I can do is to be patient and stick to my hydration and nutrition strategy. Stay strong brother!

05:32pm - Back To Life - 73km

2 endless hours later, after resting for 10 minutes at the aid station, devouring 3 slices of chocolate brownie and a handful of crisps, my energy levels start to increase. This gives me a much-needed mental boost and I begin to feel powerful once again. The sun is setting gently, and the air temperature is dropping, making it slightly easier to move forward. With 30km left and 14km until the next aid station, I run along the banks of Lake Rotokakahi, taking in the scenic views and filling my spirit up with the energy of the environment. 80 minutes later, I reach the aid station at the beach of Lake Tikitapu, surprised at how good I feel. The many volunteers are rushing around, bringing me fresh water and food as I take a seat on a lake-view chair. Accessing my third and final drop-bag (bags filled with your personal stuff that organisers bring to critical aid stations), I find an unexpected cream cheese and ham sandwich ready to be smashed. What a life I'm living! I get back on track, ready to attack the last technical part, consisting of the final uphill and downhill sections of the race.

08:39pm - What If? - 97km

In this last technical section, I continue overtaking other runners and feel the adrenaline pumping as they verbally express their appreciation for my running form. This is the beauty of ultra running - the competitive aspect doesn't overshadow the support and encouragement from fellow athletes. Reaching the final aid station, I engage in a chat with a volunteer who hands me a shot of electrolytes. As a joke, he asks me if I'm going to sprint for the last stretch. I laugh and reply, "I might, yeah." Exiting the aid station, I walk and savour the last bite of my delicious sandwich. I check my watch and realise that if I actually start sprinting now, I can reach the finish line in under 12h30. Game on. With only 7km left to go, my legs feel strong and I decide to make the final deal of the day - I will go as hard as I can until the end. I put my poles back in their case, like an archer placing his arrows in his quiver, and increase my pace. I need to finish the job.

09:15pm - Deal Done - 104km

As the finish line comes into view, I feel a surge of energy despite the intense exhaustion I had experienced earlier. Just so I don’t forget that limitations are only in our minds. Glancing at my watch, I see that I'm on track to meet my goal time. Ahead, I spot two runners who I thought would be my last preys of the day. I push myself to catch up, but despite my best efforts, they remain out of reach. Well done boys. I smile and take it as a humbling reminder that there's always room for improvement. Eventually, I ease up and soak in the final 500 meters, basking in the cheers from the crowd. As I cross the finish line, I see that I've made it in 12 hours and 25 minutes. It’s over, finally. Life is beautiful.


Feb 19, 2023

Beautifully written, thank you for sharing your racing experience! Way to push through and who knew a cream cheese ham sandwich could make one so happy?


Feb 19, 2023

Really enjoyed this read Arthur and big kudos for such a strong race!

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