I knew it would be scenic, I knew it would be challenging and I knew it would be fun and it was all that.
The fun started at the airport in Brisbane where a small group of River City Runners assembled ready to board a flight to the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand. It’s a short but pleasant flight to Auckland and the 1st challenge was getting on the road and moving toward Rotorua. It was the start of a long weekend in New Zealand with a holiday to celebrate Waitangi Day on the Friday and an accident on the motorway did not assist. Nevertheless, with some patience we were soon moving freely and well on our way to Rotorua. We arrived, checked in, and settled for the evening before it was dark. I love daylight saving.
On arriving at the Holiday Inn, the race headquarters for the weekend where race registration, briefings and the like were to be held a large sign was being erected with an image I had become familiar with in as a result of official race communications. On close inspection I could see that every registered participants name was on the image and I easily found mine.
The following morning (Friday 6th February) we slept in, enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast and then headed off on foot to Te Puia a living Maori cultural centre and home to the world famous Pohutu geyser, mud pools, hot springs and more. The official welcome to the Rotorua Ultramarathon was conducted here and athletes, officials and supporters were all welcomed in the traditional style of the people of the Te Arawa tribe onto the marae (meeting house). It is an honour to be welcomed in this manner and the ceremony was well attended. Afterwards we enjoyed a walk around the Pohutu geyser and grounds at Te Puia and marveled at the wonders.
Finally it was time to race. We woke up early and dressed. Tim and I met our Brisbane friends and carpooled to the start in the Redwood Forest. The weather was cool and even cooler in the Redwood Forest but we huddled together enjoying the atmosphere at the race start and observed people arriving and going through their pre race rituals. I spotted my Australian 100km team mate Chris Truscott on the start line. We had a quick chat, he went on to have a great run finishing 8th in the 100km in a talented international field.
Finally the countdown starts and we are off following the glow sticks through the dark forest. The ground is soft underfoot and I run along settling into an easy pace taking care in the dark. People seem to stream past me but I am not bothered, 100km is a long way and not everyone here is running that far.
We pop out of the forest after about 4km and it is now light. I drop my headlamp in the tub provided I won’t need it again today.
There is some fairly good running for the 1st few sections and before long we come to the 1st aid station. I cruise through I have plenty of water and I am carrying my nutrition in the form of Gu gels and I don’t need anything. There is however a great spread of food at each aid station which is tempting.
The scenery is amazing, earlier while we were still in the forest we could see the lights of Rotorua and the lake from one vantage point. Then we skirt the Blue Lake and run along the side of the Tarawera Road and the first section of technical trail. I passed quickly through the first few aid stations but stop to restock with gels and electrolytes at 37km the Okataina Lodge checkpoint where I have my first drop bag. I feel pretty good and set off at a good pace again but I am soon slowed down by the technical nature of the terrain and trip on an tree root.
After about 40km I start to feel tired, I am running with a couple of other guys who are happy to follow me I had asked if they wanted to pass and the said no. We scramble over trees that have fallen across the trail and I almost slip off the side of the trail in one spot. I fall again quite hard losing my sunglasses and I am a little shaken up this time. One of the gentlemen stops to help me up retrieved my sunglasses and asks if I am okay. I say I will be fine and tell them to run on. My shoulder is a little sore and a walk for a bit letting the guys go ahead and try to pull myself together. I set off running again a little slower now and try to focus on the trail and pickup up my feet. We descend into a gully and the rocks and trees and tree ferns tower up around me on either side. It’s quite a scramble and I worry I have lost the trail, I am still following markers but I haven’t seen trail marking tape for a while. Another runner comes along and we work out we are indeed going the right way and marvel again at the scenery.
Now I just look forward to making it to 60km where I know my husband Tim will be waiting having finished his run. I wonder how we went and how he found the technical terrain. This spurs me on and I pick up the pace on the easier terrain. We are following a river and I see a waterfall and run on. Then another one, water is cascading out of the rocks out of a cliff off to my right. It stops me in my tracks. I run on and I am stopped again to look at a larger more impressive waterfall. There are walkers on the trail and they are very courteous. I thank them as they step aside to let me pass and one lot actually thank me.
I finally reach the 60km aid station. I pick up a banana from the aid tables and spot Tim and ask him how he went. My Brisbane friend Leith is there waiting for her husband Mal and other runners from our club and so is Mark who’s partner Rose is also running the 100km and he holds up a sign that says “Go River City Runners”. I hand Tim my mobile phone I won’t need it and I think he might be able to post some updates as other friends pass through and run off. I look around for the port a loo it seems to far out of my way and I have to also cross a barrier and the need is not urgent and I figure I can use the bushes when and if it does indeed become urgent.
I head off knowing the terrain is now more runnable and that most of the climbing and big hills are behind me. I feel pretty good spurred on after seeing some familiar faces. I wonder how everyone behind me that I know, is finding it. I can’t wait to hear their stories. A little while later I am guided around a turn and the official kindly tells me I am the 15th female. While this is great to hear I don’t know how many of them are relay runners or only running 85km so my exact place in the field is still a mystery to me. Nevertheless all I can do is keep on running. Before long I spot another female and surge knowing I will catch her and move up in the field. It is Jo Johansen last years surprise winner, she is no doubt doing it tough walking and running at this point. I slow to chat as I pass her and ask how she is doing. She explains it’s been a rough day and she has fallen over. I tell her I have too, wish her well and run on. From this point on I pretty much run down others in the field. I turn left at Titoki the aid station at 71km where I have my last drop bag and commit to running 100km and encounter what is affectionately known as the loop of despair. A 5km loop with a hill most walk up and then some sweet downhill on the road which I run hard. On entering the loop I spot fellow Queensland ultra athlete Anderson Moquiuti heading out which means he is only about 30 minutes ahead of me. I call out and we high five I ask how he’s going and he says it hurts. We both run on with determination. I come across a few others finishing their loop of despair as I am starting it and one female says ‘enjoy that’. I have no idea what to expect but soon realise I am up for a bit of uphill walking. I enjoy the break from hard running and walk with purpose on the terrain much of which is soft pine needles under foot.
I pass through the Awaroa aid station again after finishing my loop of despair. It really wasn’t that bad and settle into an easy running pace still chasing down others in the field mostly men but pick off a few women as well. I reach Fisherman’s Bridge with just 10k to go. I tell a guy looking a little tired that ‘he’s got this, you can finish now’. Not long after the checkpoint I come across another fellow Queenslander and River City Runner Chris Jacobson, he’s surprised I’m not in front of him. He says go on but I tell him we have about 10km to go and we can finish this together. We run on chatting amicably ticking off the kilometres running steadily along the fire roads through the forest. We reach the River Road checkpoint which is better known as the Pink Checkpoint. All volunteers and the checkpoint too are dressed in pink. I slurp down some coke and water or some ginger beer or both. I accept a bit of a cool sponge bath from a volunteer, the cool water on my neck and shoulders and arms is a relief and I run on. I call out to Chris to come on, he says he will walk and eat a bun he had picked up and will catch me up. He never did catch me but he did say later than he really enjoyed that bun.
Finally I anticipate the finish line. Not before having to climb a set of stairs onto the pipe bridge to cross the river and then down the stairs again. I feel okay and run on, I ask people dotted along the final kilometre of the course which way, how far? I getted mixed responses like ‘not far’, ‘ about 400m’, ‘maybe 500m’ but they are all encouraging and finally I finish. Pleased to have made up places over that final 10km, pleased to have a medal around my neck and another visa for my Ultra Trail World Tour passport. Happy to have a bear hug from Race Director Tim Day. Very happy to have a beer. Even happier when my husband Tim and friend Chris show up at the finish line a few moments later.
I finished in 11 hours 10 minutes and 38 seconds but wait around anticipating the finish of many friends many who ran their first 100km that day.
This is an amazing event with amazing atomsphere all day and well into the night. Never underestimate the effect the exchange of a few words can make to those around you. Many came up to me afterwards if I came across them and congratulated me on my strong finish, the guy I had spoken to with 10km to go also thanked me saying my comments had helped him push hard to finish. I will always be grateful to have these experiences and appreciate the effort that goes into organising them and the people who volunteer giving up their time so that we can do this.
Finally thank you to my sister Bethaney and her partner Roger who came over from Western Australia to stay with my daughter Kira and son Cale so that Tim and I could have this short break in New Zealand.