Blog Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run (161km): 100 mile # 2

Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run (161km):
100 mile # 2

February 09, 2019

The 100 miler is a formidable and challenging distance. Many questions are invariably asked as it can be difficult to grasp the enormity of such a distance. Why? How? When? What?! Such a distance involves running through the night as most ‘average’ competitors finish after 24 hours. After completing my first 100 miler at the end of 2017, I was lining up to do my second ‘miler’ more than one year later (i.e. the ‘when’ to enter? Long enough after you’ve forgotten the discomfort of your last 100 miler). Having grown up in Rotorua, I was familiar with a lot of the Tarawera 100 mile course. This familiarity can be comforting when confronting such a daunting distance. In spite of this, my pre-race sleep remains restless and I wake up before my 2.30am alarm. I surrender meekly to my pre-race routine and begin to lubricate. When I arrive at the Government Gardens just before the 4am start, there are approximately 100 participants at the start line. A fair share of participants are running tourists visiting New Zealand. Conversation is typically muted as focus is internalised. I quietly reassure myself that I am the only normal person here (others are also probably doing the same). A short prayer is followed by a rousing haka and then we all set off. Head torches on. Seeking the sun. How do you run a 100 miler? The same way you eat an elephant – One bite (step) at a time.

At the start line with Dr Rich Newbury (left)

The run sets off through the geothermal area along Sulphur Point. The smell of sulphur reminds me of home and brings back memories of the distant past. We then enter the Redwood Forest which is one of my most favourite places to run. By the time we approach the Green Lake, the sun is well and truly up and I am into my own rhythm. Running through the ancient Buried Village arouses further childhood memories of day trips years gone by with my parents. I particularly enjoy the next section running through the thick native bush alongside Lake Tarawera. The bush density is broken by intermittent glimpses of Lake Tarawera sparkling in the sunlight. There is beauty in remoteness. The boat ride across Lake Rotomahana (50km) was also a memorable highlight and helped freshen up the senses. The middle section of the run leading to the 100km mark was hard work. Although I run because I ‘enjoy’ running, it doesn’t mean that I enjoy ‘every minute’ of a 100 miler. Distances of this nature can evoke the highest highs and the lowest lows. I hit quite a low point in the Tarawera Forest. I was heavy on my feet, the heat was getting to me, and to top it all off, my genitourinary system decides to dysfunction. Sometimes in an ultra, it can feel like you’re unravelling, reravelling, and unravelling continuously. Thankfully, things improve somewhat by the time I reach the 100 km mark at the Tarawera Outlet. By now it is 7pm and I’ve been on my feet for 15 hours. Night is approaching and I really need to prepare the body and mind for the night section which is arguably the toughest part of a 100 miler. I spontaneously decide to take a quick swim in the Tarawera River to help freshen up. I then get changed into new clothes and shoes and tuck into some noodles and mashed potatoes. The desired effect is magical and I know I am ready to take on the night. As the sun duels with the evening sky over Humphries Bay, I head out towards Okataina. I know this is where the real race starts.

All eyes on track. Running along the Tarawera Trail.

Why do you do it? Why would you run through the night? These are all very pertinent questions. The answers to the ‘why’ are many and varied. I remember when I did my first 100 km run (the Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2010), I truly believed that I would get some form of spiritual revelation. I believed God would present himself and endow me with some incredible high. Why else would people run these distances? (Seriously, why else?) Instead, I got nothing. No incarnation. No magical high. No spiritual revelation. I can remember seeking the Lord but only finding misery. Misery that compounded itself with every kilometre from 70 km to 99.9 km. Lots of misery with a sprinkle of anger. Looking back now, that experience taught me that when life got hard, I sought divine intervention from ‘someone’. I had everything I needed at my disposal but I wanted someone/anyone to get me out of that hot spot. I was too busy seeking outwards that I never had the inclination to look inwards. It is only now that I realise that this is where the real power of the 100 miler lies. After running for a while, you begin to listen inwards more. You begin to form a connection with your inner self. The problem is, the inner self is hidden by all your insecurities and your ambition for material assets, wealth, and status. Long distance running loosens your insecurities. Kilometre after kilometre peels away the material layers. Eventually, if you can keep running for long enough, you will break down your self imposed defences and create a conduit with the inner soul. And if you look deeper still, you will see the scariest truth of all – your vulnerable self. Not the version you want the world to see you as, but the authentic version with all the imperfections. Just the real and genuine you. Running long distances kindles this dynamic relationship and allows you to work on being a better person. You begin to accept yourself for who you are despite your limitations. You develop the courage to be you. Running truly is spiritual and fills your soul. I just didn’t realise it that lonely night in 2010!

Going for a quick swim in the Blue Lake after 146km as the sun rises

By the time I get to Okataina (118km) it is just after midnight. Left with the choice of tending to a sweaty and well lubricated man or his wife and two children, my support per, Dr Andrew Stanley, has chosen the latter and gone home for the night. Thankfully, like a true gentleman, he has left my pacer, Dr Isobella Henzell behind in the cold night to see me through the final 42 km. Running in the night is difficult. It certainly beats the heat of the day but it can be hard work concentrating on keeping your feet whilst fending off the sleep monsters. I was therefore grateful that Bella provided me with some company. By now, my mind is cloudy and my stomach is queasy so I’m not sure about the quality of the company she is keeping. She keeps me awake by talking about men and the night stars whilst I simply try stay upright and hold my feet. The volunteers at the Millar Rd aid station (135km) nicely applaud our early morning arrival. I attempt to respond thankfully but it just comes out as a grunt and a groan. Bella tops up my supplies sensing my struggle. However, I know that it’s not food and drink that I need, but rather the sun to rise soon. We push onwards around Lake Okareka until I hit another tough moment along an incredibly short and technical bush track though the Lake Tikitapu Scenic Reserve. Even though it hurts and I’m falling asleep, I know I can’t stop. Stopping before the finish line is futile. I know that all this discomfort/fatigue is temporary and would never compare with a did not finish (DNF) which would carry months of pain and disappointment. By the time we come out of the tree line, the sun is beginning to enter the morning sky. Alleluia – the second sunrise! The light instantly invigorates every cell in my body. Unfortunately, it invigorates Bella’s body in a different way and she has to take a detour to the Blue Lake aid station to attend to pressing gastrointestinal issues. I’m by myself again but now that the sun has risen, I know I’ve got this. I increase my pace around the Blue Lake. I know this part of the course intimately well and switch to auto pilot. Just before the next aid station, I stop to have a quick swim. The setting is beautiful. The lake is still and the pink sun peeps over the horizon. The cool water rejuvenates me. Cleansed of negativity and purified by effort, the soul is restored. The final 14km back to Rotorua goes through my favourite Redwood Forest again. I instinctively know every incline and turn. The familiar smell of sulphur for the second time symbolises that I’m heading home and the finish line is near. Twenty nine hours and 47 minutes later, I cross the finish line. It is a pleasant exhaustion. The soul is full again. When you run, look and listen inwards. Run to fill your soul. Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, IRONMAN New Zealand at the start of March. A quick turnaround!

At the Redwood Forest with 5km to go (this is not the real me – the real me is really tired on the inside)

The human body can do so much. Then the heart and spirit must take over.

Sohn Kee-chung (Korean marathon gold medal winner, 1936 Berlin Olympics)

At the finish line with my finisher’s pounamu / green stone