In this blog, Aussie Grit ambassador Ben Duffus gives us a run down of his 50km run at Tarawera Ultra Marathon, 2020.
Normally, I prefer to stay as calm as possible in the minutes leading up to an ultramarathon. But a pre-race Haka just meters away meant that wasn’t an option for the Tarawera 50km.
Instead it felt like it was time to go into battle!
In the opening kilometres, as we sped past the geothermal wonders of Te Puia, I was trying to find the fine line between a spectacular run and a spectacular blow-up.
The first climb and descent were enough to splinter the lead pack and I quickly found myself in 2nd place, chasing local runner Michael Voss. I could see that I was gaining on him on any of the steeper hills or rougher bits, only to then have him start pulling away as soon as the course flattened out.
This was exciting; I knew I couldn’t let up on the flats and would have to do my best to claw back time on the hills. We stayed close all the way to the first checkpoint at 14km, at which point I stopped to fill up a soft flask while he ran straight through and was quickly out of sight.
Without the dangling carrot of Michael in sight, it was time to go into my own head (as someone who does most of their training alone, this is usually where I feel most comfortable during races).
I couldn’t let the intensity drop, but also felt freer to appreciate the beauty of my surrounds. It was never long before the course would offer a new view to enjoy as I would one minute find myself winding through narrow single-track in a dense rain forest, then suddenly find myself running along a wide dirt road through pine-trees. This made it relatively easy to stay in the moment and not let myself get overwhelmed by the remaining distance.
The course turned the scenery up a notch when I hit the Green Lake at half-way, and it was hard to stay focused on the track ahead of me. My mind was also crunching expected times to the next checkpoints and finish if I could maintain a similar a pace in the second half.
Passing my fellow 50km runners in the opposite direction as I returned from the Green Lake was a timely pick-me up, but it was nothing compared to what the Blue Lake had in store! Not only did the views step-up to another level, but I was fortunate enough to pass through while all the 21km runners where gathering for their race. Don’t get me wrong – the support at every aid station had been amazing! - but, having hundreds of people cheering seemed to make my legs forget the previous 36km.
This feeling carried me through the next few kilometres; though soon the real grind began. Fatigue was setting in and despite the beauty of the Redwood Forest, that section seemed to drag on forever.
Finally, I had passed the last aid-station and all that remained was a flat 7km to the finish. I was probably checking my watch more than I should have, but I was trying run each kilometre as fast as I could.
When I hit the distinctive smell of the sulphur flats, I knew I was getting close and tried to pick up the pace (even though I was frequently battling a headwind).
This final spurt to the finish must have taken more out of me than I thought; although I still felt strong coming across the finish-line, the medics were very quick to suggest I needed to sit down!
Fortunately, it didn’t take long to be back up to congratulate Michael on his fantastic run and to see Vajin Armstrong finish a few minutes later. We had all pushed to our limits, but the welcoming atmosphere of the event and incredible beauty of the course left us all smiling as we swapped stories about our runs.
I’d been saying for years that I’d come over for this race and it certainly lived up to the hype!