Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tarawera 85k Race Report

Native Forest tour on the North Island, pictured with some of the best ultra runners in the world!  Droz Photo.
If you had asked me a year ago where I'd be today, I would've been completely wrong.  In many ways my life and running have changed dramatically.  Which explains why I am now writing a race report for a race I just completed in New Zealand.  I was lucky enough to be contacted by Salomon late last year, and as a result, I had the opportunity to travel overseas to compete in an international level trail race, the Tarawera Ultra.  I realized how different this race would be from many of my past races when I was almost immediately interviewed by some kiwis via the internet about my upcoming race.  I am fairly new to racing and it was exciting to be a part of something that so many people valued.
Running on the beach in Dunedin. Photo by Droz.
What I didn't expect was how busy I'd be in New Zealand!   The trip centered around filming of Anna Frost.  If you don't know Anna, you don't follow trail races.  In the women's field, Anna has dominated trail races internationally for several years now.  Salomon planned their trip to New Zealand to create a film about her life and the country she comes from.  The first week in New Zealand was packed with activities as we explored Anna's backyard.  We ran, surfed, sprinted dunes on the beach in Dunedin, visited a local brewery and winery, ran most of the Kepler Track (50k), picnicked at Anna's house, visited a native forest, were blessed by the Māori people during a tour of their home, and took a helicopter out of Queenstown into the mountains for a photo shoot.  Four flights later, we were on the North Island for two more activity packed days before the Tarawera Ultra.
Running the Kepler Trail on Tuesday.
Getting surfing lessons on Monday in Dunedin. Droz Photo.
Whew!  I get tired just writing about it!  What an amazing journey, but not much of a taper.  Before coming to NZ, I struggled with some health issues.  To summarize, I have been having trouble breathing, especially when I run. I have had unusually low energy, heavy leg feeling, and a general lack of motivation (mostly spurred on my the low energy issue).   There are other "symptoms" that come and go, but currently the most pressing are the afrementioned ones.  As you can imagine I was worried about running a 100k with these issues. Just before leaving my home of Bellingham, WA my personal trainer told me that technically with my symptoms she couldn't work with me until I saw a doctor.  Great.  Well, as I tend to do, I decided that everything was just fine, I was just a little stresssed out.
Running with Grant Guise in the forest near Dunedin. Droz Photo.
Running in New Zealand was no different, I felt tired and my breathing was labored.  With the happy exception of running the Kepler Trail, all my other runs were difficult, even when they were just 4 miles long. I dwell on these issues because I am very confused by the seemly "sudden" onset of them.  I was in the best shape of my life last fall coming off a 2nd place woman/7th overall (and 4th fastest women's time ever) at the Tahoe Rim 100 in July.  I set the women's FKT on Mt. Rainier's Wonderland Trail in September and trained diligently throughout November and December to prepare for the HURT 100 where I placed 3rd despite spraining my ankle at mile 3.

Running in the first 20k. Droz Photo.
Whatever was going on physically/mentally, I knew that I would start the race in New Zealand.  One thing I have learned is that you never know how you'll feel on race day.  It's best to go for it, even if you feel unprepared. You can always drop.  Our bodies often complain in the weeks before a big race as we stress out and taper for the race.  It's normal and I have experienced it before with no ill effects.  Before the Tahoe Rim 100, I got a mere 3 hours of sleep and was grumpy for 3 days prior. I started the race and immediately felt really damn good. I was prepared.  I had so much fun!
Looking through the options at the Aid Station. Droz Photo.
With these thoughts in mind I lined up behind the front of the pack on the morning of March 16th.  It was still dark, but it would be less than an hour before the hillsides lit up with the sunrise.  The gun went off and I felt that dreaded fatigue almost immediately. Damn, no start of race adreneline to numb my muscles.  I started out conservatively, but my lungs were very tight and my breathing was labored.  The race began almost immediately uphill. It was runnable, but not in my current state and I ran/hiked the first 10 miles.

At 10 miles I had the thought that it sure felt like I'd already done 50 miles.  Good thing I am a 100 mile runner--- if you've done 50, you can still do 50 more.  Somehow this was comforting.  I ran, very aware of my pace being sub-par, but forced myself to smile and enjoy the ride.  I am lucky that I enjoy a good, long sufferfest.  And this would most certainly be a good, long sufferfest.  If I played it right, I could still run strong and finish well despite my early onset fatigue.  I've done enough 50+ races to know that if you just stick with it and finish strong, you can end up on top.
Smiling through the pain
The race is actually relatively flat. It is tough because there are many rolling hills and some technical sections.  I missed having long (2mile+) downhills.  There was no time to recover before the next uphill came.  The race had a total of 9,700 ft of climbing over 53 miles.  The course runs along several lakes and through a jungle-like forest.  I briefly considered dropping to the 60k as I came into the 60k turnaround.  I knew I'd be disappointed if I did that, so I continued on.  The week of the race I'd pretty much decided I'd be doing the 85k (53 miles) instead of the 100k due to my health issues.  As I ran, this thought was a little comforting. 

The most beautiful part of the course was the 10k before the turnaround, including the incredible Tarawera Falls.  I drew some energy from the beauty and serenity and powered on.  I was in 4th place (in the 100k) at the turnaround and the 5th place woman was just 8/10 of a mile behind me.  I decided to push hard the entire way back so she couldn't catch me.  I powered up the hills and flew down the downhills, running faster on the way back than I had on the way out.   My body protested, but I did not listen. I was getting very close to the 85k finish.

In the last 14 miles I passed more than 20 people.  I was on a roll.  I had been working hard for so long, I didn't want anyone to pass me.  It was a feeling of elation and pleasure to finish the 85k!  I sprinted though the finish line and went to the First Aid tent to get my many scrapes/cuts cleaned and then into the lake to wash off the dirt that coated most of my body.  I'd fallen twice, quite hard, and I wanted to make sure I didn't get an infection.  The finish line folks informed me that the 3rd place woman in the 100k had dropped to the 85k when she realized she was peeing blood.  That meant I came in 2nd place.  Not bad, considering how horrible I felt all day.
My finishing medals
The Tarawera marks the end of a training cycle for me.  I am excited to add some stregth training to my workouts as well as a lot of biking.  I am going to play it easy on the running until my body comes back around.  In the meantime, hopefully I can figure out what's going on.

Battle wounds....


  1. professional effort, great race report. way to persevere!

  2. Anna is an amazing person and truly inspiring. It is out of this world how you overcame all those negative emotions to finish the race, that's incredible in itself. I hope you figure out what's up and looking forward to reading more race reports! Thanks for sharing your journey. Reading blogs like this is very motivating. :-)

  3. Sounds like iron deficiency. Way to tough it out.

  4. Congrats, Candice! Awesome run. Thanks for sharing your write-up :)

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