The Why of the Tarawera Ultra

One the speediest runners to ever tackle the Tarawera Ultramarathon, Australia’s David Byrne contemplates why? 


As trail runners, we’re blessed with a huge amount of events to choose from. In the last few years the sport has boomed and as a result, more and more races have popped up. The calendar is full of cool events in epic places, all of varying distances with different challenges and rewards for those willing to toe the line. So when I tell folks that I’m headed back to Tarawera for the third time, I’m often asked ‘why do the same event when there are so many other options?’ The answer is a complex one, but in essence, there are three key reasons.

1. The Location

The backdrop for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon is spectacular. There are few places on the planet with geography as diverse and pretty as you’ll experience across the course of the 100km event. From lush rainforests with vast stands of tree ferns, to towering waterfalls, rolling hills and pristine lakes. Hell, even the timber plantations are a joy to run through! What’s more, the main hub of Rotorua – with its distinct bouquet – makes for a great place to spend a few days before and after the race. The region is an outdoor enthusiasts dream, with great food and wine too.

David Byrne at the Tarawera Ultramarathon

David Byrne at the Tarawera Ultramarathon

2.The ‘Type’ of Course

As previously mentioned there are all sorts of races on the calendar to choose from. There are mountain epics with loads of hiking or thousands of stairs to endure. You’ve got events that are flat and fast, others that are really technical, and there are races that combine it all. However, the Tarawera Ultra is best described as a mix of flat, fast running, with lots of rolling single track and a few punchy hills to test the pins. This is the kind of terrain that suits me best. By no means am I suggesting that I’m not a climber, or capable of running technical stuff, but I relish the ability to move quickly across the ground with trees rushing by and being able to run freely, far more than I enjoy having my hands on my knees grinding out a mountain hike. Plus I live in the centre of Sydney and lead a very busy life, like a lot of others out there, which in turn means almost all my running is on the road and flat ground around the city. So naturally, I’m going to favour an event that fits in with my training environment.

3. The Culture

This is arguably my main reason for loving the Tarawera Ultra Marathon so much. There are two sides to the culture of this event, both of which are awesome. One aspect is the community vibe and inclusive atmosphere created by the race directors and their team. This event is for everyone, of every ability, and all those that participate are made to feel equally appreciated and special. It’s an incredibly social occasion spanning several days, and in that time you become part of the Tarawera Family. From the back to the front of the field, we’re all in it together! The flipside to the coin is the world-class field they amass every year. Somehow, most likely through lots of hard work, they manage to bring many of the best ultra runners on the planet together, to toe the line in the middle of the rainforest in a faraway corner of the world. No other trail race in the southern hemisphere, and very few in the northern, are as competitive as this one. It’s a testament to how good an event Tarawera is, and for me, I’ll take any chance I get to bang heads with the best!

One final thing I was asked to mention in this blog is what training looks like for me. Well, it’s relatively basic and while it will vary a little from week to week, I use a simple framework.

Monday: Recovery run 16-18km easy
Tuesday: Light session, such as 18km with 20mins hard in the middle, or a steady 16km with the last 20mins a little quicker.
Wednesday: Medium long run. 20-24km easy.
Thursday: Similar to Tuesday.
Friday: Rest or easy 8km
Saturday: Session of longer reps (eg 3 x 3km) or a tempo run followed by some short hill sprints.
Sunday: Long run. 2 to 3:30 hours.

– My volume generally hovers around 120-130km/week. I’ll hopefully get a couple 160-180km weeks in mix when time permits.
– I also try to do weights or a circuit a couple nights a week.
– I try to run in the mountains every few weeks.

David Byrne at the Pohutu Geyser Rotorua prior to the Tarawera Ultramarathon

David Byrne at the Pohutu Geyser Rotorua prior to the Tarawera Ultramarathon

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