Ruth Croft has claimed a history making victory in the 102km race at the 2021 Tarawera Ultramarathon.
Croft became the first female runner to claim the outright 102km title, and in doing so set a new women’s course record on the trails around Rotorua of 9:21:03.
The 32-year-old was at the pointy end of the field in the Ultra-Trail® World Tour race all day long, taking the lead around the halfway mark and never looked back, finishing 18 minutes ahead of second place finisher, and first male, Rhys Johnston.
“I’m stoked, it’s just a good day, not much more to say than that,” said Croft. “I tried to start a bit conservatively, but it was pretty tough because the first 30km is so fast.
“I tried to put the hammer down a bit at 31km and then had a good bunch of guys that I was running with,” she said. “They were dragging me around actually and it got frustrating when they were setting the pace and it felt like it was just a bit too fast but it was always good to have a bit of company out there.
“I tried to get a gap where the boat ride is but then I suffered a bit after that on the road but pulled it together to the end,” said Croft. “I had the splits for the course record at each of the aid stations so I was just trying not to fall behind.
“The plan today was to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration in that first half of the race and I was able to do that,” she said. “It was awesome to have a normal race experience today, everyone out on the course was grateful and the support at each of the aid stations was great, it was an awesome day.”
Croft, from Greymouth, adds the Tarawera Ultramarathon 102km victory to her impressive resume which features some of the most prestigious and well-known races on the trail running calendar. Her recent results include winning the last two 55km OCC by UTMB and two 42km Mont Blanc Marathons, she’s also had an eighth place on the road at the Seoul Marathon, which qualified her for the Marathon World Championships.
Rotorua runner Rhys Johnston claimed his first 102km men’s title, crossing the line in 9:39:29.
“It’s unbelievable to take it out, it’s a dream come true,” said Johnston. “So many things had to go right for me, it was obviously a shame that all of those international runners weren’t able to come out, I love seeing them all come through, that went in my favour.
“There were so many Kiwis here who should have taken it out but they had a bad day and it was their race to lose,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I found myself in the lead and I was just waiting for someone to sneak up on me but it never happened. From the Redwoods, five to seven kilometres to go I knew it was pretty close so I just gave it everything I could and went full steam for that last bit, so stoked to take it out.
“I was in a pretty chilled place, the main group I was in early on were sitting a little slower than where I wanted to be so I just slowly moved off from them. Half of them pulled me back in around 30km and then I ran with them a bit and they pulled out ahead and were a bit faster than I wanted to be so I just let them go and did my own thing,” said Johnston. “I like the technical stuff and caught up to Ruth and actually got out in front of her for a bit and she pulled me back in just before the boats and we crossed pretty close. From then on I just did my own thing again and I was pretty chilled, just wanted to save myself for later on, there was a lot of hiking but I wasn’t fazed and got to the top still in second.”
Johnston came back from a serious Mountain Biking injury last year, with it being a race against time to be fit and on the start line this year.
“I had a broken rib from a Mountain Bike crash, and a messed-up shoulder,” he said. “I shouldn’t be racing today, a massive shoutout to my team for getting me here, I had to do a lot of painful training running with the rib and shoulder and I was just trying to keep my kilometres up and push through and let things heal and luckily they healed in time. If there’s any event in New Zealand I’d want to put my name on it’s this one, it’s a dream come true.”
Chris Sanson was the second male home, and third overall, in 9:42:46, less than three minutes ahead of Simon Cochrane.
Konoka Azumi was the second female runner, crossing the line in 10:12:09, with Sue Crowley third in 10:56:28.
Tarawera Ultramarathon – 102km
1st – Ruth Croft – 9:21:03
2nd – Konoka Azuma – 10:12:03
3rd – Sue Crowley – 10:56:28
1st – Rhys Johnson – 9:39:29
2nd – Chris Sanson – 9:42:46
3rd – Simon Cochrane – 9:45:06
For more information on the Tarawera Ultramarathon, visit www.taraweraultra.co.nz