Australian Reece Edwards made quite the trail running debut today, surging over the closing stages to take out the Tarawera Ultra 102km race from last year’s runner-up Cody Reed (USA) and Harry Jones (GBR), while in the women’s race it was one of the established international superstars in Courtney Dauwalter (USA) who came out on top of a star-studded field.
The 102km race set off at 6am in perfect weather conditions from Firmin Field in the central North Island town of Kawarau, with 463 participants lining up for the incredible journey to the finish line at the Rotorua Events Centre, taking in a combination of trails and forestry roads through native bush, conifer forest, farmland, parkland and stunning thermal landscapes.
Just months after posting an impressive 2:16 in Chicago in his first marathon, 28-year-old Edwards added a Tarawera title to his already burgeoning CV, winning in 8:22:51. It was the American Reed who led throughout the early stages however, with a chasing pack of Edwards, David Byrne, Jones and Charlie Ware never more than a few kilometres behind.
It was well inside the final 20 kilometres when Edwards made his move, first to catch and then to gap a tiring Reed, and while he may hail from Canberra in Australia, Edwards turned to a famous old New Zealand phrase from sporting folklore to describe how he was feeling upon crossing the line.
“I am buggered, absolutely cooked, that is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, compared to a marathon that was a wild, wild day, it really was,” said an elated Edwards.
“I was happy with the pace early on, but I tried to run from 40 to about 65km as cruisy as I could. I just couldn’t keep up with Cody, my technical skills just weren’t there and if I tried to follow him, I was rolling my ankles.
“I decided to just chill and then when I was really suffering at about 70km I heard splits on the course, and I was only four minutes down. I thought I have been walking for ten minutes and he is only four minutes up! That is when the mentality changed, and it was all on again.”
Edwards didn’t look back upon taking the lead at the Blue Lake aid station with 14km left to run, eventually winning by just under seven minutes, and admits he may have to change his upcoming race plans given the effort taken to win today.
“I am due to run a marathon in four weeks in Japan and attempt to lower my PB and get a world championship qualifying time, but I really don’t know what I will be doing now.” Reed showed incredible resolve to hold on to repeat his 2018 runner up finish, edging Harry Jones by under a minute after, a tiny margin on the back of the 102km distance.
Despite his disappointment and having emptied the tank, Reed indicated he was up for a third tilt at the iconic event in 2020.
“I was planning on returning next year to run the 100 Miler, but first I have to win the 102k before making that step up,” said Reed.
“I think the heat got to me today in the last 20 miles, they were like the hardest final 20 miles I have ever had, it was rough.”
In the women’s race, Courtney Dauwalter (USA) arrived at Tarawera Ultra as one of the more celebrated Ultrarunners to ever to grace the event, and she lived up to that billing with a start to finish win over debutant Stephanie Auston (AUS), and Angelique Plaire (New Caledonia).
The Colorado (Boulder) athlete was delighted to win a race in such world class company and admitted to never feeling comfortable until the finish line was in sight.
“It was so cool to be out on those trails with that group of women and athletes, I was running scared. I really did not think I had it won until I got to the finish line.
“I definitely took in the view, that was a priority, the scenery was so green and beautiful, and the lakes were incredible.”
Dauwalter maintained a steady rhythm throughout, pacing herself superbly through the varied terrain.
“I was trying to stay constant, I was slowing on the climbs but trying to keep pushing. There was a tricky technical part between the third and fourth aid stations I think, with tree roots, that was hard to move quickly through there.”
The American posted stellar results in 2018, including victories at Western States 100 and Ultra Trail Mt Fuji 100, and won the Moab 240-mile Endurance event in 2017, and was able to enjoy the final few kilometres into the heart of Rotorua today.
“I did enjoy that final run to the line, just knowing that I am back home, and it was nearly time to celebrate and hear stories from other people about their day.”
33-year-old Dauwalter (she celebrates a birthday on February 13) has travelled the world, winning many of the great Ultrarun events, but didn’t hesitate when asked what it was beyond the incredible scenery that makes Tarawera Ultra Marathon so special.
“The community, all week long, all the events that bring us together, you get to meet so many people, that makes it so special.”
The winners were greeted with a stirring haka as they crossed the line, underlining the strong relationships with local Iwi and the wider community in an event that celebrated every finisher, some running and walking long into the night before they too enjoyed the delights of the finish line with family, friends and supporters.
2019 Tarawera Ultra Marathon
1 Reece Edwards, Australia, 8:22:51
2 Cody Reed, USA, 8:29:44
3 Harry Jones, Great Britain, 8:30:35
1 Courtney Dauwalter, USA, 9:28:03
2 Stephanie Auston, Australia, 9:49:22
3 Angelique Plaire, New Caledonia, 10:39:47
Full results, www.taraweraultra.co.nz