Caitlin Fielder is preparing to defend her Tarawera Ultramarathon 50km women’s title following a year full of challenges, with lockdowns and surgery rehabilitation making for a 12-months like she’s never had before.
The Rotorua-born trail runner claimed victory in record time in 2020, setting a new course record on the way, with Fielder then spending most of the last year out of action.
“It’s certainly not like a usual race prep that I would have,” said Fielder. “The week after last year’s race I had an operation on my hip. It wasn’t supposed to be as serious as it was but it turned out being more intense than they thought it to be, so I spent about eight months last year with no running or walking really. It’s been a bit of a grind getting back into it, but will be worthwhile in the end.
“I came out of winning Tarawera and then a week later had the operation,” she said. “It’s just a slow process, the most full on injury I’ve had, and the most recovery that I’ve ever experienced. It was a bit of a learning curve and I don’t think I was prepared for how intense the rehabilitation would be in terms of every day it’s mentally wearing rather than physically.”
Fielder, and partner Professional Cyclist George Bennett, spent much of the year in lockdown in Spain, with the time indoors assisting with her rehabilitation.
“It worked out perfectly to be honest, I’d be gutted if I decided not to have the operation and then last year happened,” said Fielder. “I was ready for last year to be a really hard year anyway with the recovery, I spent a lot of time trying to decide if it was worth having the operation and then I was on crutches for the first two months and I was in lockdown in Europe. About a week after I got there we went into lockdown and so it really ensured that I wasn’t walking around too much, I was forced into recovering properly which was probably great.”
While Fielder was busy in rehabilitation many New Zealand women were taking up trail running for the first time, evident in a 36% growth in New Zealand female runners on the year before.
In her chosen 50km distance women runners outnumber men, with Fielder looking forward to returning to racing where she grew up.
“I’ve taken the pressure of myself heading into this year’s event after I had such a positive experience last year,” she said. “While I grew up in Rotorua I haven’t got back there as often I would have liked, just being able to run around that area again was awesome. I’m realistic about this year, it was only a couple of months ago that I started walking for 5-10 minutes at a time. I’m hoping that my general fitness and understanding of long-distance racing will get me through.”
In between rehabilitation, lockdown and training, Fielder has continued her passion of painting footwear, with her artwork now gracing the feet of people around the world.
“The painting is going better than I ever expected, it’s great to solidify a routine during the days and keep that going,” said Fielder. “It’s amazing how many people love to have that kind of artwork done, the people that will invest in that kind of thing for their shoes. They’re a special eclectic group of people anyway, and to be able to work with them and design something that they’re really enthusiastic about is really cool.
“Hopefully I’ll have some trail runners in the works who can be on the big stages with the shoes, but we’ll wait for that to happen,” she said.
This year marks the 13th running of the Tarawera Ultramarathon, with runners from across New Zealand taking part in either the 21km, 50km, 102km or 100-Miler race, with the 102km event a part of the Ultra-Trail® World Tour.
For more information on the Tarawera Ultramarathon, visit www.taraweraultra.co.nz.