December 1, 2015

New Zealand Day 5 Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50k

After 4 days of enjoying ourself in cool NZ, we reached the purpose of our visit. The day of the Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50 K.  A few months ago, together with the rest of the group, I had signed up for the 50K. I must say quite reluctantly. I  am too lazy to train for long distance and the thoughts of running in our hot sun freaks me out. But still the thought of finally doing a decent 50K race in nice cool weather was too tempting and I followed suit. I figured this race wouldn’t be that difficult and I wasn’t too far wrong.

The race takes place in Te Puia in Rotorua. Te Puia is a geyser park and so as we waited for the flag off, we could see smoke and steam rising everywhere. I must say this has got to be the most unique race start ever. 13-DSCN6246Before the race flagged off, there was a prayer for blessing for the runners by a Maori Priest. There was also a Haka dance by the Maori.

The first part of the race took us through fairly wide open flat trails. It was an easy run and most of the experienced runners seem to take advantage of it to push fast. What’s the hurry?27-DSCN6270There is supposed to be an aid station every 7 km. Over here in Singapore we call it a drink station. But I call these aid station at this race, buffet table cos I never seen such a big spread. They have absolutely everything! From all sort of candies, chocolates, fruits, chips, bread to electrolytes, soft drinks …. Just look at the length of the table!02-DSCN6275 34-DSCN6287 I almost want to DNF here. What the point of suffering for the next 43 km when I can sit here and eat and enjoy myself!

But of course I have a mission to accomplish and have to continue. The next  7 km brought us through more of the same open trails before we hit the next buffet table. And then we have our first climb up this little hill. I think 500 m or so of trudging upward.03-DSCN6292This was the only climb that was steep enough for me to have to hold on to the trees and roots for support. After that it was all rolling hills. Round the corner we had our first glimpse of the Green Lake, one of the highlight of the race. 04-DSCN6298

And then we were out in some farmland where we had to run alongside the middle of the hill. Being a coward and scare of hurting my ankle on the grassy surface or worse rolling down, I decided to walk this stretch.05-DSCN6306it was a long walk up and down before another climb to the next aid station and then a long climb down and run over the farmland.06-DSCN6314

Out of the farmland and we begin to climb. Then the cursed problem that had been hitting me this year came back again. Out of the blue, my right calf seized up! Shit! I walked it off for a while but every time I try to run, it came back. And worse it moved up to the quads! Sigh…. there goes my race! And I still had another 30 km or so to go!

I managed to walk on and reach back the aid station at Green Lake. There I applied a little bit of muscle rub and ate a lot. The next check point was Buried Village where there was a cut off. I asked and was told I had 3 hours to cover that 7 km. I think even if I walk all the way, I will still take less than 3 hours. So it looks like I have no excuse but to continue.

There was a stretch just before Buried Village when we have to run on the road and surprisingly I could run. 08-DSCN6349I ran the entire 2 km stretch here. Oh mine, it felt good to be able to run again. The leg didn’t give any problem and when I reach Buried Village or what I call the Carnival, I knew I was home free. There was no way I was going to DNF this.

The aid station at Buried Village was unlike any I ever seen. There was nice picnic table, a long stretch of tented tables with again all sort of food and volunteers in costumes. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And they served hot tea too! That why it is a carnival to me.09-DSCN6354After this there was a series of waterfalls. Beautiful. I think I spent at least 10 minutes there trying to coax my compact camera to come up with some nice picture.10-DSCN6368

And from one nice scenic waterfall to one nice scenic lake, Lake Tarawera for which the race and area is named after.07-DSCN6339

After walking for what seems like ages I see this:12-DSCN6398Time to celebrate? But no I have been forewarned that this is the most brutal part of the race. There is a steep uphill climb of 2 km. Sighed. And that climb seems like almost never ending. The only saving grace was that it wasn’t that steep and rather easy to walk up. No need to crawl. And what goes up must come down and finally after what seems like an eternity, downhill at last and soon the shore of the Lake and a final 50 metres run and I completed my first official 50 km trail race!

As I had expected, this is a relatively easy trail race. With the generous time given, one can simply walk the whole 50 km and still complete on time. In fact they do have a Walker category which flags off half an hour earlier. If not for my cramp which I still trying to figure out what causes it, I think a sub 9 hours is possible. As it is, even with walking almost 30 km, I took just slightly over 10 hours which considering the terrain and climb, I think is pretty decent.

There was a nice reception waiting for me back at the finish line. The rest of my group had long finished and were waiting for me. The race directors were there to personally greet each returning runners and the buffet table was still there plus coffee, hot dogs. There was even a hot spring for us to soak our tired legs in although I didn’t get to use that unfortunately.

The only bad thing was the transportation logistics at the end. The race ended on the far bank of Lake Tarawera and we have to rely on boats to bring us back to the mainland. But there were too few boats and it took too long to come. We waited for almost 2 hours for our ride and finally when it came, we were dropped off in the middle of an open ground with no bus! Cold, tired and hungry, the group of us huddled around in the open and waited for another half an hour before a bus turned up to bring us back to town. That was a big let down coming after the high of the completion. Hopefully the organiser will sort that out for the next edition. That little cockup aside, this has got to be one of the best and fun race ever (cramps aside). Nice easy route, good food, beautiful places, cool weather, what more can one ask for,

More photos of the beautiful race here on my FB page

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