Photo Story by Kunal Kumar
A last minute decision to head down to Tarawera Ultra Marathon this year to support my friends for the biggest race on NZ trail running calendar.
I started the day early on Saturday (race day) to head down to Rotorua, with a stop over for sunrise just outside of Hampton Downs, the fog and hazy sun was the first signs of a golden day to come. I had not planned a specific spot or time, and that was the theme of this trip (and maybe a theme I want to follow more).
I had missed my goal of making it time for the Buried Village aid station at 31km, so I decided to go straight through Rerewhakaaitu (The dragonfly) aid station. First in was Sian, who was looking strong, remembering they had already now covered 55km - this is already a impressive achievement in my books! Eugene, Emma, Julz and Greg followed. And so that would be the pattern to follow for the day. Through to Okahu, the next aid station where we see them for the last time for a long time as long stretch of 60km on their own with no spectator or crew support. So this was a good opportunity to check out the new finish line setup down by lake reserve, and to see the elite 102km finishers come in (and a wedding!)
The highlight was seeing Manuela Soccol emotional finish across the line. From there a catch up with another friend who did the 50km. Into the evening it was time to head to Lake Okataina for the milers, but first a stopover at Lake Rotoiti for sunset - again unplanned - just where I was. Now through the night in probably the most technical part of the course, they will arrive at the Lake Okataina already clocking 120+km! Incredible - and a chance to pick up their pacers for the last 40+km - yes they still have a marathon to run through the night, and the next morning! From Lake Okataina , is the next aid station we see them is at Blue Lake, at about 4am a few spectators were at the aid station including me greeting Sian with her pacer Geoff - there was only a few words exchanged, a high five, and they are off again. It was a weird feeling, you could the light from the runners head lamps in the distance - how are they doing this at this time of the morning, in the forest, mostly alone! I decide I will see Sian at Redwoods and then the finish, which would I would miss the others at Blue Lake, but I would do the back and forth from the finish line to Redwoods for the others. Shortly after the second sunrise Sian crosses the finish line. And over the next few hours, Eugene, Emma, Julz and Greg all come in - something incredibly special.
After it was all over. I saw Manuela Soccol with her winners trophy, catching her in a moment she could talk, I congratulate her, say how amazing her achievement is, she was still overwhelmed with emotions with a sparkling smile. She asked me how my race was; this is the one thing I love about our sport - the humbleness of the top elites and how easy you can just approach them, remembering also the group run we had Sage Canaday a few days earlier - these are the best endurance athletes on the planet and also the most approachable, I'm consistently just pinching myself. Anyways I told Manuela - I didn't run this year, so she insisted that I must run next year. Maybe a run and maybe to capture those special emotions and moments.