The 2023 Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB has attracted an impressive field of elites in the 100-mile race (TUMMiler), set to take place from 4am on Saturday, February 14.
In the men’s race, Zach Miller (USA) will likely be at the front of the field all day and will hope he can hold off local talents Simon Cochrane, Doug Moore, Chris Sanson and Louis Schindler for the win.
Miller has a decorated career in trail running including winning the CCC (100km) race at UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2015, among multiple other prestigious race wins across Europe and the US.
Up until last year though, the American had been plagued by injuries that kept him from racing for nearly three years until he made a triumphant return by winning the 2022 Trail 100 Andorra by UTMB, and in doing so punching his ticket to UTMB.
“It felt great. It took me long time to get back to racing ultras. There was some doubt along the way, but it feels amazing to be back doing what I love,” said Miller.
The 34-year-old from Colombia, Pennsylvania finished fifth at last year’s UTMB and says his main goal in the 2023 TUMMiler race is to secure another UTMB spot in August.
The Tarawera Ultramarathon is a qualifying race for the UTMB World Series Finals at UTMB Mont-Blanc for the top three male and female elites in the TUMMiler – UTMB, the TUM102 – OCC, and the TUM50 – CCC.
“Qualifying for UTMB is the main reason I am here,” he said. “I have known about TUM for a while and though it looks like a great event, I probably haven’t raced it yet largely because I normally don’t compete in ultramarathons this time of year. However, this year I am trying to qualify for UTMB, and I would like to try to do it sooner rather than later so I have more freedom in my schedule the rest of the year.”
The TUMMiler will be the first 100-mile race Miller has done outside of UTMB, and the American is keen to test himself on a different style of course.
“I would like to try for the win, manage myself well, and to put down a strong effort. I would also like to leave with a ticket to UTMB, meaning a top three finish.
“I would be very happy to win the TUMMiler. UTMB is the only 100-mile race I have ever done, so I am keen to try my hand at a 100-mile race that is so different. It would mean a lot for me to be able to do well in both mountainous and runnable hundred milers,” said Miller.
Kiwi Doug Moore finished second in the TUMMiler when the event last ran in 2021 and will be hoping he can finish among the podium places this year – albeit a tougher challenge he admits, with the strong elite field lining up in Rotorua this weekend.
“I’m feeling really good and positive about this year’s TUM. It’s been a long wait since last time and really looking forward to see how I can do this time around,” said Moore. “Chances of going better this year may be slim, the field is hot this year which is awesome, but I would love to go better. It’s a big day though anything can happen, good or bad. I’ll be playing it smart and just run my race. I’ll be stoked just to podium.
“I love running, I do it as a hobby and for fitness. I’m not pro, I work a hard job as a builder 45-50 hour weeks. If I win the miler it would be amazing to show that the smaller runners who don’t have massive followers and sponsors can still be competitive. Plus the kudos would be sensational,” he said.
Moore, who hails from Gisborne, will be competing at his ninth Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2023.
“I really want to knock off 10 TUMs, that’s an achievement itself. There are plenty of things though that keep me coming back, it’s central and easy for me to get to. I love coming to Rotorua, it has plenty to offer, there are plenty of familiar faces, and the TUM vibe is always cool,” said Moore.
Hamilton’s Simon Cochrane is both an elite trail runner and professional triathlete, recently finishing third at Nutri-Grain IRONMAN 70.3 New Zealand in December. He also won the 2022 Taupō Ultramarathon 100km and finished third in the TUM102 in 2021.
“The Rotorua region is such a great spot for training and racing, and the team at Tarawera always puts on an awesome event. TUM was my first 100km race a few years back and being only a short 90-minute drive from home, and New Zealand’s biggest trail running event, it would be a hard one to pass up. There are always great international and local athletes on the start line, and plenty of my coached athletes who I get to run with too,” said Cochrane.
“I find that, for me, the combination of long endurance running and the higher intensity of triathlon racing seems to work well. You get to build your endurance and strength on the trails and that also teaches you to run well on tired legs – just like you feel after the cycling section of the triathlon.”
In the early hours of Saturday morning at the Lake Okataina start line Cochrane will make his 100-mile debut, aiming to enjoy the race and see where that lands him.
“The main goal is to try and enjoy the day, and to race smart. If I can tick those boxes then I should be in with a good shot of being close to the front,” he said. “It’s going to be an awesome day anyway, being my first time racing 100 miles, and to do it on the trails of Rotorua – but to take the win would definitely add something special.”
Ragna Debats (NLD) is a stand-out in the women’s field and enters the TUMMiler as the top ranked female.
The Spain-based Dutch athlete shot to prominence in 2018 when she won the World Trail Running Championships as well as the gruelling Marathon des Sables in the same year, and in 2019 she won the CCC race at UTMB Mont-Blanc.
2022 was a year of mixed fortune for Debats, winning three prestigious 100-mile races in Europe and also DNF’ing three 100-mile races. Debats will be making her Tarawera Ultramarathon debut.
Olympian Catriona Jennings (IRL) is the second-ranked female in the TUMMiler while Cat Bradley (USA) is the third-ranked female. Jennings will be making her TUM debut while Bradley will be hoping her race goes better than in 2020 where she DNF’d in the TUMMiler.
New Zealander Katie Wright is the reigning TUMMiler champion and also finished as runner up in 2019, and she is excited to be back in Rotorua for the event after it was cancelled in 2022.
“TUM was my first ever 100-mile event and will always be a special race for me. The atmosphere is fantastic and being able to hang out with the New Zealand trail running community for the week is fantastic,” said Wright.
“I went into 2019 with no idea what to expect other than a firm belief I could run under 24 hours and accepting nothing less. Having been successful previously with extra training, prep, and a great team, I had the confidence lining up in 2021 to believe I could go faster. Knowing the course and having so many friendly and familiar faces around also really helped particularly in the second half of the race.”
Wright says she’s going into this weekend with little expectation of winning, especially given the strength of the field, but would love to finish in the top three to qualify for UTMB.
“The line-up for the TUMMiler this year is looking the most competitive it’s ever been. I’m hugely excited to line up with some incredible runners and hopefully have a great day of racing out there. Getting onto the podium would be a huge achievement,” said Wright.
Though not technically entered in the Tarawera Ultramarathon as an elite this year – she took on her father’s entry last month – Australian trail runner Lucy Bartholomew is one to watch in the TUMMiler, her first 100-mile race outside of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run.
Bartholomew is a previous winner at TUM, claiming the 62km title in 2018. She’s also won the 100km race at Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB and finished third at Western States in 2018.
“I first came to Tarawera back in 2014, I think I was 17 or 18 years old and it was my first international race, so I’m very excited to be back again,” said Bartholomew. “Tarawera is like a second home to me, it’s always been a place I’ve come back to – I think I’ve been here maybe four or five times racing the 100k, 50k, 60k, and now the 100-miles. It’s really cool, I love the community, I love the trails, and it’s just the perfect way to start the year.
“I’m really excited (to do 100-miles), I took this race because my dad was actually signed up for it, so he then got into Western States and we had an entry to spare in the Bartholomew family, so I think I’ll either be thanking him or hating him out there, but I’m really looking forward to doing the 100-miles and earning a pounamu and just sharing the course with everybody,” she said.
For more information and to enter the 2023 Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB visit: https://www.taraweraultra.co.nz
Header image: Zach Miller (USA) at UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2019. Credit: Pascal Tournaire