The 102km titles at the 2023 Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB are set to be hotly contested as a strong field of seasoned international trail runners take on up-and-coming Oceania talent.
American ultra runner Hayden Hawks will line up in Rotorua this Saturday as the firm favourite to take home the men’s 102km crown.
Hawks has a number of major races wins to his name including the CCC (100km) race at UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2017 in a course record time, Black Canyons Ultra 100km in 2020, and Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB 100km in 2022. He also finished second last year at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race.
“I believe I can win any race I sign up for. I work hard and prepare myself for every race I sign up for. I feel prepared going into TUM and it’s my kind of course. I believe that if I execute how I need to and run a smart race, I can win. We will see though, it’s ultra running and you have to respect the distance, course, and competition,” said Hawks.
“It would be amazing to win TUM102. It would be a great start to my season and accomplish a goal that I have had for years. This race has been on the list for years,” he said.
Kiwi runner Daniel Jones will be among the challengers facing Hawks, and the pair know each other well having been training partners on and off over the past year.
“Hayden’s here as the biggest name at Tarawera, so to train with him here in New Zealand, nail some big sessions with a focus on vert strength has been ideal prep. I’m looking forward to lining up next to him,” said Jones.
Jones will hope to build on the success of 2022, a year in which he won two Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Marathons, the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Queenstown Marathon, and two Kepler Challenges.
The 32-year-old is one of the leading challengers for the TUM102 title and should he finish in the top two, he would punch his ticket to the prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race.
“My number one goal is the Tarawera Ultramarathon, and I don’t want to look too far past that. In saying that I know what’s on the line – a golden ticket to the biggest ultramarathon in the US and near on the world, Western States 100-Miler. In the end, I want to test myself against the best in the sport, Western States would provide that, but I’m actually lucky in some ways that some of the best have travelled across the world to race here (at the Tarawera Ultramarathon),” he said.
Another Kiwi hoping to be amongst the podium places when Saturday’s 102km race culminates is Rotorua local Michael Voss.
The 26-year-old is the 2020 winner of the Tarawera Ultramarathon 50km race in a course record but was unable to finish the 102km race on his first attempt in 2021.
“I’m excited heading into race day. I’ve had a large training block the last few months, all geared towards TUM. I’ve managed to stay injury free and healthy, while getting some good sessions in,” said Voss. “It’s cool to see the town filling up with other trail runners, and makes me proud to be from here being able to showcase the forest and what it has to offer.
“Ever since I won the 50k distance in 2020, I have wanted to go one better by winning the 102k,” he said. “I was very disappointed when I didn’t finish the 2021 edition of TUM. Although I DNF’d, I learnt a lot in that race, which will help me in this upcoming edition. I’ve worked on my pacing, nutrition, and also getting familiar with the course. I’ve also learnt that I perform best when I’m relaxed leading into race week. I’m just enjoying the taper, and chilling out, not putting too much pressure on myself.”
Australian Vlad Shatrov is another athlete to keep an eye out for in the 102km race. The 44-year-old holds the Tarawera Ultramarathon 100-mile course record set in 2020. Other names include Sam McCutcheon (NZL), Ryan Montgomery (USA), and Brendan Lombard (ZAF).
Spanish runner Aroa Sio heads into Saturday’s 102km race as the top ranked female following an impressive showing on her UTMB debut last year to finish eighth, a third place finish at the Canyons Endurance Runs by UTMB 100km, as well as a string of wins and podiums in smaller European races.
“I feel very confident, I’ve been training hard, and I could say that I am in a good physical condition to compete. Although we know that in the ultras there are other factors that also intervene such as food, negative thoughts, a fall. I hope to have everything under control,” said Sio.
“2022 couldn’t have been better to be honest. I was able to participate in a few amazing races and get some good results. I did my first two 100 miles (Western States and UTMB). That changed my perspective on ultra distance. Now I can say that I am a different athlete since I have been fortunate enough to run those two great events. I am sure that Tarawera will leave the same mark on me.”
Sio will be making her Tarawera Ultramarathon debut and decided to sign up for the event to make the most of doing the thing she loves in a place she loves.
“Several reasons led me to make this decision. I had the good fortune to visit New Zealand in 2020 and I was captivated by its beauty, culture, the peace that is breathed. Strong reasons that encouraged me to participate, but the long travel from Spain was a bit of a deterrent. But to be honest this place is totally worth it, 20,000km, I’m in love again,” said Sio.
Australian Anna McKenna is another athlete vying for the women’s 102km crown on Saturday.
McKenna, who won the 100km race at Ultra-Trail Australia in October last year, originally entered the Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2020 before COVID meant she was unable to travel to the event.
“I’m really excited to finally be able to come over to New Zealand and run this race with a completely different perspective and purpose. I have heard amazing things from friends about generally running in New Zealand as a whole, it’s always nice to travel to new places for races and the chance to venture over to New Zealand to experience new landscapes and terrain,” said McKenna.
“Being able to test myself is something I don’t take for granted, on top of this to put myself in the position to challenge for the win is a bonus, to win a race like TUM102, you just need to look at the athletes that have won it before, what they have gone on and done, it’s inspiring,” she said.
Another Australian hoping to make her mark on the race is Newcastle’s Stephanie Auston. The 31-year-old comes into the event with form on her side, having won Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko 100km just two months ago.
Auston will return to the Tarawera Ultramarathon for the first time since 2019, where she finished second in the 102km race.
“It’s so good to be back in Tarawera, it was my first 100k back in 2019 and such a magic day. The people, the scenery, the energy was so magic, and this time I have added on a two week holiday round the North Island with my family after to enjoy and see some more of the beautiful country,” said Auston.
“It would be an honour to win a race as big as Tarawera, though I can’t imagine winning really, the girls on the start line are so good but can’t say I’m not excited for the challenge,” she said. “I’m racing to enjoy the people, the place, the culture, and represent what a great thing running is. I guess though if I did win I would definitely cry – after all I have been through this past year, it would be a dream come true.”
New Zealand based South African Naomi Brand is hoping that the ease of competing domestically will help her compete for a podium place in Rotorua.
“It feels great to have the Tarawera Ultramarathon back on the calendar. It’s been a huge struggle to get to races over the past few years, and this one was as easy as booking a domestic flight and a rental car,” said Brand.
The 34-year-old finished third in the TUM102 event in 2020 and will be hoping to repeat that success this weekend – although she knows the competition will be strong.
“Flat and fast is not my strongest suit but I’m looking forward to pushing beyond my comfort zone. I have been working a lot on speed, let’s hope it shows on race day,” she said. “I’ve heard a few names and decided to look no further. Sometimes it’s better not to know than overthink things. On the day, the person who’s had the best day will win. There’s always, always, hope that that will be me. With the current line up I’d be happy with a top five finish.”
Fuzhao Xiang (CHN), Konoka Azumi (JPN), and Amanda Basham (USA) will also provide tough competition for podium places.
For more information and to enter the 2023 Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB visit: https://www.taraweraultra.co.nz
Header image: American ultra runner Hayden Hawks is the favourite to win the 102km race at the 2023 Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB. Credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith.