“This is just getting silly now.”
That’s Kiwi endurance runner, Kerry Suter’s view on the star-studded field for the 2014 Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon on March 15.
Suter won the first two editions of the race in 2009 and 2010 and was referring to the announcement that Portuguese ultra star, Carlos Sa had signed up for this year’s event.
“Carlo is the reigning champion of the hellish Badwater Ultramarathon,” added Suter. “And that’s considered the world’s toughest foot race.”
At the Tarawera, Sa will join Suter in a line-up that includes the current World No. 1 ranked runner, Olympians, world record holders and more than 20 past and present national champions of several countries.
The 100 kilometre run from Rotorua to Kawerau is the brainchild of Paul Charteris, a local ultra runner himself. In its first year, the race attracted 67 people, only one of them from outside New Zealand.
For the sixth race over 850 runners from 28 countries will line up at the start among the giant Redwoods of Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest.
“It means the Tarawera Ultramarathon will feature possibly the deepest field ever assembled for an endurance event in New Zealand,” said Charteris, as the countdown to race day hits 4 weeks to go.
It’s an audacious claim for what is often considered a niche sport in New Zealand. However, the list of entries is the who’s who of the international endurance running community.
Carlos Sa will face current world #1 Rob Krar from Canada and Sage Canaday from USA, the defending Tarawera champion.
They’ll line up against Mike Wardian and Michael Aish (USA), Martin Gaffuri and Stephan Quentin (France), Manuel Lago (Brazil), Yun Yanqiao (China), Japanese phenomenon Yoshikazu Hara and Australia’s best ultra runner, Brendan Davies.
The top Kiwis include Vajin Armstrong, Marty Lukes and Scott Hawker.
In the women’s field, New Zealand’s Ruby Muir is the defending champion.
She’ll face intense competition from Australia’s Beth Cardelli and Shona Stephenson, the USA’s Meghan Arbogast and Tomoko Hara from Japan.
Many of the top international runners are capable of sub 2:30 marathons and have Facebook fan pages with 30,000 or more followers. And the top 20 runners in the field have won several hundred races between them.
“So it’s fair to say that the absolute elite of world trail ultra running is coming to Rotorua,” added Charteris.
Trail ultras are very popular in Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and the United States, where top athletes are treated like rock stars. Events attract massive audiences and this has captured the attention of corporate sponsors.
“They are pumping serious money into the sport, to keep up with its potential,” said Charteris.
The evolution of the Tarawera Ultra reflects the growth of the sport both in New Zealand and internationally.
And the increasing status of the event and quality of the trails in New Zealand was officially recognised in 2013. The Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon is now part of the Ultra Trail World Tour.
This 10-race grand slam of ultramarathons includes some of the very best endurance races round the world.
On March 15, all eyes will be on New Zealand. As well as enhancing the countries reputation as a superb destination for trail running, the Tarawera Ultra event will also inject over $1 million into the local economy.
The race will start in Rotorua just before dawn and finishes 100km away in Kawerau.
“However, we do have 85 and 60km options for the slightly less bonkers,” Charteris added.
Visit the website for more information: www.taraweraultra.co.nz.
At a glance:
- In 2014 the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua will have the biggest field of international athletes for any endurance event ever seen in New Zealand.
- The event started five years ago with 67 entrants (only one from overseas) and has grown to 850 runners from 28 countries, this year.
- The Tarawera Ultra has been included in the inaugural Ultra-Trail World Tour, a 10-race grand slam of ultramarathons worldwide.
- The Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon is expected to bring around $1 million into the local economy.