If you’re forced to be a spectator at Tarawera Ultra, you might as well be placed at central aid station Okataina on a ‘fire course’ year. Upon hearing I was out, Paul C considerately organised the race to run back past so I could watch everyone in action twice. What a guy.
For anyone following my big moan last week, the verdict turned out to be a small tear in the achilles and a complete tear in the plantaris tendon (a weird and apparently ‘unimportant’ vestigial item that is not mirrored in my other leg). So that was that. Maybe six weeks off running and definitely no 40k of relay (I may have got a glare from the physio upon facetiously throwing that back in the ring).
‘How did you even run on it?’ queried both the physio and masseuse. Dumb optimism, I tell you – it’s powerful stuff.
Thus I was in the cheering squad for Tarawera thanks to Barefoot Inc taking me along for the ride. And while I would have loved to run, watching was actually kinda cool. What I liked most was seeing so many friends running and getting a true overview of what has become a MASSIVE event. From speedsters Sage and Ruby and Tim and Vajin and Brendan and Mick and Beth and Shona and co flying, through to Brian rocking in ten minutes before the cut-off – and cruising out carrying nothing but one gel (tough man). I really enjoyed the athlete’s seminar on Friday too.
Some random observations:
*Everyone knows the top runners are fast, but it was a bit humbling to realise just how fast. We got to Okataina, a bunch of people came through, we put up a tent, ate nuts, talked smack, some more people came through…and I noticed that Imaginary-Dawn was still half an hour off arriving. (Imaginary-Dawn had a good day overall though, for anyone wondering, despite slowing a bit on the hills.)
* Kristian copes well with every second conversation being about how Ruby’s going, what training she’s been doing, how cool she is, what she has for breakfast and her favourite brand of toilet paper. Luckily he likes her a lot.
*After a few hours the carnage began and it was slightly worrying to realise I was envious of peoples’ pain. Well, not pain as such, but the intensity of the experience they were having and the challenge of testing themselves on the terrain and distance – I wonder how I would cope with this? It’s these extremes that draw us to ultrarunning, I guess. It was also gut-wrenching at times though, especially when people were truly hurting or getting told they couldn’t continue.
* It was also humbling to be reminded than spectating/supporting is enjoyable, but even in an awesome race full of guns, it’s really not as exciting as running. Presuming I’ll be back, supporters get extra kudos next time! Having said that, having the opportunity to help a few friends fill a pack or just cheer them on was one of the coolest aspects of watching.
*I think watching Jenni was also one of my favourite parts of the day. So proud! I knew she could do it.
*Watching Ruby was amazing too but I’ve never seen her do anything except win decisively so had difficulty envisioning anything else. Didn’t have to. Star.
*I finally got to meet Deb Nicholl in person and she was awesome.
* Loved seeing someone else casually breastfeeding at an aid station mid-race, and a wee one too. Go Nadine!
* Another (obvious) realisation: even when you get to the start-line fine, anything can happen. People hurt themselves, their tummies don’t work, they cramp, they bonk, they fall down hills. So many class athletes throughout the field had issues and that’s just what happens when you attempt hard unpredictable missions. They can come back in style though. Vicky pulled out at 40k, only to pace Darren 17k further to his finish. It was sobering to see elite runner Jason Schlarb walking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y into the aid station on his return and having a good long sit (and great to see him sprint into the 100k finish later). Shona was really disappointed not to have the race she’d hoped for, retiring at 85k – and then one week later smashes the 100 miler at Northburn.
*Obvious realisation #3 or #4 – places and time really don’t matter so much. It’s all about the journey, man, and people have such amazing journeys irrespective of those measures. I’m remembering that next time I’m angsting mid-race too.
I’m not too phased about missing out now (promise). Tarawera is done and that’s how it was meant to be this year. It was a privilege to watch, and I’m enjoying living vicariously through some amazing blogs. Ironically, after several weeks of no running I’ve acquired a weird fatigue/virus thing, like chicken pox without the pox, so all I’m aiming for now is regaining my normal energy. Then we’ll get the running going again, and then…who knows.