Vibram Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2014

TawaweraI met Emma around a year and a half ago now. We came to know each other through Facebook. She ‘liked’ my business page, commented on literally everything I posted (I dubbed her my number one fan) and eventually ended up messaging me asking me for some photography advice. I don’t have many friends or know many people in general who are genuinely interested in photography so after a bit of a facebook stalk on my behalf I decided she looked fairly normal and invited her to assist me on one of my photoshoots.

What a mistake that was….. jokes.

I met Emma around a year and a half ago, through facebook and she is now one of my closest friends.

Emma has a husband called Gene. Gene runs. Not just around the block. He runs far, like 30km through the bush on a Saturday morning just for fun kind of far. Emma and I introduced James and Gene not long after we met and they too, in a short period of time, have become great friends. Since James left the Army he wanted to find some kind of sport/hobby to keep his impeccable fitness up and also satisfy his needs to be outside, preferably in the bush. I suggest James go running with Gene.

All of the above is just a short summary of how I managed to find myself in the middle of the Tarawera Forest at 5.30am on a Saturday morning in snowpants and other assorted waterproof gear in preparation for an entire day travelling to different spots out in the middle of nowhere battling the elements.


We accompanied Emma, Gene, Caitlin, Raya (Emma’s 4 year old sister), Smudge (Emma’s Dad), Mags (Emma’s Mum), Brett (a family friend of theirs) & Uskay (a Japanese Student staying with Emma’s Parents) down to Rotorua on Friday evening to attend the 2014 Tarawera 100km Ultra Marathon. The week prior was fairly interesting, we all spent our time glued to the weather forcasts as we found out that Lusi would join us on the trip also, a category two tropical cyclone. Unfortunately due to said cyclone, at the last minute the race was shortened from 100kms to 74kms as it would be too dangerous for the runners to continue into the night when the forcasted gale force winds and torrential rain were scheduled to hit Rotorua. The boys were incredibly disappointed but the 74kms would still be an amazing achievement.

Gene and Smudge were the two who would run the entire course, James would have loved to have joined then however as this was a fairly last minute decision for us to go down James was asked if he’d like to pace them for the last 20kms instead which ultimately meant that he would be kicking their asses to make sure they got to the finish line.


We started our morning at 4am. Drank coffee then headed to the start line. What an awesome experience that was. It’s inspiring how many people actually do this. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, gender and nationality. When the countdown got to ‘ONE’ an incredible amount of people began to run past in a blur, head lamps bobbing up and down, eventually though, they faded into the darkness of the morning. When the crowds depleted we headed back to the batch for breakfast & to get together all our gears so were ready to crew.

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We arrived to the first aid station at 9.30 which means they would have run about 25kms once they got here. This station was my favourite. Everyone was in such high spirits. There was a group of foreigners who were chanting as everyone ran past. When people saw me with my camera would wave, or smile and some even did a little victory jump. Most of them also thanked us for supporting as well. It was awesome. I had a feeling by the next stop this would be different.


The Lake Okareka Station was by far the most miserable for spectators which was not ideal as we would end up returning as this would double as the finish. There was not a direction you stood where you weren’t exposed to the bone chilling wind and rain. As the boys arrived here they were still in good spirits, the adrenaline was obviously still running through their veins. They were now more than half way. They stopped for a chat, a feed, a sock change and as quickly as they said hello they were off again!


The contrast between runners moods the first aid station and the last, as anticipated, was like black and white. At this station you could see people beginning to wilter. Their moods and energy levels were obviously lulling, they would have been soaked through to their core, no doubt incredibly hungry and a few I even saw run to their families crying, begging them to not make them run back the way they had just came. One of them I saw come through the finish line. I can’t even imagine how she would have felt overcoming her mind like that. I don’t know who she was but I was so incredibly proud for her. This is where James joined Gene and Smudge, to help them battle the last nineteen kilometers.


We stood at the finish waiting for around an hour and I have to say I got a little emotional at some of the people who ran through. Good thing I had my camera to hide behind & the fact that it was also raining certainly helped. Finally we saw Gene and Smudge running towards us, Raya joined her dad as soon as she saw him appear and helped him run the last little leg hand in hand, she had been the most incredibly patient well behaved four year old I have ever experienced and this moment, no doubt, made it all worth it for her. She got to run through the finish with her dad, her superman & the look on her face when her dads medal was placed around her neck was priceless.


That ended our long, wet, windy day. We headed home got warm, ordered pizza and had a few well deserved glasses of wine. We spend the rest of the evening on the couch talking about their journey and sharing a few laughs.


My first experience was definitely not ideal however I really did enjoy every second of it. The organisers did a fabulous job considering the circumstances and I will most definitely be heading back down next year as James will be participating.

If you are in any of these images and would like a copy please head to Stellar Photography & Design and get in touch :)


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  • […] James – made the decision that he is going to get back into running! He has started training and the picture above was taken by him at sunrise on the Hillary Trail on which he did an 80km Ultra last year. He also ran part of the Tarawera in 2015 too, check out the blog posts here – The Hillary Trail Ultra Marathon | Tarawera Ultra Marathon […]ReplyCancel