Tarawera Miler Pacer Report 2023
On my way up to Tarawera to support our Run Club crew this year I got the call that one of our miler runners pacer, was unable to make it. What followed was a mad scramble to get my gear together back home (thanks Mum) and collected by one of our crew to bring up (thanks Erin) so I could get it checked off at registration before the race. I wasn't meant to be running, so I had no gear with me! Luckily I was already registered as a pacer for this runner for the 2022 event, so my entry was deferred to 2023.
Graham, who I was now pacing, had a spreadsheet of timings and estimates and we caught up on Thursday night to see where he would like me to pace from. Ideally in my mind a nice 20km section please! The plan was I would jump in at Hemo Gorge around 9pm, it was going to be a 34km section through the night for me! My goal was to keep him moving, keep him safe and get him to the finish line.
Throughout the day Graham was tracking about 45min ahead of schedule so after a day spent cheering runners down the finish chute I headed to Hemo Gorge at 7:30pm to meet Graham's crew, Kat and Mike.
Graham came in to the aid station before 8pm and had some soup and watermelon and topped up his fluids ready for the next section. At this stage he had been running for 15 hours and was tired and sore, but I could see how determined he was to crack on and get over the finish line.
From Hemo Gorge it was a final 51km loop to go, he had already done it once and he just had to get through it one more time.
We set off into the gorge as the sun started to disappear, it was cool and I was grateful to have put long Zeenya on and to have my merino top. We walked and chatted for a bit about how he was feeling and what his plan was for the final push to the end. Turns out Graham's feet were suffering, well actually his toes were stuffed from the impact of stubbing his feet into rocks. You know when you start doing that, you can guarantee you will keep doing it again and again. As a result the plan was to walk and run where he could.
We ran a bit and settled into an easy walk/run pattern, but unfortunately the stubbing situation happened a few more times and running became too painful. I actually lost count of how many times over the 12 hours we were together out there that his toes got smashed. I could tell each time with a scuff noise, then a sharp intake of air. Compounding the pain Graham had recently been diagnosed with arthritis in his toe, so it was an added complication.
For the first 4 hours we kept up some easy banter, chatting away. I was quite nervous about being out at night as I am a bit scared of the dark, but it turns out Graham had an epic head torch and your eyes kind of adjust to the darkness. I had a head torch too but didn't really need it, which was lucky as it crapped out and it turns out it wont go when connected to the charger (something I should have figured out earlier).
The trails were actually pretty quiet at night and at times it felt like we were the only ones out there. From time to time we would pass another runner or be passed and there were always encouraging words exchanged.
Through one of the bush sections we had a possum dart out in front of us and shoot across the trail. We both stopped and had a bit of a laugh as it freaked us out. The forest area has some sort of sprinkler system running which made an odd noise that puzzled us for a while and there were loads of glow worms to be seen.
The Green Lake loop was tough going, but at night you can't really see what is coming up next and before we knew it we had done the loop and were on our way to Tikitapu. I checked in with our crew by texting and there were going to be cups of hot tea waiting for us, bliss! We could hear the aid station and see it across the lake, then finally we popped out of the bush to the familiar lakefront aid station.
It was pretty cold at this point, the wind was cooling us down quickly. Kat, Mike and Jas wrapped us in blankets and we added an extra top layer for the next section. And the cup of tea? It was amazing. Graham joked about how I was chatty for the first 4 hours, but had run out of things to talk about, so we got some new topics from our crew for the next section.
I had already decided I was going to carry on to at least the Redwoods with Graham, I wanted to keep an eye on him and help him navigate the last of the dark.
To be honest both of us were just super tired at this point and were happy to chat, but also comfortable to just put our heads down and get it done. My legs were feeling it and my feet were also really sore.
I got regular pee colour updates from Graham and we had a laugh about how often I had to go. He joked I may have set the record for the most amount of pee stops during an ultra, I knew he was doing ok as he was still able to make jokes. But also I don't know what happened with my bladder, it was ridiculous! Apologies to the runner who came past while I was hunkered down, thank you for averting your eyes - I was mortified but you came out of nowhere and I saw your head torch getting closer and I panicked.
The Redwoods were next to navigate and the looming steps of doom. On miler legs these were going to be tricky and Graham made a plan for getting down them, sideways it was going to be! Once we were done with the steps it was a gentle bit of trail into the Redwood aid station. We heard our support crew before we could see them, there were plenty of cheers and it was really special. Not far to go now and Graham was going to cross that finish line. There was a real sense of excitement and relief brewing and we left the aid station determined.
Coming into the finish chute was emotional, our LIM RC crew were cheering and I was so proud of Graham for pushing through and getting it done. Congratulations to all the runners out there attempting the miler event. It really is a battle of the mind and body. If you are going to give it a crack I would recommend having a pacer for the final section and if you can get some crew to be at the aid stations.
I didn't plan to do an ultra at Tarawera this year, but I did and I feel very privileged to be part of Graham's miler journey.