Running Scared: Tarawera 100km Race Report

March 18, 2013 | By | 31 Replies More


“Just don’t walk.” I repeated this mantra in my head over and over for the last 15 miles of the Tarawera 100k in the exotic trails of New Zealand.  But at mile 54, I started walking…on a downhill! Quads buckling, I felt dizzy and nauseous. And thirsty. Man, I was thirsty! My handheld bottle still sloshed around 5 ounces of coke, but all I wanted was water. Fearing the inevitable bonk, I slammed two gels and took a swig of coke. When the trail flattened out I started running again, but it was a slow shuffle – the kind of stride that I reserve for moments of desperation when my body systems are failing and getting to the finish line without collapsing becomes the top priority. I was in a major hurtbox.

Last I had heard, I had about a 20-minute lead over Timothy Olson at around the 50-mile mark. However, given the caliber of runner Tim is, I was now running scared (and glancing over my shoulder).  I knew if I saw him he would pass me for sure as my legs were totally unresponsive at this point. The hunt was on and I was the prey just waiting to be engulfed…

It wasn’t always this way. When the Tarawera 100km started in the magical redwood forest area of Rotorua, NZ, a lead pack of hungry runners formed: Brendan Davies and Mick Donges of Australia, Vajin Armstrong of New Zealand, me, and Timothy Olson of the US.


cool bib...this one's a keeper!

cool bib…this one’s a keeper!

At 12.5 miles into the 63 mile race I made my move. It was totally pre-meditated. On a 1.5 mile long uphill stretch of road (basically the only road running on the entire course), I went hard. A series of mid 6-min miles up the hill and a jolt in my heart rate was enough to get me clear of the field. The rush of adrenaline of leading the race at that point allowed me to keep pressing the pace.  In retrospect, that was when I pushed too hard…


By 23 miles into the race I had a good 6-10min lead on 2nd place (I didn’t find this out until after 30 miles into the race though, thanks to the one-and-only Bryon Powell of iRunFar, who took a boat to one of the remote aid stations). Suddenly the trail got a little more technical as the course weaved around a series of beautiful lakes. The narrow single track was often coated in roots, and the little ups and downs of some rather steep hills started to wear on me. I came through 50k in just about 4 hours flat and didn’t feel very good. I thought back to the halfway point at the Bandera 100km, when I came through the first 50k in just under 3:50 and decided that I felt a lot worse on this day. I was already bracing myself for a big positive split and decided 8:30 might be a reasonable finish time to shoot for…. but I had already forgotten about how steep some of the hills were…soon, a few flights of stairs started to really bother me.


in the woods. Photo by Graeme Murray

in the woods. Photo by Graeme Murray

Photo Credit: Graeme Murray

I know many would laugh at what I call “technical trail,” but there were many spots of narrow single track that required a significant break in my stride and more dancing instead of running. Ironically, on a flatter and more tame section of the course, I tripped on a root and tumbled sideways off the trail into a stump. My armpit took most of the force of the fall and immediately I thought I had broken my rib. It took a couple seconds to get up from that ordeal. My handheld continued to roll down the trail a bit about 10 feet in front of where I landed. A bit shaken, I cautiously continued on with a little extra blood and dirt.


At the turn-around point about 37.5 miles into the race I made note of my cumulative watch time and counted the minutes until I saw 2nd place. It took 6 minutes to see Timothy Olson flying down the trail head-on at me. He looked strong and full of the run. I figured my lead had held constant at 12 minutes at this point and the more technical running section was going to make it hard to pull away from him.


Photo by Graeme Murray

Photo by Graeme Murray

Photo Credit: Graeme Murray

By the time I reached an aid station at mile 52 I was starting to feel weak, dehydrated and nauseous. Luckily my parents had made the trip over and were able to crew for me. I quickly refilled with some gels, coke, and a couple bites of potato chips. I heard mixed reports that my lead had extended to over 20 minutes, which was very confusing to me as I felt like I had been slowing down more and more.  However, I was still confident I could pull off the win…as long as I didn’t start walking…..




Then there was an 11-mile stretch without an aid station. To an ultra noob like me, this is a long way! As I started walking on downhill sections and through little grassy fields I thought about how my kidneys probably didn’t like this.  The sun was bearing down on me and although it probably wasn’t even 70F, I felt warm and cold at the same time. I knew if I could get to the aid station around mile 60 I could get water and hold off 2nd place if I saw him coming on the long straight stretch of the road to the finish. Getting to that aid station became my main goal, but every downhill challenged me and made me grimace (I still embraced the uphills as they were still more runnable at that point)


chugging water...i needed more of that!

chugging water…i needed more of that!

Photo Credit: Ultra168

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know Tim was finishing really strong in the final 20km of the race. In the end, I had very good reason to be glancing over my shoulder, as he had dramatically reduced the gap between us to a mere 3 minutes.


After almost 9 hours of running (the longest duration I’ve ever competed), I crossed the finish line. It was a huge relief. Seeing Tim cross just 3 minutes later made me feel very lucky that the race wasn’t any longer than 100km, as he surely would’ve passed me within a matter of a few more miles.  New Zealand’s Vajin Armstrong, who I had raced against at White River last summer, finished 3rd.


With Women's Champion Ruby Muir...look out for her she is a fast, young talent!

With Women’s Champion Ruby Muir…look out for her as she is a fast, young talent from New Zealand! Her run was race performance of the day in my book

This race really solidified in my mind that I have a lot to learn in the sport of ultra running and there are things that I have to tweak in my training to be able to finish stronger, race downhills, and run more technical trails. I’m not in any rush to move up to the 100 mile distance (despite hearing from many that I should try to). Right now, as it stands, I’ve only finished six ultra races: one 50k, one 50miler and three 100ks. I’d like to try to learn more from doing 50k to 50-mile types of trail and mountain racing. But I’d also like to try to qualify for the 2016 US Olympic Trials in the marathon and I don’t believe that 100-mile training would be a productive step towards that goal as 100 miles is a totally different beast. Maybe one day though…

individualized, wood-carved medal!

individualized, wood-carved medal!


My splits from Strava tell me that I also have a lot to learn about pacing in these crazy distance events…

In closing, Tarawera Race Director Paul Charteris put on an amazing event and brought out a talented field of international runners. His vision to grow the sport of ultra running both in New Zealand and on a world-wide scale is very inspiring to me and many others. The local volunteers and sponsors like Mark Copeland also are what made this race incredible. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity and support to make the trip out to such an amazing place (I’ve always dreamed of traveling to New Zealand).


Finally I’d like to thank all my sponsors for their support: SCOTT Sports, Flora Health / Udo’s Oil, Ultimate DirectionDrymax Socks, Strava, Smith Optics.  Still looking for that energy gel/bar sponsor…anyone out there? I wouldn’t even be able to even dream about trying to make a living as a professional ultra runner if it wasn’t for these companies, my family and girlfriend, and the support of fellow runners in the ultra/mountain/trail/marathon running community. Thank you so much!


See you on the trails,



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About the Author ()

2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.

Comments (31)

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  1. patrick voo says:

    wow – fantastic race sage, and great report! big ups and congrats!

  2. Flandria says:

    What an incredible experience! Love reading this post race report.

  3. jose armando munguia says:


    I would love to see more people like you succeed. I would personally sponsor you in some kind of social-group sponsorship, like some athletes version of kickstsrter.

    In anycase, I’ll support your current sponsors & continue viewing your media.

    Wish you the best


  4. Ricardo says:

    Looks like another memorable day! Trails in New Zealand must be awesome, and winning must be awesome too :p

    Congratulations. I discovered your youtube videos recently and all i can say is ”keep’em coming!”, good info and good background music! I wish I could run like you.

    Regards from Portugal

  5. Great race report Sage and fantastic sharing the week with you. It is very refreshing to hear how even when leading a race it aint over till its over and how hard you had to work over that last 20kms. Timmy was a beast over that last section and we can see why he destroys 100 miler fields. Really nice to meet your parents and I am sure the relief on their faces when they saw you appear down that finishing chute was as big as yours. We managed to get them out of the last aid station to get them to the finish in time to see you after the shuttle bus was delayed. Rest up well and catch you on the trails again soon – Marcus

  6. howitz says:

    GRATS Sage! I was following and cheering for you thru the social networks .. am glad that you win this big race! I am my self ultra runner and i know the feeling of an 100k so you are on a great track mate!

  7. Great report Sage, was a pleasure to meet you and see you run along the course. Hope to see you back in Australia / NZ soon.


  8. Paul says:

    Very cool report, well done on an amazing result!! Sounds like you actually paced it pretty well…Timmy Olson is always gonna push most people at the end so you did fantastic to get over that line in 1st!

    I look forward to seeing what else you’ve got in store for this year! The Ultra scene just got a whole lot more exciting!! Woohoo!


  9. Buzz says:

    Excellent report; thanks. A “W” is a “W”! Very good call not getting sucked into 100 milers – training for that would rule out all the other fun, competitive running you will be doing.

  10. DJ says:

    Great win Sage!

  11. Mike B. says:

    Tremendous job Sage! Hey I know you were asked this before I think but what is the name of the fuel belt you were wearing?

  12. Candice says:

    Congrats again Sage! Great to meet you. Fun report to read. Even after running 4 hundred milers and six+ 50 milers (plus numerous 50ks)… I still have a lot to learn. Ultras really challenge all aspects of our being. I have no doubt you will continue to improve and have success in this journey!

  13. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks! Learning from every trail race and ultra experience always makes it more fun and interesting! Best of luck with your training and see you around at the races!

  14. SageCanaday says:

    It is the Ultimate Direction Jurek series “Endure” waist pack – should be on the market in the next month or so!

  15. SageCanaday says:

    exactly! So many fun (and shorter) mountain races to experience first. thanks for the support!

  16. SageCanaday says:

    thanks Dan! likewise. Keep up the great work!

  17. SageCanaday says:

    hey thank you for the support! – it is much appreciated. Hope your training is going well too!

  18. SageCanaday says:

    hey Marcus, great to meet you as well. Keep up the amazing work and best of luck with your running as well! See you at the races

  19. SageCanaday says:

    thank you! Stay tuned for more Vo2max Productions on YouTube

  20. SageCanaday says:

    Hey JAM,
    Thanks – that is really nice of you to say! I’m actually thinking about starting a Kickstarter project for my film documentary about traveling the world, running ultras as a pro, and training/going after your dreams and goals. Stay tuned!

  21. SageCanaday says:

    hey thanks so much!

  22. SageCanaday says:

    thank you – it was a rollercoaster!

  23. Flora says:

    You are doing an incredible job buddy. Regards from Hotel Charles de Gaulle. Keep together with the great do the job.

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