Tarawera Ultra Marathon Race Report

March 24, 2014 | By | 48 Replies More

Kia Ora!

Running in New Zealand has been a surreal experience. Having the opportunity to race a world-class field in such a wonderful country is one major reason why I do this sport.  I realize that such distant travel is a luxury and a privilege and it’s not something that I take for granted. I’ve been very fortunate to not only get to race the 2013 edition of Tarawera Ultra marathon last year, but to also to be able to come back this year and successfully defend my title.

The night before the race  I was notified by my pacer/crew (local legend) Kerry Suter that due to the weather conditions of the impending Hurricane Lucy the 100km course had been shortened to a 65km (it actually turned out to be over 70km ..or close to 45 miles). At first I was a bit disappointed, as mentally I had braced myself for 100km of pain that would include a final 40km on fast fireroads that I had never encountered before. But then I felt a huge sense of relief as the shorter course would actually have more big hills on runnable, smooth trail. My training since the Carlsbad Marathon had been a solid build-up, but I knew my mileage hadn’t been that high; Given my limited training and busy 2014 race schedule  I was more suited for a shorter race anyway!

Before the race started I had decided that I would relax the first hour or two and run with the lead pack before making a break in the exact same location that I did last year: Millar Road. For the new modified course that we were running this was right around the 21-22 mile point in the race; the previous year this was around mile 16 into the 100km race and I moved far too hard given the longer event.


Pre-Race fun run with lots of great people! Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

Pre-Race fun run with lots of great people! Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

It took about a 4:50 mile effort (in terms of HR and leg strength as my actual split was over 6min pace) to take the lead from Mike Aish on this solid uphill stretch. With the sudden injection of speed and intensity I came through the aid station and chugged a cup of coke without stopping. Then at the top of the hill I basically inhaled two VFuel gels within 10min. Once I commit to the lead I never want to give it up!


NOTE: Earlier  in the race I ran the first 35min purely on water before starting to take a VFuel about once every 20min. The idea was to start easy with more fat burning to spare the glycogen reserves for the more intense running later on in the race up the big hills. The VFuels are a good carb source as they are really easy on my stomach and they also have a source of fat/protein with fractionated coconut oil. I have been working on my fat burning capacity during long runs by limiting my carb intake strategically before certain workouts. For example, about 2.5 weeks before race day I did a 23 mile long run late in the afternoon after hardly eating most of the day and then running only with water. I ran a steady pace the whole way and closed down miles 20-23 at 5:30 to 5:20 pace without having to dig very much. That was  a huge confidence booster being at altitude in Boulder. I also mostly eat giant salads for lunch dosed with avocados, nuts, and Flora Health Udo’s Oil or 7 Sources. I still drink an Avery Beer pretty much everyday and eat tons of pizza, but at times I will limit carbs for part of a day, coming off an overnight fast (easy!) then run in the morning relying just on plain coffee. I think that combination of diet and strategic, carb-restricted long runs has helped improve my fat-burning capacity so I am able to become more efficient in the long haul. It comes down to math and science: improve your Lactate Threshold, improve your Running Economy, boost your Vo2max, and get your Heart Rate reserve % up so that all these thresholds are closer and closer together!


In the heat of Battle. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

In the heat of Battle. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

At the turn-around point about 2/3 into the race it was a huge relief to see that I was up over 7min on second place and it appeared that everyone had become a bit spread out. I knew that as long as I didn’t blow a gasket on the return trip over the hills in the last 12 miles of the course (like I did last year), I could probably hold on for first. It really helped that I had a pacer for the first time (Kerry Suter) reminding me to keep good form and to look out for oncoming runners. I was also very lucky that the main part of the storm didn’t hit until about an hour after I finished the race as the strong winds and rain started to make the trails a bit muddy.

Three “notable” FIRSTS occurred during this race:

1.  I pissed myself on the run. I know this is pretty gross and I’m not sure sharing this information is a good idea but what the heck. It was totally intentional too of course. I pride myself on staying hydrated during ultra races and so usually once every 2-3 hours I gotta go! Instead of wasting a precious 15-20 seconds at a time like I did at other races ( esp. with a tight margin of victory like at Speedgoat) this time around I just let it flow at full speed without a hitch in my stride. It was interesting because it took a lot of mental concentration. These days ultras are getting a lot more competitive and you never know how close your margin of victory may be (in this case it was totally unnecessary as I had a bit of a cushion on 2nd place with 19 minutes to spare …but at the time I was still worried about my lead!).


2. My headlamp totally failed from the start. This was not a big deal as I ran with the front pack of runners and followed their beams. There were a couple tricky sections in the dark with steps and rocks and roots around the Redwood forest for the first hour or so but I managed to not fall.

3. I got stung by a bee during the race… like a legit hornet/yellow jacket sting (no wimpy honey bee sting). This was also not a big deal but it was around mile 27 and I noted that it hurt a lot worse than the pounding of the steep downhills at that point in the race (the same downhills that trashed my quads last year). HOKA ONE ONE power?

Finishing with pacer and crew Kerry Suter. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

Finishing with pacer and crew Kerry Suter. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

Overall, I had a great experience over the 45 miles and nearly 8,000’ of climbing on beautiful lake and forest trails. Race director Paul Charteris really knows how to put on a world-class top notch ultra event and all the volunteers that I passed at the aid-stations were very friendly and supportive. Also, hundreds of fellow runners in the races that I passed along the way often offered a lot of encouragement and were polite enough to give me space to pass.  Finally, even though he had to run the first leg of the relay, local legend (and previous 2-time Tarawera champion Kerry Suter was kind enough to crew for me and then pace me). All I had to do was pay him in Avery Beer. Thank you all!

Hard work pays off! With RD Paul Charteris. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

Hard work pays off! With RD Paul Charteris. Photo Credit: Lyndon Marceau

Next up, the Lake Sonoma 50-miler. Hope to see you there!



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Gear used/Shameless Sponsor Plugs:

 Hydration: Ultimate Direction:

AK Race Vest 2.0 (had to carry a rain jacket).

20oz Quick-draw handheld

Jurek Endure waist belt (I had two that rotated at aid stations)


Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock V2


Socks: Drymax Max Protection




Fuel: 17 Vfuel Gels (I counted the wrappers stuffed in my UD vest after the race).


Ugo Bars (mainly used in training…Sandi I didn’t want to risk bringing nuts/fruit over to New Zealand due to customs).


GPS: Strava




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Category: blog

About the Author ()

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

Comments (48)

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. This Running Life | March 26, 2014
  2. Daily News, Thurs, Mar 27 | March 27, 2014
  1. George Harris says:

    Congrats on a great race. Wondering how did the Huaka perform on this terrain? This looks like my must have shoe this summer.

  2. Vern Lovic says:

    Congrats Sage – I was hoping you’d pull it off! Best of luck for the rest of 2014. My goal is a half-marathon this year at some point, and to work up to being able to run 6+ miles per day so I can do a trail marathon by early 2015. All of your write-ups are pure gold for me – the best inspiration. Thanks much!

  3. Roby says:

    Coach an amazing race report! Thank you for sharing the info about the usage of fat as fuel! I’m trying to do the same here and I’ll keep you posted with my progress on it! KEEP IT UP COACH!!! Next tima, you have to come to Costa Rica!

  4. Nick says:

    Love the first photo. The guys in the background attempting a long range photo bomb.

  5. Chris says:

    Awesome work Sage, you owned it out there!

  6. MIchael Rice says:


    It is nice to see you back and obviously ready for another strong season! I notice you chose the Huaka rather than the Cliftons. Is that just an overall preference for you, or did the specific nature of this course make the Huaka a better fit?

  7. Joaquin Valdez says:

    Thanks for sharing! Amazing…..

  8. CJ Hitz says:

    Nice work over there Sage! Look forward to crossing paths next

  9. SageCanaday says:

    Hey George thanks! The HOA HUAKA worked great on the dirt trails. I was a bit worried with all the rain since they are mainly designed for the roads, but even in a bit of mud I didn’t slip and fall!

  10. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Vern,
    Great to hear – glad you like the videos. It’s all about being consistent and putting in the miles then adding a bit of variation (ie tempos, long runs and speedwork/Vo2max stuff). Hills to build strength and speed as well. Best of luck!

  11. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Roby,
    Thanks so much! Let us know if you have any specific nutrition questions at any time. Keep up the great work as well! Costa Rica would be great…that stage race a month ago sounded awesome.

  12. SageCanaday says:

    Ha ha, yeah they were swimming and jumping off the rocks into the geyser pond behind us. A couple shots the photographer told them to move out of the way, but then they decided to have them in it in the background.

  13. SageCanaday says:

    thanks for the support!

  14. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Michael,
    It was really a toss-up on which shoe to use. I guess since I had run well in the Huaka in my marathon they were more broken in…with the Cliftons I just have a size 9 prototype from a couple weeks ago which is a bit too small (I’m more like a 10). Still, I like the RMAT support in the Huaka and I thought the traction might be a bit better given the rain and mud. The one ounce in weight difference is not a factor for me. Since they are both road shoes in my next marathon I will probably use the Clifton (I really like both though and use both in training on the roads, trails and track!).

  15. SageCanaday says:

    Thansk CJ! See you on the trails!

  16. SageCanaday says:

    thanks for reading!

  17. Kirk says:

    Great job, Sage! Looking forward to reading up on your next adventures

  18. Heather D says:

    Great report. It’s was interesting to hear the story of the race after having watched it play out on irunfar and then looking at your splits on Strava. My husband and I were having fun trying to guess where you were going to make your move and then trying to match that up with what was posted on Strava later. I have appreciated all of your coaching tips thus far, but I don’t think I’ll incorporate peeing myself into my race strategy. 🙂

  19. James Lambert says:

    So insightful Sage! Thanks for providing us with not only a fascinating race report (Love to see how your brain works!) but also with the list of all the gears and nutrition.
    So VFuel Gels over Tailwind or Gu/Roctane??
    Congrats on the W.!

  20. Paulo Sousa says:

    Nice work, Sage!
    Hope for a great race in Transvulcania!

    Abraço de Portugal! (Hug from Portugal)

  21. Chris Price says:

    Congrats on the W Sage!

    How do you balance training the body to utilize fat better with making sure it’s able to handle taking a gel every 20 minutes. Do take that many gels during any training runs?



  22. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks for reading!

  23. SageCanaday says:

    Hey awesome to hear Heather! Thanks so much for following along (yeah I woudn’t recommend not taking a bathroom break). Great work with your training – it’s been awesome coaching you – and Sandi and I really appreciate your support! Keep up the great work1

  24. SageCanaday says:

    Hey James,
    Thank you! I honestly haven’t tried Tailwind, but I’m sticking with VFuel as it tastes good and works well for me (they of course also sponsor me..but I chose them after taking other brands like Gu/Hammer/Clif etc).

  25. SageCanaday says:

    Thanks Paulo!
    Looking forward to Transvulcania – hope to see you there!

  26. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Chris,
    Congrats on your half. Yeah, most training long runs I don’t treat like races so I can get away with a couple gels. I did some running-eating contests back in my Hansons and college days so the stomach is strong! For the climbs, altitude and in adverse conditions you want to practice fueling with gels once every 20min (or actually once every 1,000 of vert cimbed or once every 3 miles etc). or sometimes more so you can put the pedal down and burn it hot in races at times…but it depends on the workout and the trail/course. Keep experimenting around in training
    Sandi and I really appreciate your support! Keep up the great work!

  27. Kim Manford says:

    You looked great out there Sage! It was a thrill to have you come tearing past both as you went out and came back on the course! Sadly my race ended in a DNF but I will be back. I always channel my inner mountain goat for these trail races….but maybe I should start channelling the inner Sage! Best of luck with the next race!

  28. Hafisz says:

    Great effort Sage!!! And yeah, excellent reporting!!!

  29. John Shepard says:

    Great work Sage. Every year you keep getting stronger and stronger. Congrats on the win. Also good too see your fueling strategy. I’m a kind of a bigger guy just over 200lbs and looking to do my first Ultra this year. I’ve been really trying to get into more fat burning in my runs/rides. Thanks for the info in here. Science is cool.

  30. craig says:

    Avery is da bomb

  31. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Kim,
    Thanks for the support! It is always a challenge out there. Best of luck with your training and hope to see you next year…at the finish line!

  32. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks John,
    Science is the way I try to control things, but training/racing well is both a science and an art. I’ve learned a bit over the years but there is always more to learn! Best of luck wiht your training and future races/ultras.

  33. SageCanaday says:

    sure is! I’m drinking one right now

  34. Mike B. says:

    Hi Sage,

    Congrats on New Zealand and a successful 2014 start. I had a quick question on vitamin D that you may have addressed in a blog somewhere in the recent past. I’m in your old neck of the woods in Dewitt, Mich. and obviously not getting any sunlight this time of year. I just had some blood work done and my vitamin D was 15! My doctor said to start supplementing. I told him that typically in the winter things seem off and that I run less, eat less, weigh more, sleep worse and that in the summer everything is firing on all cylinders: sleep better, run 65-70 mpw, eat more, weigh less etc. My question for you is do you think lack of vitamin D can make that big of a difference and how long to get back on track after beginning supplements, Thanks and can’t wait to see you at Transvulcania!

  35. John Nestel says:

    Congrats again Sage on successfully defending your Tarawera title. It was my first ultra and given, that watching your 2013 victory in the Tarawera documentary inspired me to train for it, I was so thrilled to see you out on the course (about 7k from finish) and meet you in person. You were also gracious enough to take photo with my 2 small children Liam and Zarina – they still tell their friends about you. 2 questions: is it too big a jump for me to go from Tarawera to Miwok (I was very comfortable at Tara but I’m not a big over of big ascents)? Second, I try to fat adapt but after a long training run, have a crave for carbs – is this ok or does it mean I should take more carbs on the runs? Best wishes again, John

  36. Roby says:

    Hey Coach,
    I actually have some that I’ll cover via email, thank you so much for your help! I’m very motivated with the training and I’m actually feeling the payoff.
    Do you mean the Coastal Challenge? I know the race directors, let me check what can we arrange for this coming 2015 Coastal Challenge.
    Happy trails,

  37. Christian says:

    Hey Sage,

    It was inspiring to see you so focused and dialled in when we ran past each other on the Western Okataina Walkway!

    But I’m sure I remember you saying at the prize giving on Sunday that you were heading to Northburn for a fun run! Not to go down there and smash the 50k record!

    Great stuff man, have a great 2014 season!

  38. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Thanks so much Roby,
    It’s been great working with you!

    Yeah, that Coastal Challenge sounds cool – I know Mike Wardian went there before New Zealand this year. Looked like fun!
    Thanks so much.


  39. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Mike,
    Good idea on the bloodwork. I still take Vitamin D even after living in sunny Colorado. My doctor back home had told me years ago he thinks most of the US population is low on Vitamin D. I haven’t done too much research into VitD. , but I’d say that being low is not good (don’t OD though!) and I take it mainly for bone health/strength. It’s going to work on lots of interconnected systems in your body (may incluence your skin, sleep, immune system and energy levels as well). Better yet, it’s good to check for other things that might be low (magnesium, B12, etc) as well as what your blood values are as a baseline (ie red blood cell count, hemoglobin, etc). Good luck and thanks for the support!

  40. SageCanaday says:

    Hey John,
    Great to meet you at Tarawera as well – always glad to be in pictures too!

    I honestly don’t know the Miwok course but I don’t think it’s as hilly as Tarawera (I could be wrong). I think you can do it!

    It’s fine to have some carbs now and then during the Long Run and of course after you finish, I’d dig into a big meal. Thanks again for all the support and best of luck with your training.

  41. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Christain,
    Great to hear from you!
    Yeah, that climb at Northburn ended up being something I felt like grinding into so I went at it pretty steady! Hopefully it will serve the fitness well for future ultras this spring/summer. Thanks for all the support and best of luck to you as well!

  42. Tim says:


    Many congrats man, I will be following your season with great interest. You are a massive inspiration and motivation to me, a wannabe ultra runner!
    Crazy speed you got going on. And humble with it.

    Much respect.

  43. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Tim,
    Great to hear! Thanks so much for all the support – it is much appreciated!
    I wish you all the best in your running endeavors.


  44. Paul says:

    Good work Sage, hopefully you will be back to attempt a ‘three-peat’ in 2015, I was amazed at how fast the top runners zoomed past over that distance! Here’s a quick one, Tarawera was my first ultra and decided to do another hard one 6 weeks after (a 40k 2500m vert hill race called Cape Brett Challenge up north in NZ) – tried a 40k trail run last weekend but gave up at 36k, such hard work on sore legs(would have been easy before Tarawera!) – I presume I still need more rest, would that be right? (i’m pretty clueless about these things!). I’ve only done shortish easy runs last 3 weeks.

  45. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Paul,
    Great to hear! Yeah, I think the recovery takes some time after ultras (I didn’t feel real great at Lake Sonoma). 2 months is a better time frame to recover/re-train and taking breaks is a good idea (it comes with a loss of fitness though). Each race has very specific demands so it’s hard to target 2 in back-to-back months. Best of luck with your training and stay healthy to stay strong and be able to train/race consistently.

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