Race Report – Tarawera 100 miler – Shaun Whitehouse

Tarawera Ultra is a favourite event of mine and I have previously been 4 times to run various distances. My last visit was in 2020 where I DNF'd at 60km of the 102km race. I learned a lot of lessons from that particular experience and 2021 was going to be my redemption. Due to the global pandemic, it took until 2023 to finally get back to Rotorua and run the course. I signed up for the Miler (165km)!

By way of background, I started training for and running ultras in 2016. Since then I have completed 6 x 50km events, 3 x 100km events and 1 x Miler. I completed the Unreasonable East 100 Mile race in June 2022 and spent 38 hours out on course that felt more like a week! I wanted to apply a bunch of lessons I learned from that tough experience to having a red hot crack at a sizeable PB for Tarawera. Most notably, I wanted to work on:


  • Healthy preparation
  • Foot care
  • Sleep fatigue
  • Nutrition
  • Pace consistency


Preparation and Training

I have been coached by Mark Green 1-on-1 for about 3.5 years now. I’m a plodder at the mid to back of pack in 100km+ distances. I find the detailed programme Mark prepares takes account for my age, level of ability and busy lifestyle, but most importantly keeps me accountable to meet my goals. My main focus each week is ensuring that I complete quality sessions for the Wednesday Hill/Stair workouts, the weekend long run and glute workouts. The other runs and non-impact cardio are great top ups around these other key building blocks. Luckily my good mate JJ Harding is available to join me for most of the sessions and suffers through my very bad jokes for hours.

Before Unreasonable East I fell ill about 3 weeks out from the race, right at the peak of my Overload weeks which was highly frustrating, and I think did affect my performance in the event. For Tarawera, I wanted to give myself the best opportunity for success and focused on healthy eating and sacrificed all alcohol for 6 weeks – something that I hadn’t done for about 20 years. The ‘booze ban’ was quite enlightening. I slept better, it helped my training recovery, and it dropped my resting heart rate by 5-10bpm! I did a fair bit of sampling of the non-alcoholic beer options now available in the market. This time around we tweaked the programme a little to do more Overload/Recover/Overload/Recover over the December/January period and ensure that I didn’t empty the tank and become vulnerable to getting sick. My longest run was about 6 hours. This worked well for me this time. In the lead up to race week I felt well rested and ready to race after a good taper.


I had prepared quite a detailed race plan which went out the window when NZ was struck by some serious storms just 2 weeks out from the event. The revised course was released on Tuesday night of race week and now consisted of what was the last 45km of the original course, and then 2 x 60km laps, taking in all of the 50km course (twice). I must admit I was pretty happy that the largest climb on the course (West Okataina Walkway) was now going to be in the first 5km rather than at the 120km mark. While the weather forecast for race weekend was supposed to be clear, the potential for Cyclone Gabrielle to arrive early was still a possibility. Having raced the 2018 Tarawera 102km ‘mud fest’, it was something I was hoping to avoid. My original goal was a 33 hour finish, but I dialed it in a little to 31.5 with the course changes. Race cutoff is 36 hours.

Race Day

The Miler was always scheduled to start at 4am, but given the course change and the requirement to transport everyone by bus to the start line meant that we had to be at the Race Hub at 2:30am for the 45-50 min bus ride. I decided on a big Friday lunch and light dinner to ensure that I could get to sleep without a massive meal in my stomach. I had about 3-4 hours sleep before the alarm and I managed to get on the bus where the driver managed to make 2 wrong turns on the way to the start line. Nothing like amplifying the pre-race anxiety! The weather was perfect – 14 degrees, hardly any breeze and overcast – t-shirt weather. There were 550 registered entrants, but it was quite clear that there were a number of no-shows. There was a 20 minute start delay as some people hadn’t been collected from the pick-up point, including the race favourite.



Start to Village Green (45km)

The first 16km from the Start to Millar Rd is a mountain bike track and the longest stint between checkpoints on the course. Given its quite narrow, they sent us up the bitumen road for about 1km which allowed everyone to self-seed prior to hitting the single track. I managed to get myself into a small group that settled into a nice steady conservative pace and we worked well together for most of that 2 hours in the dark. Not once was I held up in a conga line waiting to pass anyone. I was surprised by how great the track condition was after all of the rain and the 3 previous times I had been on that section. Emerging at Millar Rd in the early daylight about 1.5 hours ahead of my original goal was nice, but I was a little concerned I may have gone a little too hard early, but I still felt very fresh.

The aid stations at Tarawera are unlike any you will experience elsewhere. They are a ‘buffet’ experience and you are spoiled for choice! The aid stations are manned by local community groups who are highly supportive and helpful to get you in and out as quickly as possible. If you can’t find something to eat on one of these then you’re never going to be happy. I grabbed a fistful of watermelon slices, jam sandwich and some chips to eat on the way out. Stashed my headlamp and poles and set off down the hill to meet my wife Jen waiting for me at Blue Lake (28km). Jen drew the short straw to crew for me all day and then pace me through the night – she was in for a long day!


The 11km from Millar Rd to Blue Lake is quite social in the mid-pack. It’s great to get your first glimpse of Blue Lake and do the loop around to the aid station. I arrived to find Jen and Ben Berriman from the Blue Mountains Marathon Clinic waiting for me. ‘Berro’ was crewing and pacing for another friend in the Miler. By now I was 2 full hours ahead of my plan. It was quite a crowd at Blue Lake. The 2000 competitors for the 21km race were milling around waiting for their start. More watermelon and some chips on the way though. Half a bottle of iced coffee, some coke and half a blueberry muffin to eat on the way out of the aid station headed to The Redwoods. Getting plenty of real food in early while the stomach can digest it really does pay dividends later on when you just can’t stand the look of anything. I tried to pre-load as much as possible.


Popping over the hill and down into the Redwoods was nice and cruisy. A few little bitey climbs and sharp downhills followed by some big drop-off stairs. This would be the first of 3 times we would complete this section of the course. Running into the Redwoods seeing the corridor of giant Sequoia is beautiful. The pine needles leave a lovely soft trail to run on. A quick pitstop to change into a singlet, check the feet, lube up the heels and change into my road shoes for the next 15km or path and road. I was paranoid about looking after my feet. By the 30km mark of my previous Miler I had blisters covering the majority of both of my heels. I’d never had blisters before! My shoes for that race were a newer model of shoes I had worn for years and they just rubbed a little differently around the heel. I paid a massive price for that error of judgement in a wrong shoe choice and not realising the damage I would do. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake this time! I also carried a stash of compeeds in my pack so that if I did feel any hotspots I could immediately deal with them.


I trotted along the path to the Village Green (Race Hub). The Milers ahead of me were all coming back out on their first lap and this was great opportunity to greet others and see some familiar faces along the path. Nothing like a good distraction, especially when you start to feel the effects of some chafe building.


I arrived at the Village Green and contacted Jen as I couldn’t see her. She wasn’t there as I’d  arrived much earlier than she expected. She sounded a bit frantic on the phone. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be out there running than being crew! So I just got into the watermelon and other snacks until she arrived. Once she arrived it was a quick turnaround, grabbed the cheeseburger (300 calories) she bought for me and headed back out. This was going to be one of the hardest mental challenges of the Miler. Coming into the Race Hub, seeing the Finish chute and hearing the commentary at 45km and 103km before arriving to finish at 162km!! I kept my back to the finish line just 50m away and totally blocked out what was going on behind me.


Lap 1

By now it was getting pretty warm and was glad I had the singlet and visor on to vent the heat. It was a constant flow of 21km and 50km finishers coming in as I headed out on my first lap and bumped into lots of familiar faces and received plenty of encouragement heading out against the flow. I met Jen again 8km up the road at Hemo Gorge, removed my shoes and socks, cleaned up the feet, re-lubed them and back into the trail shoes. The change of shoes was good on the feet and helped used a few different muscles.

The next 20km was largely wide trail amongst the forest which is a significant mountain biking complex of trails. The trail was undulating with a few reasonable climbs but plenty of opportunity to run the downs and some of the easy flat. The Top 8 or 9 guys in the 102km passed me through this section. The Paurenga aid station at 62km was my favourite on the course. They had freezing cold water that quenched the thirst and their eagerness to help runners was amazing. I doused my head and neck with the cold sponges and dipped my visor and off again. I was traveling pretty well and at 67km a familiar face went ‘cruising’ past. It was Zach Miller who was leading the Miler and well into his 2nd lap. That’s when I had a reality check that I’d just been lapped and still had 95km to go!

The young Scouts working the Green Lake aid station at 73km were fantastic. I grabbed a bunch of watermelon, a few marmite sandwiches and a fistful of lollies heading out on the 2nd longest stretch on the course. It was 14km to Blue Lake. This section consisted of a long loop of single track adjacent to Green Lake, and in the heat of the late afternoon and spending a fair bit of time on my own on the single track, it started to feel a bit like the ‘loop of despair’! I perked up a bit when I headed back up the hill after the loop and saw the poor souls who were just about to embark on the loop. It was quite a long steady climb up the hill and I knew that Jen was already waiting for me at Blue Lake when I was about 4km away. By the time I arrived I was feeling pretty tired from the heat and probably not eating enough in that previous 2 hour stint. Jen managed to find me a seat and I spent about 15 minutes at Blue Lake (87km) having a reset. Took the weight off my feet, scoffed down 2 pieces of pizza, 3 small bit size Mars Bars, 300ml of coke and a black coffee with sugar. I was now over halfway for distance, 2 hours ahead of my time and still able to eat plenty of solid food which I was very happy about. The high caffeine intake was an attempt to try and reduce the effects of sleep fatigue as night was approaching. I expected the next section would be slower based upon how I felt coming into the Blue Lake, but once I got rolling, the food and hydration kicked in and I had a great stint running a similar time to what I had done on this section 60km earlier. I use hydrolyte lemonade flavour tablets for my electrolyte intake. It sits well in my stomach, and I don’t get sick of the flavour. I sucked down plenty of it during the day.


The darkness rolled in as I approached The Redwoods. A quick pitstop for chips, grabbed the headlamp and headed the 6km to the Race Hub for the 2nd time. I arrived at the Village Green in good shape around 9:45pm and about 17:20 on the race clock - only an hour slower than my 102km PB at Tarawera. My feet were good, legs were fresh and most importantly my head was 100%. Jen and our friend Fabiano Ruffo were waiting for me with 2 minute noodles – the salt from these is so good entering the system when you feel the body just absorb it. Fab drew the short straw and looked after my feet – wet wipes to clean them up, changing out my socks and re-applying the lube. Fab jumped onboard to help at short notice after he’d already been out and run the 21km race earlier in the day. Gotta love having great friends ready and willing to help out.

Lap 2


The course changes amended where Miler runners could pick up a Pacer. We could have a Pacer for the full 2nd lap ~60km. Jen was raring to go and we set a plan to try and crank out consistent 12min/km pace (5km/h). I know that sounds really slow, but once you’ve got 100km in the legs and feet, its a matter of doing the best you can to try and not drop too much pace and dawdle. The original course had Jen planned to do 30km with me, but the revision meant she would have to bump up to 42km before another friend joined me for the last 17km. She was a bit nervous, but given that she was focusing more on me than herself, she did a cracking job to help keep me on track for our goal.


We hiked with intent and it was a beautiful calm evening and I was still in a t-shirt. We passed a number of other runners on some of the longer hill climbs. Those long hill hike/run sessions each Wednesday and glute workouts definitely paid off at this stage of the race. The runners without Pacers really did seem to be doing it a bit tougher with no-one to distract them from how hard this challenge is. We arrived back at the Paurenga Aidstation and I chomped down some great chicken noodle soup and coffee! It was around 1:30am now and this is where I ditched the Hydrolyte bottle and filled it full of Coke. My last Miler I was essentially sleep walking because I hadn’t taken in enough caffeine to try and curb the need to sleep. By this stage my chaffed under-carriage was pretty damn tender and nothing seemed to be helping. Just outside of the Aidstation we stopped by the small stream for me to clean myself up. Jen was taking a video and chuckling away while I sacrificed my buff in the process. We arrived at Green Lake and it was evident there was some attrition starting to happen across the field. We passed a few of the 102km back markers around here and set off to knock over the loop. I had a 2 piece Bounty Bar in my pack and we agreed that we’d crack it open once we got the loop finished as a reward. It seemed to take forever in the dark and then the climb up the long hill to pop over into Blue Lake seemed to be twice as long in distance at night.


As we approached Blue Lake I saw my second sunrise for the race. Its amazing what a difference seeing the sun emerge does for your energy levels. By this stage Jen was ready for a sleep as she’d been on the go for 24 hours straight. My mate Al Ross was waiting for us to takeover the Pacer bib and get me to the Finish. Al is a great mate and always willing to help people. He is a guy in his late 60s and someone who has inspired me over the years with his training and work ethic. Al was definitely the right guy to keep me distracted for the last few hours. I scoffed down some more watermelon, some jam sandwiches and a black coffee for breakfast before heading up the hill for The Redwoods. We pushed pretty hard and passed others along the track. Al was in great spirits and loved the scenery offered by the course. I must admit I was a bit over it by this stage given that I’d already been here twice before! Al was setting a great pace up the climbs and I had to keep focused and push hard to keep up with him. It felt amazing to crest the climb and see the Finish from the top of the hill. Down the stairs and into the ‘Party’ Redwoods Aidstation. A fistful of chips, some lollies and then the final push of 6km along the path, through the sulphur flats to the Finish. Al picked up the pace and my legs struggled to turnover at that rate. I threatened to hobble him with my poles if he didn’t ease up.


Seeing Tim Day (Course Director) 1km from the Finish encouraging finishers was a big boost and the emotion started realizing I was close to knocking this over way ahead of my goal time. As we approached the finish chute, Al peeled off and I ran through seeing lots of our friends lining the Finish. This is always the best part of the race. Tarawera has a unique prize for Miler finishers – a pounamu Toki. Jen came into the finish area to help me choose mine. Its something that I will treasure forever.

Finish time 30:23, about 1 hour ahead of my revised race plan, 2.5 hours faster than my original goal, and 8 hours faster than my last Miler. I was so happy with my overall performance, and everything went to plan, other than my chafe. My nutrition and hydration were spot on, and not once did I have any upset stomach or not feel like eating or drinking. The volume of real food I took in during the day helped fuel me well and kept my head in a really good place. My feet finished intact thanks largely to my La Sportiva Karacal shoes and managing my feet intensely throughout the day. My Masters carbon poles were invaluable and I do think they help my posture throughout the race and reduce the pain in my shoulders and lower back. I do plenty of SkiErg work in the gym to help my pole use.


So what could I do to improve? I think I could have quite easily shaved off another hour or so with some shorter aid station stops. Some were needed, but I think I just started to dwell a bit too long later in the race rather than just getting it done. Looking at my heart rate and how I felt as I finished, I probably had a bit more in the tank to run more of the downhill and flat sections on the 2nd lap. I was just cautious about burning too many tickets and depleting the tank. My first 60km lap was about 10.5 hours and the second 60km lap was about 12.5 hours essentially with no running (except up the Finish chute). 😊


While I was the lucky one who got to run and achieve the result, there are a bunch of people to thank for supporting me. Firstly my wife Jen who puts up with my fascination of signing up to do these races so I can test my limits. She’s very encouraging but her request after this race – ‘please don’t sign up for another Miler anytime soon!’. Her support in preparation, crewing on race day then lacing up the shoes to spend 10 hours in the dark with me can’t be under-stated. Al Ross for agreeing to Pace me for the last 17km knowing that’s when I’d be at my lowest point. Fab Ruffo for jumping in to help crew late on Saturday night and keep safe possession of the Crew Bag with all my goodies. JJ Harding for spending hours and hours out on the trail and in the gym as my training buddy. And finally the coach Mark who set me up for success - getting me to the start line healthy, in good shape and ready to race. His short encouraging text at the 95km mark helped put a spring in my step too.


If you are looking to step up your Ultra distance challenge and take on your first 100km or Miler I’d highly recommend Tarawera. It’s a fantastic event with such a great atmosphere, supportive community and nice runnable course.