The inaugural course reversal and challenging muddy trails did little to fend off Tarawera Ultramarathon winner, American Dylan Bowman, in a time of 8h27 on Saturday, while fellow American Kelly Wolf won the women’s race in 10h08.
American runners also took out second place in both the men’s and women’s 102km events, with Cody Reed finishing in a time of 8h36, and Amanda Basham in a time of 10h17.
Kiwi Sam McCutcheon followed up his third placing from last year with another bronze finish in 8h45, while Australian Erika Lori came third in the women’s race in a time of 10h53.
American Bowman previously won the event in 2015, but says Saturday's effort was “incredibly hard” after two days of rain made conditions wet and slippery.
“The mud was tough. It rained intermittently which was actually really nice – I wish it had rained a bit more during the race. But the conditions were challenging."
For the first time in the event’s 10 year history, the course was reversed, with runners toeing the start-line in Kawerau and finishing in Rotorua, in front of the iconic Museum in the Government Gardens.
Bowman says the course change added an extra challenge.
“Switching the race [direction] made it more difficult, as you got the easy miles out of the way earlier. Then the hardest part of the race is at the end, when you’re not so fresh. It was really mentally tough.
“It wasn’t a perfect race for me but how can you complain? I’m certainly happy with the result and glad I could make it. I really love this race.”
Female winner Kelly Wolf says the course was much harder than expected.
“There was a lot more gain than I thought there would be, and the first 50 miles was some of the wettest and muddiest I’ve had.
“It was raining all day, but I was really happy that I didn’t have to worry about it being cold.”
Wolf let her emotions run free on the finish line.
“This race has been on my mind for a while and it has consumed a lot of thought. They were tears of pain at the finish, as the last couple of miles were pretty painful, but they were also tears of joy because it was over!”
The 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon includes 62km and 87km distance events, as well as the inaugural Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run.
Tarawera Ultramarathon event organiser, Paul Charteris, says the race times have been slower than previous years, with the reverse course taking longer to complete.
“The Kawerau-Rotorua course has a net uphill, however the conditions have also made it more challenging for participants. Watching those coming across the finish line, they’re really tired, they’ve obviously had to work really hard to get here today.”
However, Charteris says the conditions have also made for a spectacular atmosphere.
“Tarawera Forest was covered in a blanket of mist which was quite surreal – it was a special experience to be part of.”