Whenever I join ultra races abroad, I usually make my bookings on motels through their websites. I never had the experience to bring my camping gears and set up my tent in camp sites near or within the Starting Area of a trail ultra race. Since I was planning to join the CCC @ UTMB this year (but I was not lucky to be picked on the lottery) and try to stay on Airbnb in Chamonix, France, I looked for “homestays” in Rotorua, New Zealand on the Internet. Staying in New Zealand in an Airbnb accommodation would be a nice “first-time” experience for me prior to going to other races in Europe.
After some browsing on the Internet, I found a place which has so many positive feedback from the people who stayed in the said house. Considering the cheaper amount to be spent as compared to staying a Hotel or Motel in Rotorua, the house is located near the start of the event and the place is quiet and affordable. Looking at the Profile Picture and the name of the owner of the house, I was able to conclude that they could be Asian and it would much easier to communicate and to be relate to them since we belong to the same Continent. So, I made the decision to book for my accommodation in this place. For a duration of stay for 8 days, I was able to pay almost P 20,000 to include some fees.
Upon my arrival at the Town Center of Rotorua, NZ, I called for a Taxi which was waiting for passengers as the right side of the building. The driver is a 75-year old guy and he took some time to look at the address of my destination and glanced at his reference of the places of the city. Then another Taxi Driver asked him if he has any problem on our destination since it took him a couple of minutes to move his Taxi from where I boarded. The other Taxi Driver told him what street to take and the old guy realised where the house is located. It took the Taxi Driver less than 10 minutes to reach my destination.
It was already 9:00 PM when I arrived at the house and the Hosts, Gillian and William Ma were waiting for my arrival. They are very nice hosts and very helpful in giving me some directions to go to some places in the city; very responsive to my needs in the house; and give me some information about the city. They had been in the said house for the past 5 years and they are still childless. I told them about the reason why I was in Rotorua and they were surprised to know that there is such an international event happening in their neighbourhood without them knowing it. Much more surprised when I told them that I will be joining the 102K distance event and they could not believed it since they have known that I’ll be turning 65 years old in 3 months. Of course, I told them also that I am a retired officer with the rank of Two-Star General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the second day of my stay in their house. On the early morning of the second day of my stay in their house, I had a lengthy conversation with Gillian and we had to get to know more about her and her husband and the things/places to visit in Rotorua.
My room has a Double Size Bed with a view of the frontyard of the house with a wide glass window draped with a rolling curtain. It has a locker room and equipped with an electric fan. I was wondering why there was no air-conditioning unit for the room but by opening the window with a small space, I can feel the cool air from the outside to be entering the room. However, I was warned by my Host to close the window during nighttime because some flying insects would be attracted to enter the opened space of the window because of the light from the room. The bed, comforter, and the pillows are very clean and comfortable. However, I have to walk for about few feet outside my room for the toilet and bathroom. The toilet and bathroom are separate rooms but there was no problem for me as they are considered as “common” bathroom & toilet for the guests. I was lucky that I was the only guest for the first three days when a Lady from Switzerland occupied another room in the house for an overnight stay after I finished the race.
Their address is: 11 Carroll Place 11, Rotorua, Bay Of Plenty 3010, New Zealand.
Warm-Up Run To Redwoods Park
After a breakfast of hot coffee and quaker oats, I prepared for a brief run to the Redwoods Park from the house which is about 2.5 kilometer-distance to its entrance and there is another one kilometre to run from the Gate/Entrance to the Visitors Center of the Park. I surveyed the actual place where the Starting Area of the event is located and I had the chance to inspect the trail of the park not knowing that the first kilometre of the race will follow the asphalted road towards the mountain.
After some picture-taking of those things inside and within the Visitor’s Center, it was time to engage with the personnel of the park. This is where I met Katrina who told me that she has two other Pinoy personnel working with her in the Park. Before we ended our conversation, we had a “selfie” where she approved of it.
I returned to the house jogging with a faster pace and I found the weather and the cooler breeze to be like Baguio City during summer time. I knew already that we will have a very hot weather on race day. While I was jogging, I was able to pass a commercial centre which is called Redwood Center which is about 50 meters from the entrance of the Park. From what I’ve seen within the Commercial Center, I knew already where I would eat my lunch for the day.
I had my second shower in Rotorua and prepared to walk again for my lunch at the Redwood Center. After lunch, I took a Bus Ride to the Town Center for some shopping of souvenirs from Rotorua. Bus Rides are very efficient and orderly in Rotorua. All you have to do is remember the Bus Route Number and pay NZ$ 2.35 for the said route and have the option to transfer to another Bus Route Number within 30 minutes after you are being dropped by the first bus you have taken for FREE. All you have to do is to inform the Driver that you are transferring to another Bus Route after alighting from the Bus, so that he can give you your ticket for the next bus transfer you will be taking. As you board to the transfer Bus, inform the driver that you are transferring from another Bus and give your ticket. The Bus Route goes only on a One Way Loop which means that the next scheduled ride always comes from the Town Center and not from the Turn-Around Point of the Bus and pass on the same road where I was picked up! All the Bus Stops have the scheduled time of arrival posted on a pole adjacent to the Shaded Bus Stop. I have observed that the Bus arrival on the Bus Stop near the house where I stayed was always prompt and on the dot. The Bus Stop near the house where I stayed is only 50 meters away!
When I learned about the Bus Transport System in the area, there was no need to take the Taxi. However, the schedule of the Bus starts at 7:00 AM and ends at 6:00 PM. If you want a ride after 6:00 PM, take the Taxi by calling the number 07-348-1111 as you could hardly see any Taxi roaming around the streets/roads in Rotorua. Once you call the number and state your location where you can be picked-up, the Taxi will be there with you in few minutes!
(Note: It is advisable to buy a Sim Card for your Cellphone at the Auckland International Airport as soon as you arrive for the cost of NZ$ 39.00)
Change Of Schedule/Itinerary
Even if I have friends on Facebook who are presently living or residing in New Zealand, I did not send them any PM or give them a hint that I need some help or need answers from queries I would like to ask from them. I just patiently read the instructions stated on the Souvenir Program of the Tarawera 100 Ultramarathon Race and then use the Google/Google Maps to get answers from concerns and queries where I need some answers.
My stay in New Zealand was focused in joining and finishing the race where after the race, I would go back to Auckland and board my flight back to Manila. Just simple as that! However, a sudden change has occurred in my schedule.
A PMA Cavalier (PMA Alumni Class ’81 and former Officer of the Philippine Navy) whom I had the opportunity to work with during my assignment in the Philippine Military Academy as a Tactical Officer and member of the General Staff of the Headquarters PMA as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Security, sent me a message and welcome greetings for arriving in New Zealand safely. After an exchange of messages on Facebook, I called him using my cellphone. I found out that he is now residing in Wellington with his family and he is inviting me to visit their place before going back to Manila if there is a way that I can squeeze his invitation in my schedule. I said, Yes, why not?
Looking at my schedule that if I can finish the race before midnight of Saturday, I would take the first trip by bus on Sunday for a 7-hour bus ride to Wellington to rest and at the same time enjoy the view along the route, have a brief tour of the city immediately after arrival, stay overnight in their house, then have another bus ride back directly to Auckland on Monday and then depart for Manila on the morning of Tuesday. It was a hectic schedule that played in my mind but it is doable. However, my friend has a better suggestion for my schedule. The bus ride from Rotorua to Wellington was fine as I will be seeing the sea, the different city centers and landscape of the North Island of New Zealand while I was resting in the bus and have a chance to have some picture-taking during the brief stops in the Bus Stations along the way. Upon our arrival in Wellington, my friend would bring me to their house and have a home dinner with his family and then Rest Overnight. He suggested that I would take the last Jetstar Flight from Wellington to Auckland on the following day, Monday so that I he can bring me to a city tour the whole day before my departure. The schedule was perfect! He advised me to simply book my trip On Line through the websites of the Bus Company and Jetstar. He even generously gave the details of his Credit/Debit Card for me to use for this purpose. Of course, I declined since I have an e-card prepared for this trip.
So, in a matter of few minutes after our conversation, I was able to book for my bus ride to Wellington and Jetstar Flight back to Auckland. My excitement to finish the race became secondary objective and my trip to Wellington became the primary objective of my remaining stay in New Zealand.
Little did I realize that this change of schedule will greatly affect or have an impact on my performance during the race.
Nine years ago when I was planning to conduct the first edition of the Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race (BDM 102), I found a list of Ultramarathon Races that was published in the Internet and one of them was the Tarawera 100 which was described to be an ultramarathon event on the beach and in the forests of Rotorua, New Zealand. Little did I realize that the said event was born on the same year that the BDM 102 had its first edition with the same distance, except for the fact that it was purely done on the trails and on the scenic spots of New Zealand.
I have read a few blogs and Race Reports about the event from international trail running elites since then and I was amazed how fast these runners would finish the race. Every year, I would also see pictures on Facebook of Pinoy Runners based in New Zealand finishing the event. And last year, I found out that some runners who joined my BDM Races and PAU trail races (Arlene Agulto and Jose Mina, Jr) have finished the race and I’ve read their respective Race Report on Facebook and on their blogs.
After I’ve read their blogs and posts on Facebook, I started to research more about the said Ultramarathon Event. Finally, in the month of July last year, I have decided to join the event. (The event usually starts to accept the registration of runners in the month of June).
While I was on vacation in the US in August 2016, I registered for the race and paid 320 New Zealand Dollars. My daily runs since then were geared towards finishing this race event even if it was six (6) months away which I think was the ideal length of period to train and prepare for this event.
Training & Preparation
I have started running on the paved roads for almost one month and going to the mountains for some hikes during weekends. I would work on a faster leg turn-over and tempo runs on my Tuesday to Friday runs with an average distance of 8-10 miles a day. After I have the confidence of building-up my endurance, I started to run on the trails which are runnable and made sure that I would gain at least 1,500 feet every 6-7 miles of distance. But on weekends, I would go on long hikes in the mountains for a period of 5-6 hours. These hikes would give me at least 5,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation per workout and this was where I would practice my hydration and nutrition strategy. On those long hikes, I would use my trekking poles to lessen the pain on my knees, most specially on the downhill hikes or runs.
These two months (July-August 2016) of training resulted to my satisfactory performance to finish the Zamboanga City 50K Mountain Run last September 2016 and the DBB Rockstar 50K Run which was held in the mountains of Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan in October 2016. After these two 50K runs, I continued my training and concentrated my daily running more in my Playground (mountains of Bataan). This was where I have increased my Vertical Gains in my daily as well as weekend LSD runs. I would typically run a distance of 14 miles with a vertical gain/loss of about 4,500 feet, by doing a “double-traverse” to a 2,000-foot high mountain (Mt Roosevelt) with very technical and steep trails. In every week, I would do 2-3 times of “double-traverse” workouts, in the middle of the day! I would start at 9:00 or 10:00AM and finish at 2:00 or 3:00PM. These “double-traverse” workouts prepared me for the Clark-Miyamit 50-Mile Trail Run. I would consider myself to have finished the race within the cut-off time of 18 hours even if I was lost on the last 2 miles of the course. As per my endurance; nutrition and hydration strategy on these three ultra trail events (Zamboanga City 50K Mountain Run; DBB Rockstar 50K; & CM50), I was confident that I was on the right track of my training as I finished these three “evaluation races” without using any trekking poles.
Last December 2016, my training was not consistent because of the PAU Races that I’ve have to prepare and conduct on the said month. I was planning to run multi-loops of Taklang Damulag with the runners for the duration of two days as my “back-to-back” weekend runs but I was able to run only one loop with a distance of 12.5 kilometers. However, during the Christmas break (two weeks), I started to consistently do some intense stationary cycling and biking workouts on paved roads just to be able build some strength on my quadriceps. I guess, those cycling workouts developed some unused muscles during my runs and my quads started to appear more pronounced and distinct. On the last week of December, I made my first-ever “quadruple traverse” hike and run in my Playround which would take me 7-8 hours of hiking with an elevation gain of almost 8,000 feet and I would repeat the said workout again after a week. I was happy that my body would withstand those “torture and painful” workout and stress just for me to prepare for the Tarawera Ultramarathon. For the month of January, I put more mileage, vertical gains, more “mountain repeats”, and downhill running to my training plus a couple of workouts on longer rides on my MTB and more “heat” training on my daytime runs! I would no longer keep track or record the data/numbers of my daily workouts as long as I would comply and run the number of miles that is scheduled in my weekly training program.
On these two months/8 weeks prior to the event, I practiced my training principle of “Train Heavy, Race Light” by wearing a Hydration Vest with 2 Liters of Bladder filled with water and with my nutrition stashed on the front pockets. On my tempo runs, I would only bring one or two Simple Hydration Bottles tucked on the back of my shorts and carry a number of Coffee Candies on the pockets of running shorts which would served as my source of sugar/nutrition for the workout. I would also do my hikes and runs without using my trekking poles to make sure that my legs and knees are holding up with those very technical steep ascents and descents in my playground. It was part of my race strategy not to bring my trekking poles for the race.
My last evaluation race for the Tarawera Ultramarathon was the Tarak Ridge 25K Trail Run. This is where I’ve proven that I was quick in climbing steep inclines due to my reduce weight and leg strength due to my “double-traverse” and “quadruple traverse” workouts in my Playground
For the months of December 2016 and January 2017, I limited my intake of carbohydrate (on mostly rice and sweet/cola drinks) for me to reduce my weight from 142 lbs to 132 lbs which I consider as my ideal racing weight for ultra distances. Before I left for New Zealand from Manila, I was 133 lbs but a day before the race (when the Volunteers were taking my Body Weight as I was about to receive my Race Packet) I registered a weight of 140 lbs! I was surprised that I was able to put some weight while I was on my way to New Zealand and for a few days of stay already in Rotorua. But I was not worried, I knew I needed those newly-accumulated body fats/weight because of the weather forecast on the day of the event. It will be hot and humid and it was playing in my mind that those not used to the heat will be on a “carnage”.
In summary, I was consistently logging 55-65 miles per week for the months of December and January done on the mountains of my Playground. I was confident that for doing those “double-traverse” and “quadruple traverse” workouts at Playground “Charlie”/Mt Roosevelt would prepare my body for the challenge at Tarawera 102K, the same preparation I made for my successful finishes at the TransLantau 100K (Hongkong) for two successive years in 2015 & 2016.
Trip & Transportation To Rotorua, New Zealand
Last September 2016, I have already canvassed and asked for quotation for the possible flight and purchase of plane ticket to New Zealand from Manila. And also for the available land transportation from the Auckland International Airport to Rotorua. This is also to include for my accommodation or place to stay in Rotorua. I did not bother to contact the Race Organizer or the Race Director of the Event asking questions about directions, places to stay, and schedule for the event. One of the runners who joined the 2016 UTMB brought home a Souvenir Program of the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Race with some posters given by my friend, Jason Schlarb and I reviewed all the things that are written about the said event. All the details, suggestions, and advice on how to reach Rotorua from Auckland International Airport are already there.
It was a choice of a cheaper ticket with more stop-overs along the way which means more days of travel (3-4 days) or buying a more expensive ticket fare with less than 30 hours of travel. I got the more expensive one but the mileage I will get from my trip is added to my Frequent Flyer Privilege and a shorter trip would mean more time to visit more places in the place of my destination. In short, I bought the ticket way before I was issued a NZ Visa which was processed for only 3 working days. Being a Frequent Flyer of Korean Air, my trip has to pass first to Incheon International Airport and then transfer to the flight from Incheon to Auckland International Airport after 12 hours of layover. What is good was that I was given a Free Voucher to stay at the Incheon International Airport’s Transit Hotel with Free Meals. So, after 3.5 hours of flight from Manila to Incheon, I was able to rest/sleep until the scheduled boarding time for my connecting flight to Auckland. So, my total time of travel was only 26 hours!
Initially, I planned to get the services of a Rent-A-Car once I land in Auckland but few days before my departure I cancelled my reservation/booking because of not being confident to drive a different traffic or road driving protocol from what I am used to. Right hand drive vehicles are new to my driving habit! I don’t want that “Shit Happens” before the running event which I prepared for the past 6 months and invested so much resources/money for it only to be distracted or would not push through because of a “stupid” vehicular accident on my part.
My “host” for my accommodation provided me the necessary option for my land trip from Auckland to Rotorua. She advised me to take the Bus Service (for long distance trips) where she gave the names of the Bus Companies to choose from.There are 3 Bus Companies catering to long distance trips in New Zealand and they are: InterCity Bus, Naked Bus, and the Mana Bus. I selected the InterCity Bus and made my bookings through their Website and it was very easy using my “loaded” E-Card through Mastercard! (Next time, I will avail of the Mana Bus because they have toilet in their Coaches and they are “two-deckers” with cheaper price!)
As soon as I landed in Auckland, I had some time to walk-through the Airport, ate some meal, and sit, patiently waiting for my scheduled bus trip. Whether you are going to the North or South of the North Island of New Zealand, you have to take the Transporter 360 Bus to Manukau which is about 40-45 minutes drive. At Manukau City, you have to wait for the scheduled bus to Rotorua at the Bus Stop across the Westfield Mall. At the Westfield Mall, I would go around again to see the stores inside and then ate a good Burrito at the Food Court. From Manukau to Rotorua was a 3-hour drive with never-ending sight of farms and ranch full of lambs and cattles and vast fields planted with corn. The scenery was simply amazing as totally different as what one would see on a bus trip from Manila to Laoag or to the Bicol Provinces! New Zealand is a Paradise!!!
It was 7:00 PM when I arrived in Rotorua and there was still sunlight. A Taxi would be available at the Town Center’s Bus Drop-Off Area and the house where I would stay was only 3 kilometers from the Bus Station and 2 kilometers from the Redwoods Parks which is Starting Place of the Tarawera 102K Ultramarathon.
The Taxi ride from the Town Center to the House where I stayed was only a short 10-minute ride. I was met by my Host/Owner of the house and she showed my room. She gave me a tour of the house and told me what to use in my cooking while I will be in their house. She gave me additional information about the Bus/Commute System from the house to the Town Center and vice-versa and briefed me on the location of the Redwoods Park; the Holiday Inn; and the grocery stores in Downtown.
I call the place where I train in my trail running as my “playground”. My “playground” consists of five different areas and I call each one of these areas by an specific name. The first area where I started training was called “Brown Mountain” and it was a 7-kilometer, one-way up to the mountain and then I would go down back to where I started, to complete 14 kilometers. Way back then, I was using the metric system of distance on my Garmin GPS Watch. During those times, I was not particularly interested with the vertical distance or total elevation gain in my runs.
The second area was called “Django’s Place” which was discovered by my Team Bald Runner’s Elite. My elite runners would go the Hut or house of a man and his wife living in the mountain whom they call as “Django”. They would call him that name because he is fond of riding on his horse when he harvests banana blossoms in the mountain. He had a lot of horses and goats to tend in the mountain. When I started running on this course, I had started using the English unit of distance and it has 4 miles from the start. Through the years, I could extend it to 5 miles or 6 miles depending on where I would make my turn-around point. Usually, I would run 4 miles up and then go back to where I have started to complete 8 miles. The total elevation gain would be 1,700+ feet.
The third area is called “Playground Alpha” which is a very challenging route for a new trail runner. One complete loop would cover 25 kilometers or 15-16 miles and has a total elevation gain of almost 4,000+ feet. This was my daily playground when I started to have a 3-month training schedule from an Ultramarathon Coach. This is where I became a very strong trail runner considering that I was already a Senior Citizen at the age of 61.
The fourth area is called “Playground Bravo” which is more challenging than Playground Alpha. It is also an “out and back” route where the turn-around point is the peak of Mt Natib. One-way distance is 25 kilometers, going back to where I started would cover 50 kilometers. The total elevation gain for the whole distance of 50 kilometers would reach up to 9,000+ feet. Seldom that I would go to the peak of Mt Natib as I would make my turn-around at the camp area where the assault to the peak of Mt Natib would start. Sometimes, I would make my turn-around at the Binutas Area, a one-way distance of 22 kilometers. I usually my longer hikes/LSD on this route when my training schedule demands 22 miles or more!
The fifth area is called “Playground Charlie” or “Mt Roosevelt Assault” or” Mt Roosevelt Double Traverse” which is considered a short but the most challenging course as my playground. From the start to the peak of Mt Roosevelt has 4 miles with a total elevation gain of 2,200+ feet. I usually reach the peak by hiking in 2 to 2:15 hours. But my best record to reach the peak by mixing running and hiking is 1:42+ hours. If I traverse the mountain and go down on the other side of the mountain, I would register 6.8 miles. So, if I “double-traverse” the mountain, I would register a total distance of 13.6 miles with a total elevation gain of 4,200+ feet. In my preparation for the 2015 Trans Lantau 100K, I would do single traverse of the mountain and do some runs and hikes to “Playground Alpha & Bravo”. However, in the 2016 edition of Trans Lantau 100K, I concentrated my training on Mt Roosevelt alone, doing more “double-traverse” runs and hikes. I felt stronger and faster on my race because these workouts! Lately, I have done a “quadruple traverse” on Mt Roosevelt with a little variation where I must miss the flatter sections on the turn-around points to make my second double-traverse shorter by 1-2 miles. I could register 24 miles and a total elevation gain of almost 8,500+ feet. This “quadruple traverse” made my previous finish at the 3rd Tarak Ridge 25K Trail Run two weeks ago, to be an easy race!
For the past months as preparation for the last year’s Clark-Miyamit 50-Mile Trail Run and my next month’s participation in the Tarawera 102K Trail Run in Routora, New Zealand, I have concentrated my training at “Django’s Place” for my trail tempo runs and at “Playground Charlie”/Mt Roosevelt Assault/Double-Traverse/Quadruple-Traverse for my long hikes and runs which would last from 4 to 8 hours, to include “night runs”.
I hope my training in my playground would give me the strength to finish the Tarawera 102K Trail Run and other Trail Ultra Races in the future.