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First winners crowned at Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB

Four champions have been crowned on the morning of the 15th anniversary edition of Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB, with two Kiwis and two Brits sharing the 50km and 21km spoils.

In the 50km women’s race, Rotorua-raised Caitlin Fielder took out her third Tarawera title, securing victory in 4:01:41.

Fielder’s lead was never seriously troubled, instead she battled herself throughout the race as she faced cramping issues particularly on some of the uphill sections.

“I feel pretty good, but pretty happy it’s over to be honest,” said Fielder. “Sometimes you have races where you feel really good most of the time and sometimes it’s more of a character build and today was one of those. I didn’t feel great from the start but just slogged it out which is good to push through sometimes as well,” she said.

“It’s quite hard to tell exactly where you are in terms of other females so you have to pretend it’s just you and that’s really all you can do in races like this, just run your own race and wherever that puts you at the end you’ve just got to be comfortable with that,” she said.

“It becomes more and more difficult to cross the line first now as the race gets more and more competitive which is great for the sport, but it means a lot whenever you can get the win so I’m pretty stoked.”

British runner Kate Avery finished second, more than eight minutes behind Fielder, with New Zealand based American Robyn Lesh rounding out the female podium in third, another three minutes behind.

In the men’s 50km race, Englishman Ronnie Sparke, making his Tarawera debut, claimed victory in 3:30:48, just less than four minutes ahead of Australia’s Charlie Hamilton in second, with Japan’s Yutaro Yokouchi a further four minutes behind in third.

“It’s unbelievable, I came here to win but to actually do it is surreal,” said Sparke. “I thought I could do it, but I knew there was some really tough competition, so it was kind of 50:50 coming in. I was just hanging with the pack, giving myself that chance and it worked out so I’m absolutely stoked.”

For more than half of the race, Sparke, Hamilton, Yokouchi and Kiwi Michael Voss were running side by side, with Sparke deciding to kick away from then second-placed Voss around the 30km mark and didn’t look back from there.

“My plan was to sit in the pack, sit behind and take it pretty easy even though the guys were going quick, I was trying to keep my breathing calm, but my legs knew I was going quick,” he said. “I was with those guys, there was a group of four of us for about 30km together, so we were just chatting and having a bit of a laugh and it was so much fun.”

“Around the 30km mark I was feeling good so I took the lead and me and Michael Voss then went head-to-head for about 10km. Then we got to a hill and I could just tell that I was stronger than him at the time, so I decided to push and then I was in the lead the rest of the way. I got to 5km out and then it was “struggle-city” all the way back, I was still going below four-minute (per kilometre) pace so I knew if I could cling on to that sort of speed I’d get in to win.”

Sparke’s Tarawera 50km victory was his first UTMB World Series win, ticking off a significant goal as his trail running journey continues to go from strength to strength. 

“This win means the world. I’ve been running all my life, but I started trail running three or four years ago and then I’ve only really been racing for two years and it’s a been a successful two years, but to actually come out and win and with a clear lead, I feel like I’ve proved myself and I’m just looking forward now, ready to take it on and see where I can go,” said Sparke.

Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB is a qualifying race for the 2025 UTMB World Series Finals at UTMB Mont-Blanc, with the top three male and female elites in the Tarawera 50km having secured direct entry into the OCC (50km) race next year.

In the 21km, the men’s race was won by New Zealand’s Michael Sutton in 1:28:45, with fellow Kiwi Liam Dooley second and British runner Robert Smith third.

“I feel pretty great, it was a tough race, and I knew I’d really have to push all the way to the end with the competition of the guys behind me,” said Sutton. “I went out to the front and no one really came with me, but they were always close so I just had to keep pushing hard and look over my shoulder.

“It’s really special to take the win, I’ve done a lot of mountain running and had a lot of nearly races where I thought if I’d just done something a little bit different I could’ve got there so it was really good to get across the line today and take the win,” he said.

The women’s 21km race was won by Britain’s Beth Garland in 1:41:20, who is in just her fourth week of living in New Zealand.

Garland and her partner – racing the 102km – signed up for Tarawera last October while still living in the UK, a decision she says she is stoked to have made.

“I loved it, the atmosphere was great all the way along and the trails were absolutely beautiful. Apart from the last two miles I can say that I enjoyed absolutely every bit of it, such a good event,” said Garland.

“In the first mile we sorted ourselves out and there was a girl just ahead of me and so tried to catch her up, we ran together for a little bit and then went forward and then from that point I knew I was in the lead and then I was just trying to pick the guys off as a bit of motivation.

“I’m definitely coming back, the trails were incredible and especially through the Redwoods, so soft underfoot and felt really comfortable. Absolutely loved the scenery and obviously it’s got a lot of heritage so it’s really nice being aware of that as well running through the forest,” she said.

The 2024 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB will continue throughout Saturday and into Sunday, with runners still out on the trails of Rotorua in all four distances. The first finisher in the 102km race is expected around 3pm NZT, with the first Miler finisher expected close to 7pm NZT.

T50 RESULTS – WOMEN

  1. Caitlin Fielder (NZL) – 4:01:41
  2. Kate Avery (GBR) – 4:09:58
  3. Robyn Lesh (USA) – 4:13:31
  4. Vanja Cnops (BEL) – 4:20:59
  5. Demi Caldwell (AUS) – 4:24:18

T50 RESULTS – MEN

  1. Ronnie Sparke (GBR) – 3:30:48
  2. Charlie Hamilton (AUS) – 3:34:36
  3. Yutaro Yokouchi (JPN) – 3:38:19
  4. Michael Voss (NZL) – 3:38:41
  5. Jonathan Jackson (NZL) – 3:44:45

T21 RESULTS – MEN

  1. Michael Sutton (NZL) – 01:28:45
  2. Liam Dooley (NZL) – 01:29:38
  3. Robert Smith (GBR) – 1:30:24
  4. Ben Duffus (AUS) – 1:30:28
  5. George Rice (JEY) – 1:31:20

T21 RESULTS – WOMEN

  1. Beth Garland (GBR) – 1:41:20
  2. Jessica Ronan (AUS) – 1:48:31
  3. Rach Peters (USA) – 1:50:28
  4. Tracy McCartney (NZL) – 1:54:29
  5. Angela Hancock (NZL) – 1:55:12

For full results of the 2024 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB visit tarawera.utmb.world

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