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Kiwi stars Jones and Croft bidding for more home success in Tarawera 102km race

Jonathan Turner
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New Zealanders Dan Jones and Ruth Croft are set to headline the 15th anniversary edition of Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB, both past winners of the 102km race and hoping to add another title to their name.

Jones, who was raised in Whakatane not far from Rotorua where the event is held, returns to the 102km race at Tarawera as defending champion.

His impressive win last year set the tone for a breakout season of ultra-trail racing which saw him finish fifth at the iconic Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and 12th at UTMB.

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“Last year was awesome. I took every race one at a time, enjoying the moments and the processes that led to each event,” said Jones. “To sum it up, 2023 was a success after February. Everything that followed Tarawera was a bonus. I look back on that win as one of the proudest moments in my career. It wasn’t just about the win but putting together a really well executed race after what felt like a long time coming.”

Jones heads into this year’s race having seen friend and regular training partner Hayden Hawks notch an impressive victory at the Black Canyon 100k race in Arizona last weekend.

Both are coached by Robbie Britton and Jones and Hawks will do a training block together after Tarawera as they build up to Western States.

After such a successful season on the global trail running circuit, Jones is excited to return to racing at home and is hoping a strong performance in the 102km at Tarawera this weekend will set him up nicely for the year ahead.

“2023 was a great year and I’m looking to build on that in 2024.

Tarawera is a great way to kick off the season, especially as it sounds like we have a very competitive field again this year.

“It would mean so much to retain my title. I won’t be happy with anything but a win after my experience last year, but even if I don’t win the race can still be successful. Success would be nailing my race plan as there’s so much that can happen in an ultra. I will go about working on the controllables, then the outcome will be what it will be.”

Daniel Jones is the reigning 102km Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB champion photo credit: Graeme Murray
Daniel Jones is the reigning 102km Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB champion [Photo credit: Graeme Murray]

The racing in the elite men’s 102km looks set to be fierce and fast, with the list of challengers facing Jones including Justin Grunewald (USA), Robert Rorich (ZAF), Longfei Yan (CHN), Michael Dimuantes (AUS), Alessio Zambon (ITA), Matthew Healy (ZAF), and Admire Muzopambwa (ZWE).

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Past winners a who’s who of trail running

Throughout the 15 editions of Tarawera, the 102km race has crowned some of trail running’s biggest stars from around the world, including Americans Courtney Dauwalter (2019 Champion), Dylan Bowman (2015 and 2018 Champion), Jim Walmsley (2017 Champion), and Camille Herron (2017 Champion), and British runner Tom Evans (2020 Champion).

Nestled among the legends that have won at Tarawera is New Zealand’s Ruth Croft, who etched her name firmly in the history books in 2021 when she won the 102km race outright.

Since that race Croft has gone on to flourish on the world stage, winning Western States in 2022, a year after finishing second, and most recently winning the 100km at Ultra-Trail Cape Town in November.

“I had a break after UTCT at the end of last year and have slowly been laying the foundation for the year ahead,” said Croft. “I’m not firing on all cylinders as it is still early, but the fitness is there and I’m looking forward to running through some redwoods with the rest of the New Zealand trail community.”

Croft returns to Tarawera for the first since 2021 and added: “Tarawera was my first 100km and my first bigger international race that I did while I was living in Taiwan back in 2015.

“We are always evolving as humans and Tarawera provides a good slideshow of my personal evolution as a runner. It serves as a reminder of where it all started and also how green I was. I had no clue about fuelling, pacing, or race management, and I was daunted at the thought of running that far. Fast forward nine years and nowadays I feel like an over-ripe banana!” said Croft.

Ruth Croft on her way to victory at the 2021 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB 102km photo credit: Graeme Murray
Ruth Croft on her way to victory at the 2021 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB 102km [Photo credit: Graeme Murray]

Though Croft usually defines the success of a race as one where she doesn’t “throw up or visit cramp city”, she does have her sights firmly set on qualifying for the CCC race at UTMB in 2025 – something she can achieve if she finishes the 102km race at Tarawera as one the top three female elites.

“I’m hoping to qualify for UTMB 2025, so I have chosen Tarawera as my qualifying race. But beyond that, I know and also really enjoy the race, it’s minimal travel, good timing, and also gives me the opportunity to connect back in with the New Zealand trail community,” said Croft.

The West Coast athlete is the red-hot favourite to claim the Tarawera 102km title once again, but Australians Sarah Ludowici and Beth McKenzie, as well as New Zealand based British runner Katie Wright, will be hoping they can cause an upset.

The 102km race at Tarawera begins at 7:30am NZT on Saturday 17 February.

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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