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‘I love running, not hiking’: top-ranked pair relishing ‘runnable’ Tarawera 100-miler

Jonathan Turner
News Director
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American Adrian MacDonald, the highest ranked male athlete in the field, is looking forward to his first race in New Zealand this weekend – the showpiece 100-mile event at the Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB.

MacDonald is a two-time Leadville 100 winner and claimed victory in the 100 Miler at Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB during his last race Down Under.

“I’m feeling great and am so excited to be here,” said MacDonald. I’ve travelled from the winter of Colorado so have been adjusting to the warmer temps and previewing the course.

“This will be my first-time racing in New Zealand. Last year my sponsor had a trail team off-site here, but I had just raced the Kosciuszko Miler, so I didn’t race but I loved being around the event and spending time in the country and knew I wanted to return to race someday. It’s one of the most competitive Milers in the world at this time of year.”

Playing to strengths

MacDonald says he’s hoping for a positive start to the year and thinks Tarawera’s 100-mile course could play to his strengths.

He explained: “My racing in 2023 was a bit frustrating. My main focus was UTMB, and I had some great training and racing leading up to, it highlighted by a third-place finish at the Speedgoat 50k.

“It didn’t however lead to a good performance at UTMB where I finished 37th and did not enjoy myself. It turns out that I love running, not hiking. So, I decided that for 2024 I wanted to focus on races that better align with my strengths and what I enjoy about ultra-trail running. The Tarawera Miler, with its rolling terrain, will be a great way for me to kick off 2024 before I tackle some big goals in the US in our summer.”

Adrian MacDonald won the Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB the last time he raced down under [Photo credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith]
Adrian MacDonald won the Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB in 2022 [Photo credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith]

While MacDonald will experience racing at Tarawera for the first time, Japan’s Hajime Mamba heads into the Tarawera Miler as the 2023 runner up.

“I visited New Zealand for the first-time last year and was impressed by the excellent race management, fun atmosphere, and national character. I want to run this race every year,” said Mamba. “In 2023, I was honoured to come in second place behind superstar Zach [Miller]. I am happy to be able to race with great athletes again in 2024.”

There are several other elites in the mix for the Tarawera Miler title this weekend, including Kiwi George Murray and Australian Mike Carroll who were first and second respectively in the 100km race at Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB last year.

‘Focus is back’ for Brand

The highest-ranked athlete in the Tarawera Miler women’s field is New Zealand-based South African Naomi Brand, who finished off 2023 with a second-place finish in the 100-mile race at Ultra-Trail Cape Town in November.

Despite this achievement, Brand says overall she was disappointed with how her last year of racing went.

“My 2023 racing year was not great at all. I started the year with long COVID and ended it with focusing on a great personal milestone – getting married – but one that stole my focus away from racing for a bit. This year the focus is back, and I feel grateful to try again,” said Brand.

Naomi Brand is the highest ranked female on the 100-mile start line at Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB [Photo credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith]
Naomi Brand is looking to start 2024 in style [Photo credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith]

Brand has finished third and sixth before in previous attempts at Tarawera, with both of those results coming in the 102km. She will take on the Tarawera Miler for the first time this weekend.

She added: “I have done all the work I could with the time I had, and I hope it all comes together on race day.

This is my first time doing the Miler, a distance a bit more suited to my abilities, and I am excited to see how it is different from the 100km.

“Tarawera is the most competitive race in New Zealand as it draws international athletes,” she said. “I’m hoping I can run within myself and finish strong. It’s a fairly ‘runnable’ race, so a good opportunity to run for a good time – I’d love to improve on my 100 Miler PB.”

Like MacDonald in the men’s race, Brand will also go head-to-head with last year’s Tarawera Miler runner up in the shape of Japan’s Kimino Miyazaki.

“I ran the TMiler for the first-time last year, I loved the Redwoods Forest and was eager to go running there again,” said Miyazaki.

Fellow Japanese athlete Konoka Azumi is another one to watch in the women’s Miler field. She has finished second, fifth and seventh in the 100km race previously, but will make her Tarawera Miler debut this weekend.

The top three male and female elites in the Tarawera Miler will secure direct entry into UTMB in 2025.

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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