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12th February 2024

T50 Titles Up for Grabs

This Saturday, elite trail runners from around the world will line up in Rotorua with sights set on securing victory in the 50km race at the 2024 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB®.

Two-time Tarawera 50km champion Caitilin Fielder (NZL) will line up for this year’s race as the favourite to reclaim the title she last won in 2021.

Fielder, who grew up in Rotorua but spends most of her time in Europe these days, has little expectation of herself heading into this weekend’s race, just keen to see where her early season fitness is at.

“It’s super early in the season for me, so it’s always hard to say directly how I will be feeling for the race. But I have had some good training, and I’m just looking forward to enjoying the race,” said Fielder.

“For a race this time of year, I just want to have some fun out there and enjoy it,” she said. “Winning is obviously always a really great goal to have, and it would be awesome to win it again, but I think just having a good time out there with good sensations is what matters the most to me.”

Tarawera Ultra-Trail will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year and is an event that holds a special place in Fielder’s heart.

“Tarawera was one of the first ultras I did, so it’s always a special race for me especially because I grew up in Rotorua. Coming back and racing it always brings back a lot of memories, and my family usually comes and supports me there which makes it extra special,” said Fielder. “It’s just such a cool way to start off the season, and I love being around all my family and friends for an event in New Zealand.”

American Robyn Lesh will line up alongside Fielder for her debut Tarawera Ultra-Trail. While this will be her first time racing the event, Lesh had her first taste of what Tarawera is all about back in 2021 while living in New Zealand.

“In 2021 I volunteered at gear check, crewed my partner in the 102km and fed finishers soup in the middle of the night at the finish line,” said Lesh. “It feels a bit full circle to get to come back and race this year.”

Lesh has scored a number of podium finishes at major races across the world over the past couple of years and will hoping to add to her growing list of achievements in the Tarawera 50km this weekend.

“It's been super nice being back in New Zealand. Probably a bit odd to say as an American but New Zealand feels like my trail running home turf, where it all started, and is my trail running home.

“I'm feeling excited heading into T50 this weekend. I also feel like if I think about it too much, I might get nervous. But that's ok, nervous is excited,” she said. “I know I'll just run my best and with luck things will go smoothly and the pieces will all come together. I'm feeling really strong and don't know how that will translate to racing so we'll see. The guaranteed result is that I'll have fun.”

In the elite men’s race, Australian based Brit Ronnie Sparke will arrive in Rotorua as the highest ranked athlete on the 50km start line.

Sparke, who will make his Tarawera debut, finished in the top 20 at UTMB’s CCC race last August and has previously finished second in the 50km at Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB.

“The event looks like great fun, the scenery is amazing and it always attracts tough competition. So for me, being based in Australia, it has been on my to do list for a few years now. Oh, and it's a great excuse to go visit New Zealand for the first time,” said Sparke.

“I can't wait to see the redwoods and run along the lakes. I've watched numerous videos online, so to finally be there myself will be a dream. Tarawera seems like a quick course, so I'm really looking forward to a fast race. I haven't raced since CCC last year, so I'm mainly looking forward to just getting amongst some great competitions and doing what I love the most – racing.”

Sparke has only seriously turned his attention to ultra-trail running in the past couple of years and is still chasing his first big win.

“It would be amazing to win my first UTMB World Series event, especially at a renowned race such as Tarawera. When I started trail running a few years ago, I dreamt of just racing at Tarawera, so to win would be surreal,” he said.

“I have aims of a podium position and will give it a crack on the day. There are some really fast guys in the race, so I can't wait to test myself out against some strong competition.”

Sparke is set to face fierce competition for the 50km title, with Scotty Hawker (NZL), Charlie Hamilton (AUS), Tuomas Kari (FIN), Yutaro Yokouchi (JPN), Gabriele Fior (ITA), Eric Concé (FRA), and Michael Voss (NZL) all capable securing the win this Saturday.

Hawker will return to Tarawera for the first time since 2014, with much of his racing in that 10-year period completed overseas.

“I'm super excited to kick off my trail season at home in New Zealand. My training has started well in 2024 and I'm excited to see where I'm at in this early stage in the season,” said Hawker. “I’m most looking forward to racing on home soil. I love training and racing around the globe, but nothing beats training and racing at home in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I've tried a few times to return to Tarawera in the past few years but for various reasons I've not been able to. The chance to race at the biggest race in New Zealand is something I'm super excited about.

While known for his ability to conquer mountainous courses, Hawker says he’s excited to tackle the faster trails of Tarawera against a competitive field.

“Tarawera is a course I would say doesn't play to my strengths being more a mountain athlete but it's a challenge I'm excited to take on and push myself outside my comfort zone,” he said. “I'd love to have a strong day out, eat well and finish strong. If I could bash heads with some of the fast guys and be in the mix for the win that would be great.”

Tarawera Ultra-Trail is a qualifying race for the 2024 UTMB World Series Finals at UTMB Mont-Blanc, taking place in late August. The top three male and female elites in the Tarawera 50km will secure direct entry into the OCC (50km) race at UTMB Mont-Blanc.

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