Kapiti’s Jo Johannsen only started running a year ago and she’s raced just a handful of times.
But on Saturday, she blitzed some of the world’s best trail runners in the central North Island’s Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon.
Johannsen, 33, took the lead about 15km after the Rotorua Redwoods start. Showing powerful composure in difficult conditions, she steadily opened a nine-minute gap over Claire Walton (UK) and Dawn Tuffery (NZ), stopping the clock at 7hrs 2min after 69 demanding kilometres.
“I felt comfortable the whole way,” Johannsen said at the Lake Okareka finish, while pelted by heavy rain. “I was just making sure my legs were ticking over, tick-tick-tick-tick, and keeping my back straight.”
“I didn’t know what to expect beforehand — if I could keep up with the elites. I’m so new to all this. But I must be doing something right!”
Jo Johannsen © Graeme Murray
She reckons she’s become “obsessed” with ultra trail running the last year, packing in 30 hours a week training, starting at 4am before work. According to her running friend and crew support at the Tarawera Ultra, she also has mental toughness in spades.
“I like pushing it to the limit,” is how Johannsen expressed it.
In the face of Cyclone Lusi, the Ultramarathon had revised courses of 69 km and 55km. The field of 850 from 28 countries still experienced the Bay of Plenty’s lakes and bush clad slopes. But the forecast proved accurate and there was no question race director, Paul Charteris made the right call in revising the route.
Sage Canaday © Graeme Murray
The men’s title was superbly defended by 2013 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion, Sage Canaday of Colorado, USA — whose online blog was a key inspiration for Johannsen.
Canaday was one of a large bunch that formed over the early kilometres, alongside other contenders including Kiwi’s Michael Aish, Vajin Armstrong and Scott Hawker and Mike Wardian from the USA.
Top Coast to Coast athlete Sam Clark of Whakatane dangled out front until about the 20km mark, at which stage Canaday, Aish and Armstrong moved clear.
“After Millar road [about half way] I made my big move on a very hard mile uphill. I kept pushing. I didn’t look back,” Canaday recounted. Fifteen kilometres later, he’d established a seven-minute lead, and by the finish, that had more than doubled.
Canaday kept the effort dialled up all the way, finishing in 5hrs 33min.
“You’re always on a fine line,” he said. “It was an honour to win for a second year – I love New Zealand and this race and it was great to be back.”
Second place in the men’s race went to China’s Yun Yanqiao, who put in a sterling display of smart pacing, moving up from fourth spot over the challenging Okataina Trail, which peaks out at almost 700m.
Yanqiao has little English, but his delight was abundantly clear: “Very enjoyed! In China [there are] no trails this way,” he said, beaming. His time was 5hrs 52min.
Next home was a trio of flying kiwis, with Armstrong (5hrs 57min) besting Aish by under a minute, and Hawker another eight minutes back. As late as 3 kilometres to go, Armstrong and Aish were almost neck and neck.
“For me it’s a learning curve — I left it all out there,” said Aish, who’s just starting out on the trails after retiring from road racing four years ago. “But Sage was in a different category today.”
- Report by: Jim Robinson ©
- Images by: Graeme Murray ©
- Sage Canaday – Hoka One One 5:33:38
- Yun Yan Qiao – The North Face 5:52:30
- Vajin Armstrong – MacPac 5:59:49
- Mike Aish – Mizuno 5:58:37
- Scott Hawker – Hoka One One 6:06:32
- Martin Gaffuri – New Balance 6:21:31
- Moritz Auf De Heidi 6:22:21
- Mike Wardian – Hoka One One 6:28:46
- Matt Murphy 6:36:27
- Manuel Lago 6:37:30
- Jo Johansen 7:02:43
- Claire Walton 7:11:48
- Dawn Tuffery 7:16:16
- Beth Cardelli – Salomon 7:18:54
- Meghan Arbogast – Scott Running 7:26:24
- Shona Stephenson – inov-8 7:26:24
- Fiona Hayvice 7:40:54
- Katrin Gottschalk 7:44:33
- Katherine Macmillan 7:44:33
- Sandy Nyper – Ink n Burn 7:57:24