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"Behind the Scenes: Exclusive Interview with 2024 Tarawera 100 Miler Winner Konoka Azumi"

Konoka has had a some stellar results over the last few years but winning the TUM 100 miler a couple of weeks ago is an incredible achievement. The TMiler winds its way through the Tarawera bush for 162.5km and has an elevation gain of 3832m. It attracts a truly international field with some of the real rock stars of ultra running. For the record, Konoka's time was 18.24:53, which is incredible over such a long distance and that terrain. She was 7th overall and about an hour and a half ahead of the 2nd place woman on the day. Thank you Konoka for sharing some insights with us. You are an awesome athlete and it is great that you are part of our community.

Let's start at the beginning - how did you get into ultra running and how did you realise you were really good at it?

I have been passionate about triathlon since I was a teenager. I especially love long-distance triathlons, but there were no races in the winter. So, I decided to participate in ultramarathons as part of my training during the off-season. I think my biggest opportunity to realise that was to compete in Ultraman Canada in 2017, when I achieved a significant accomplishment. Ultraman is a three-day triathlon race in which triathletes need to complete 515 km; 10 km of swimming, 420 km of biking, and 84.4 km of running. At that time, I was lucky enough to get first place overall in the running discipline and set a new running course record. That's when I realised that running is what I do best, though I really love triathlons.

Can you tell us about your training? Do you have a coach or follow a specific plan? How did you prepare for TUM?

I do not have a specific plan; I basically listen to my body and decide how my training will be done. My partner has experience in sports coaching and has solid knowledge and skills, especially in running. So, his advice on training intensity and variation is quite helpful for improving my running performance
From last year's Tarawera 102 km to this year's Tarawera 100 miles, I have been training for three big races in blocks of periods. The South Island Ultramarathon 100km I ran last May had a relatively flat course, so my training for the race consisted mainly of speed sessions. On the other hand, I incorporated lots of uphill sessions into my training to complete the Lake Biwa 100 miles last October, as the race was extremely technical and had a high elevation gain. I would say my training for Tarawera 100 miles was a mix of training from the previous two blocks of periods. Although some sections are a little bit technical and steep in Tarawera, there are many runnable trails. So, doing interval training on gentle hills while increasing the volume was effective.

How did the race go? Did you follow a specific strategy? Did anything unexpected happen?

I would say it is 50/50, what went well and what didn't go well in this race. I had a detailed plan for my running pace and nutrition. Although it went as planned in the first half, my stomach started to get upset around the 100km section, and I couldn't eat anything in the end. It was extremely hard to keep running when my energy was depleted, which resulted in my running pace slowing down considerably in the second half. Given the unexpected happenings, I'm really grateful to my partner, who kept my pace as a pacer from the Okatania aid station.

When did you know you had the win? How did it feel?

I had no idea about that until I crossed the finish line. I knew I was in the lead, but I didn't have a chance to see the difference between me and the runners in second or third place during the race. I rather thought they might be running behind me for a few minutes. Therefore, being the winner surprised me! It was an honour to see the haka celebrating me.

What are your goals for the rest of the year? Do you have any more big races on the horizon (once you've had a decent rest) ?

I'm planning to participate in CCC (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix, a 101km mountain race) in August of this year, so I will continue to do high-quality training to maximise my running performance. I will also analyse what went well and what didn't go well at this Tarawera and build a better strategy for the next big race.

Well done again. You are an inspiration.

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