A 62-mile slog over Lord of the Rings vistas is enough to restore any spirits

VIEW FROM THE SOFA: Tarawera Ultramarathon, Sky Sports 3

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The Independent Online

It might have been the amount of Ommadon I had been listening to. Oppressive, instrumental Scottish doom metal can alter one’s outlook on life, after all.

Or perhaps it was the avalanche of depressing news about decent politicians dying, Fifa’s dirty laundry flapping in public and athletes tarnished by association to allegations of doping that had caused a fug to descend.

Either way, by the middle of last week I was in need of some light relief. And it came in the form of a short documentary on Sky Sports 3 about a running race which many would dismiss as either a) too far away, b) too far to run, or c) both.

The race concerned was this year’s Tarawera Ultramarathon. A niche race, admittedly, but one that has attracted a reputation for extremely competitive line-ups. And, as a bonus for all us armchair fans watching at odd hours (Sky broadcasts much of its most interesting stuff at times when people should be in bed), the 100km (62-mile) race, staged in February this year, goes through some stunning, Lord of the Rings meets Jurassic Park scenery in New Zealand’s North Island.

Full disclosure: I am from a town around an hour away from Rotorua, where the race started, so, apart from sniggering at the mangling of native place names by the commentator, I watched the show knowing full well that when the town was described as “unique, with a rich cultural history” the voice-over man was being extremely kind, if not economical with the truth. Put it this way: the locals, in that deeply ironic way Kiwis are known for, call it Roto-Vegas.

But we and the runners weren’t here for a tour of a sleepy provincial town most famous for its stinky geothermal activity and kitsch Maori culture shows aimed at coachloads of elderly tourists – we wanted images of solitude and nature. And boy, did we get it, even if there was a touch of déjà vu for eagle-eyed viewers, as the show had already been broadcast on Channel 4 last month.

Robbie Britton, the key British interest, described the trails early in the race as “sick” – which means good, in case those over 30 were thinking otherwise – while also bemoaning the fact that Yun Yanqiao of China, the race leader in the opening stages, was “in a bit of a rush”.

The fatigue etched on the runners’ faces at the 60km checkpoint was in stark contrast to the surroundings they were about to head through, described as “stunning forest, translucent blue water and cascading waterfalls”. And the commentator wasn’t wrong.

The final 40km were dominated by Dylan Bowman, an American, who made a break to go on and win, and his run was accompanied by sweeping vistas shot from a helicopter, revealing swathes of pine forest bisected by narrow rivers and punctuated by bare volcanoes.

Britton – who in April won bronze at the world 24-hour championships – eventually stumbled over the line in seventh. “I started off too hard,” he slurred behind mirrored sunglasses. “But what a beautiful race. I’ll be back.”

And with that anyone with a pair of running shoes will have been inspired to seek out a trail to explore. I certainly was. And afterwards I was in a sound enough frame of mind to tackle more Ommadon – not to mention the real world.

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