The story going into the 2016 Men's Tarawera race is there are no all-stars racing but there is a good mix of solidly-ranked runners. Plus there are a lot of Tarawera finishes between the ranked runners starting the race, and experience is important. So it won't register as a particularly strong field, but it has the potential to be an interesting and close race.
We're predicting a top 3 of Ryan Sandes, Jason Schlarb, and Cyril Cointre with (assuming he's healthy) Sandes winning it.
STRENGTH OF FIELD
Based on the runners currently on the registered list, Tarawera will come in at about 17 Field Strength Points (FSP). This puts it on the stronger end of the medium field strength zone.
As you'll see below, it's got a really strong group of top-50 runners. The only thing holding it back from being a strong field is one more top-20 ranked runner.
It's really hard to make predictions. But I've always liked it when people tried to make pretty specific ones, especially when backed up by some data. So we're going to make predictions for the winner, top 3, top 5 and top 10. This table shows the predictions for all runners ranked in the top 500.
18. Ryan Sandes
Sandes was a beast from 2011 - 2014. He was ranked 5th at one point in 2012, and 7th for a period in 2014. But he had a throwaway 2015 season with his only trail races being a DNF at Transvulcania and a DNS at Western States. This makes it tricky to predict his Tarawera race.
It really comes down to what caused his lost 2015 season. He had a virus in the early part of the year that threw off his racing schedule and probably messed up his training. But maybe he's just drunk one too many Red Bulls? I can't tell from any sources how his training has been the last 3 - 6 months.
He's still only 33, so I'm going to assume a healthy, 2011-2014 vintage Sandes shows up to Tarawera. With this being the case, he's the favorite to win. It would be nice to see him kick off 2015 with a strong race and stop his slide down the rankings. Prediction: Ryan Sandes wins it. (But note that it is predicted with low confidence)
29. Jason Schlarb
Similar to Sandes, it is difficult to predict Schlarb's performance. For one, he doesn't have much of a track record at races with medium-strength fields - he tends to race in only very strong fields. Also, he tends to be pretty inconsistent in his finishes. He puts in brilliant performances (4th at UTMB 2014, 1st at RRR 2015, 3rd at Speedgoat 2013, etc.) but also blows up quite often (DNFs at 2015 TNF SF, Lake Sonoma 2014, Transgrancanaria 2014; 16th at Transvulcania 2014, etc.).
Given that it's a weaker field than he's used to, it looks like a podium is most likely. But caveat this with his history of inconsistency.
44. Cyril Cointre
Cointre had a really good 2015 and churns out pretty consistent performances, but has yet to take home a big win. His last big effort was very close - a second at the strong-field UTMB TDS (20 FSP). In 2015 he was also top-5 at Transgrancanaria and Hong Kong 100. However, he didn't perform as well at Ultra Trail Australia and Western States. So he's not immune to subpar races. But these were significantly stronger fields than Tarawera. Most signs are pointing towards a podium finish, with a chance for his first signature victory if Sandes and Schlarb slip up.
48. Vajin Armstrong
In 7 races with FSP of 10 - 25 since 2010 (including 4 Taraweras!), Armstrong has finished in the Top 5 each time. That is consistency. Additionally, he has quite a track record at Tarawera:
- 2011 - 10 FSP - 2nd
- 2012 - 5 FSP - 2nd
- 2013 - 23 FSP - 3rd
- 2014 - 20 FSP - 4th
- 2015 - 16 FSP - 4th
Given his performance in medium-strength races and his Tarawera experience, it looks likely that Armstrong will be in the top 5, with a decent chance at a podium finish.
53. Michael Wardian
Wardian has worked his way up to just outside the top-50 by maximizing the amount of races allowed to count towards the ranking (he races a lot!) and specifically with a top 10 finish at last year's ultra-competitive Lake Sonoma 50 (this makes up about 50% of his race points). However, his best finish at a race with 15 or more Field Strength Points was last year's edition of Tarawera - fifth place. Historically, in the medium- or strong-field races, Wardian finishes outside the top-10. See the table below.
This would indicate an expected finish of lower-top-10 or top-20, but as you can see in the table, some of Wardian's strongest finishes have been at the last two Taraweras. Given this, I'd expect to see Wardian somewhere in 5-10.
110. John Tidd
Tidd's solid 110th ranking is a product of lower-top-30 finishes at really strong-field races - UTMB 2014/2015 and Mt Fuji 2014. Impressively, he's been putting up these strong results into his 50s. He only has two somewhat recent data points that seem to match up well with Tarawera: Lavaredo 2015 (19 FSP) and Mt. Fuji 2013 (17 FSP), where he was 20th and 6th, respectively.
Given his lack of historical top 10s and the fact that he's in his early 50s, we predict Tidd will be out of the top 10.
116. Jonas Buud
Buud has had some absolutely world class road ultra performances. On trails, his sample size is a little smaller and his results a little less dominant. He's competed in four races captured in Ultra Rankings.
He won Ultravasan 90k in both 2014 and 2015. However, it's not much better than a road race when forecasting his performance at Tarawera, for 2 reasons: 1) it was a fairly weak field each year (even with Max King there in 2015) and 2) Ultravasan features only ~800m of climbing over 90k.
In 2014 and 2015 he also raced Les Templiers. This is a much better comparison to Tarawera. They featured slightly stronger fields than 2016 Tarawera is forecast to be - 19 and 21 FSP. And it is a very steep course. Here Buud finished 10th in 2014 and 8th in 2015.
He's a consistent racer in that he doesn't seem to blow up. He's got a lot of speed. According to iRunFar, he's also been in New Zealand for a few weeks of training. I think he's primed for a Top 5 finish.
239. Ford Smith
A lot of Smith's racing, and really strong placing, has been at smaller events not captured in the Ultra Rankings data (Black Canyon, Antelope Island, Brazos Bend, Wild Hare, etc.). But of the races included in Ultra Rankings, he has the following results in medium-strength races:
- 12th 2014 Ice Age 50 (14 FSP)
- 8th 2014 Rocky Raccoon (13 FSP)
- 5th 2014 Bandera (12 FSP)
- DNF 2016 Bandera (12 FSP) - from the Bandera results it appears he started the 100k but only finished 50k
- 1st 2015 Black Canyon (?? FSP) - this race isn't included in Ultra Rankings, but he beat out three runners currently in the top 100 - Ryan Ghelfi, Dave Mackey, Catlow Shipek
The fact that Tarawera will have a slightly stronger field than these races would indicate Smith would finish somewhere in the bottom half of the top 10 or slightly out of the top 10. But given that he's 19 and on a strong upward trajectory, we'll pick the former - we predict Smith to finish in the bottom half of the top 10, with considerable chance of blasting into the top 5.
262. Yoshikazu Hara / 363. Anthony Hancy / 397. Matthew O'Connor
These three are tricky to predict due to the fact they've run few races included in Ultra Rankings.
The only race currently counting towards Hara's ranking (i.e. a top 30 within the last 2.5 years) is last year's impressive 3rd place at Tarawera. But he does have another data point in that he won Mt. Fuji in 2013. He's been inconsistent with some drops recently.
Hancy was 14th at Tarawera in 2014 and 9th last year. He hasn't raced in any other races included in Ultra Rankings.
Matthew O'Connor's only Ultra Rankings race was a 6th at 2015 Speedgoat which featured a pretty strong field. In fact, he bested Wardian there.
Given that we've got 3 top 10 spots left, we'll give each of these guys a spot there. But as with some other predictions, the confidence level is not high.