Headsweats Ambassador Spotlight: Penny Comins

Headsweats Ambassador Spotlight: Penny Comins

Last week, Headsweats Ambassador Penny Comins embarked on a new racing adventure – the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, New Zealand’s most prestigious ultramarathon.  Running 85 km through stunning New Zealand and Maori tribe land, Penny raced to a 2nd place overall finish!  Here’s her recap of the event:

‘How is this pace? You just let me know’. Jo McVeagh, my pacer, asks. I look down at my Garmin; it’s ready 4.32 per kilometer pace. ‘Yep, we are going good.’ With 20 kilometers to go of the 85 I need to complete to get from Kawaru to Rotorua in the Tarawera Ultra Marathon I am feeling pretty strong. In fact stronger than I had ever thought I would. I am running in to a distance I have never seen on foot before. I keep telling myself it is just a few laps around Richmond Park left to go. I can do this distance.

1,150 started in the dark at the base of the famous Redwoods Forest, home to the World Cup Mountain Bike Tour. Each athlete is on their own endeavour to do something amazing over one of three distances; 60, 85 or 100 kilometers. The Tarawera Ultra Marathon is the second race in the Ultra Trail World Tour and as a result has attracted a credible international field.  My running shoes toe the line with the worlds best; Nuria Picas, Ruby Muir, Ruth Croft, Dylan Bowman (who went on to smash the 100km record in 7h44min) and Jorge Maravilla and Pau Bartolo Roco, the guy I saw win the CCC race just last year.



My journey is all about 1. Finishing the 85km to get two more points needed for CCC and 2. Keeping it at seven out of 10 effort all day. Straight off the gun I felt like pulling faces similar to the Maori send off we had. Think Haka tongues before an All Black rugby game. My legs were clogged and I had a tight groin, despite all the build up of massage, chiro and wee runs.

Instead of dwelling on these niggles I just kept thinking ‘is this seven out of 10 effort?’ and powered on. Starting at the front meant a lot of people passed me as we headed out of the Redwoods and around the Blue Lake. I didn’t let this whipping deter me, as I knew it was better than being stuck in congestion if I was further back.


The moon was still up as we left the Blue Lake and crossed a hilly section to Lake Okareka. The support popping out of the bush was immense. This contrast to quiet, soulful time in the bush and loud support from the locals was a fantastic motivator. The scenery was stunning and as I popped out of the bush sections I could feel the heat of the sun rising. Perfect, just how I like it – hot!

It wasn’t until I scoffed a Nutella sandwich at Okataina Bay that I realised I was actually hungry. I downed another and some ice cold ginger beer. Such a simple pleasure brought immense joy and much needed speed. Spotify shuffling songs in my ears, I went up a gear and FLEW. My feet hardly touched the ground. I had Killian feet and felt on FIRE. Go the Nutella.


A split second later I was holding on to the side of the path by finger tips. Only water below, perched on a wedged punga log was not the flying I was wanting to feel. After a feeble ‘heeelllpp’ to passing feet I was being dragged out. Relieved to back on the track and only slightly bleeding I carried on with the same velocity.

At Humphries Bay I knew I was past the technical stuff and soon I would pop out at Tarawera Falls, both stunning in vista and exciting in the people I would see. I would pick up my pacer Jo and have the end in sight. I only slightly noted that the results on the board showed all the other distances first to third, yet Woman 85km was blank. I asked and got a nonchalant response from the volunteers.


Seeing Jo and my coach James Kuegler was another story. Not wanting to ruin my plan James just said ‘I was running a good race and to keep the pressure on’. I looked knowingly at Jo as I changed shoes and said through steely determination ‘We are passing everyone we see!’

We ran the last 25 kilometers through undulating private forestry roads like we stole something. A true testament to my age old belief – the body does what the mind thinks. Even after the finish line smooch with hotty race organiser Tim Day I was in denial that I had finished the task and placed second. An amazing experience that is still sinking in.

Imagine what CCC will be like! I get tingles just thinking about it.


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