Hillary Ultra 80k

It was feat of grueling endurance, filled with ups and downs and moments of despair, before victory was finally achieved. And that was just poor Shaun Collins getting council approval for this event! But at last we Aucklanders had our very own offroad ultramarathon to be proud of.

Maybe it’s just local pride showing through, but I reckon this course is easily one the most spectacular going around. The Hillary Ultra is a veritable smorgasbord of spectacular scenery, featuring stunning coastal vistas, secluded valleys, meandering forest streams, towering sand dunes and majestic Kauri.

Not that any of that was visible when we assembled in the darkness for a 6am start. The enthusiasm for the inaugural event had been apparent in the lead up and there was undeniable buzz in the air as we assembled outside the Arataki Visitors Centre for the race briefing.

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At the start line we paused for a special moment as Sarah Hillary delivered some brief but stirring words. Then we were off to make history.

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The first couple of km took us through the tunnel under Scenic Drive and around the Nature Trail before we hit the Hillary Trail proper. The trail started with a decent descent down the aptly named Slip Track, initially a well-formed path but soon growing rockier and steeper. I know this track well so I knew to keep eyes (and headlamp) pinned to the ground, to avoid any ankle-breaking rocks.

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I hadn’t slept well in the lead-up to race, averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep the previous 3 nights, so I’d been a bit apprehensive about how my body was going to shape up. As it turns out, the lack of sleep didn’t seem to bother me at all and me legs were feeling great. I had been aiming for 12-13 hours but I began to think that a faster time might be on the cards.

As dawn arrived I was making my way along the edge of the Lower Huia Reservoir, in the company of a few other runners. Amongst them were a couple of impressive youngsters – 15yo Reegan and 21yo Heather. They were aiming for a sub-12 hour finish so I figured if I kept them in sight then I had a real chance of beating my target time.

As we entered the Omanawanui Track, there were a group of four of us – Heather, Reegan, Gerald & I – and the marshall helpfully called out 17,18,19,20 as we passed.

I don’t care how many times I run this trail, I’m still blown away by the awe-inspiring view out over the harbour as we climb up the exposed ridgeline. As we started the descent into Whatipu, I heard a buzzing sound off to my right and was stunned to see a quadcopter hovering nearby. We caught a glimpse of the footage in a short video teaser at the prizegiving the next morning, and I can only say that there was a collective gasp from everyone as we caught the first aerial shots over this spot. Sensational!

You can check out the 2min video here.

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The girls at the beach-themed aid station at Whatipu were great and I was thrilled to see a familiar face in offroad-junkie Annette. After a quick hug and a water-refill I was energised and off again – ready for yet another steep hill of course! The leg to Karekare featured 2 bigs hills – first up Gibbons Track and then again over Mt Zion – punctuated by the pictureque Pararaha Valley. I found myself running alone quite a bit on this section and again up Comans Track and down into Piha.

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I caught Reegan and Heather again at Kitekite Falls as they waited patiently for some walkers to cross the stream and then I passed them before reaching the Piha aid station. Heather blasted through the aid station while I was filling up my reservior – does she store water like a camel? – and then I followed about a minute behind onto the beach.

I’d learned my lesson about beach running at the Kauri Ultra in November, when a 1-2km section on soft sand had turned my legs to rubber. So I headed straight to the hard sand even though it meant running further, happy to sacrifice a bit of distance to preserve my legs.

I was feeling pretty good up Whites Track and Anawhata Road and passed one or two other runners. I kept up the hot pace down the first hill on the Kuitaika and to a lesser extent the second, but my quads were really starting to feel it on Houghton Track.

I’d passed Gary on the downhill, because he having trouble with his knee, but that didn’t stop him easily passing my on the last uphill to Wainamu Junction and I didn’t see him again. I was running with Frank by this stage and we kept each other going to the Bethells aid station. The long leg and hot sun meant that I ran out of water at Wainamu Falls when I was already feeling a bit dehydrated and I had to go another half an hour without any fluids.

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It was a good feeling leaving Bethells knowing that I was on the last leg. I continued to run with Frank for quite a bit of this section, before he pushed on when I stopped for a toilet and food break. But shortly before then I think it was Carl who passed us like we were standing still. I thought it was pretty rude to be looking so fresh at this stage, while poor Frank and I were reduced to just putting one foot in front of the other!

The views down the coast were of course spectacular, but it was a bit of a tease to see Muriwai in the distance. It looked so close but I knew there was still a lot of work to be done.

I’d been dealing with some minor nausea in the second half of the race – nothing major but enough to just take the edge of my running. I was just eating biscuits and nibbling on a hot cross bun and washing them down with fluids to keep the stomach happy.

This last section was a bit of a slog for me, although I suspect the same could be said of many other runners too. I’m just grateful that the views made it so much easier.

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It was a real milestone hitting Constable Road, but that 2km road section always seems soooo long! Once I was back on the track then it all started to happen quickly – the gannet colony, beach, metal road and then the finish line – wahooooo!

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I managed to finish in 14th place in the open section in a time of 11:05, which exceeded my expecations by a long shot, so I was thrilled. It was great to see Reegan & Heather come in not too far behind. These younguns are only going to get faster so it’ll be a relief for me to move into the veterans section in the not too distant future!

As always, it was great to celebrate with family and share experiences with the other runners. My brother-in-law, Paul, had completed the 16km with some mates and it sounds like they’d had an great time.

Cogratulations to Shaun for an awesomely successful event. It’s been a long time coming but the result was worth it.

And of course a big thank you to all the volunteers out on the course. It’s not just the food and water but the smiles and words of encouragement that make it so much easier and contribute to the occasion.

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An “Unofficial” Pictorial Guide to The Hillary – Part 1: Arataki to Piha

The inaugural running of The Hillary ultramarathon will take place on Saturday 29 March 2014.

The Hillary Trail is 75km of spectacular scenery, featuring stunning coastal vistas, secluded valleys, meandering forest streams, towering sand dunes and majestic Kauri. If you’ve never run the trail and you’re wondering what to expect then read on.

This “unofficial” pictorial guide covers approximately the first half of the race course from Arataki Visitor’s Centre to Piha, including the additional 2km Nature Trail at the start. I’ll try to post a guide to the second half before race day.

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The Hillary Trail starts from the Arataki Visitors Centre on Scenic Drive in Waiatarua. It begins at the pictured sign and heads along the Slip Track behind it. However, The Hillary race course includes an additional 2km loop around the Nature Trail before we can get started on the Hillary Trail proper.

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To reach the Nature Trail, we take the tunnel under Scenic Drive, complete with bush-themed murals painted by local primary schools.

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Then it’s onto a wide gravel path lined with beautiful native bush (not that you’ll see too much of it since we’ll be starting 90 minutes before sunrise). The path descends, steeply in places, for about a km and then it’s time to climb back up to the visitor’s centre – our first significant climb and we’ve barely had a chance to get warmed up!

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Back at the start of the Hillary Trail we turn onto Slip Track, which is initially of a similarly good standard, albeit a bit narrower so there’s not much room for passing. Shortly after crossing a railway line the track widens and starts to descend steeply. The surface has had large stones added to combat the previously slick clay surface, but take care because it’s easy to turn an ankle on the many loose stones.

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At the bottom of the Slip Track it’s a sharp right turn onto the Pipeline Track, which can quickly become slippery and turn to mud after rain.

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After crossing a bridge over a stream, the track terminates at the Lower Nihotupu Dam Road. We turn right here and it’s flat easy running for a few minutes before the road starts to climb steeply for our second significant climb of the day.

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The road ends soon after the climb and we turn onto Hamilton Track. Once known as the “mud monster”, this track has been well and truly tamed by recent upgrades, with the introduction of graveled track and boardwalks. One boardwalk section passes through a grove of magnificent Kauri trees – one of the most impressive displays of Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges outside of the Cascades area.

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After a gentle climb the track reaches the Hamilton Summit, from where a easy gravel track descends towards Huia. This is one of the easier sections of the day and a chance to pick the pace up a little and/or give those legs a chance to recover.

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The trees part at one point, and hopefully the sun is up by now so we can catch a glimpse of Huia in the distance.

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Then it’s onto the Lower Huia Dam Road which runs alongside the Lower Huia reservoir and includes a couple of decent uphills and one steep descent before arriving at the dam.

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A sealed road takes us down the dam face and along the access road to Huia. There is a low tide route along the beach, but the race course follows the high tide route, which means turning right onto Huia Road.

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After a few minutes we turn right into Karamatura Farm and a short climb up a gravel road. Then we cross a couple of paddocks as we make our way into the bush-clad Karamatura Valley.

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After crossing the stream on a dam of loosely assembled stones, we reach the first aid station. Then we turn right onto the Karamatura Loop Walk which is a pleasant track that follows the Karamatura Stream. Soon the path begins to climb and we turn off the loop walk onto the Karamatura Track.

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This track represents the toughest challenge so far with a gut-busting climb to about 400m above sea level. The path is mostly very steep and covered in tree roots and large stones so it’s mostly a case of walking and scrambling rather than running!

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Having reach the Karamatura Junction, it’s a relief to turn onto Donald McLean Track, which has an easy running surface and only gentle gradients. This is a good chance to recover after the climb from Karamatura Valley.

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The vegetation start to thin out as we near the summit of Mt Donald McLean, but before we reach the top we turn right onto Puriri Ridge Track. After a brief climb and some views out over Whatipu, the track begins to descend until it reaches Whatipu Road.

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Omanawanui Track provides some of the most spectacular views of the course. The trail follows the ridge and has many sections where there is nothing to the left but a sheer drop and breath-taking views out over the harbour. Magic!

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There are 2-3 reasonable climbs along this track and it culminates in a climb to a open summit with a wooden bench overlooking the harbour entrance and Whatipu Beach below. A bone-jarring descent to the valley floor follows, and a well-earned refuel at the second aid station.

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We immediately put that refuel to good use as we climb steeply up Gibbons Track. After the initial steep climb the vegetation thins out and we get occasional views over the wetlands and beach below.

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The track can get muddy when wet and the track surface is uneven where running water has carved out channels during heavy rain. It gradually climbs to a track junction and we turn left on Muir Track, which plunges steeply to a stream which it crosses and then follows for a while.

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Eventually the track drops into the beautiful and secluded Pararaha Valley, surrounded by steep and rugged slopes.

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The tracks follows the valley floor until it widens and the bush gives way to grass and then wetlands. At this point the race course deviates from the offical Hillary Trail. The official trail turns left and heads through the wetlands and sand dunes, but we instead turn right onto Buck Taylor Track and immediately start climbing back into the bush.

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A decent climb eventually sees us reach the summit of Mt Zion. As we begin our descent the bush parts and offers great views out over Karekare. Once back in the bush we descend quickly to the Pohutukawa Glade below, where we turn right and follow the track to it’s end at Karekare Road. Then it’s left to the carpark and the third aid station.

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A little further along Karekare Road we turn left down a side road and a short climb takes us to the start of the Te Ahu Ahu Track. A minute or so along this track and we turn left again onto Comans Track, which occasionally offers great views over Karekare and along the coast.

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The track climbs steeply through the bush before rejoining Te Ahu Ahu Track. The bush gives way to grass and flax and this provides for some spectacular views of the dramatic coastline of Mercer Bay. After a short downhill stretch the track climbs steadily again to the end of Log Race Road.

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The legs get a rare chance for a break as the route follows Log Race Road and Te Ahu Ahu Roads which are both loose metal and mostly flat. Then it’s right onto Scenic Drive where the easy running continues along a sealed and gently undulating road for about a km.

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Just after the Karekare Road turnoff, we turn left back into the bush where Winstone Track descends steeply. The trail crosses over the stream above Kitekite Falls and then continues to the bottom of the falls.

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After the falls there is a short climb and then the trail descends and there is a nice flat section through pretty bush alongside Glen Esk stream to the carpark. From the carpark there is more easy flat running along the sealed Glen Esk Road and then right onto Seaview Road and past the store to the fourth aid station.

Kauri Ultra 70k

This year saw the 10th anniversary of the Kauri Classic (32k) but only the 3rd running of the Kauri Ultra (70k). For every competitor that enters, the organisers plant a Kauri Tree and they’ve planted about 2500 so far, along an 8km stretch of the trail from Waikawau Bay to Coromandel. The goal is to plant about 10,000 kauris along the entire 32km trail of the Kauri Classic course, which at this rate will take about another 30 years. All the best to them – it’s a great cause. There are still some pockets of large kauri dotted throughout the Waitakeres where I do most of my training, and I never tire of admiring these kings of the forest.

There are 4 options – 13k, 23k, 32k and 70k. About 250 runners took part this year, which is about average, but for some odd reason only 17 opted for the 70k option. Go figure! The 70k was scheduled to start at 5:30am at Fletcher Bay campground, near the very tip of the Coromandel Peninsula. From there we would head down the east coast, utilising a mixture of trail and loose metal road, until we reached the start of the 32k. After a short beach section we could look forward to a crossing of the ranges and a finish at the Coromandel Township.

Map of all 4 options - the 70k Ultra is marked by the dotted line

Map of all 4 options – the 70k Ultra is marked by the dotted line

Profile of the 70k Ultra - a few 200m+ hills in the first half followed by a 600m monster at the end

Profile of the 70k Ultra – a few 200m+ hills in the first half followed by a 600m monster at the end

Those of us without support crews met outside the Coromandel school grounds on Friday evening, where a minibus was to transport us to the start line at Fletcher Bay. Among the other passengers was Nathan, whom I knew from an earlier race, and had just bumped into in training in the Waitakeres a few weeks earlier. I first met Nathan when I gave him a ride to the Wild Turkey half-marathon at Whatipu a couple of years back, after finding him stranded on the side of the road when his car broke down. If I recall correctly, it was his first off-road run and he proceeded to kick my butt out on the course. I should have left him on the side of the road!

Once we got underway, we were treated to a scenic 1.5 hour drive to Fletcher Bay. The road hugged the coastline and we drove through one beautiful bay after another, passing several small and isolated communities along the way. The sun setting over the gulf waters only served to emphasize the peace and quiet of this remote corner of the country, and it felt like we were travelling back in time. Once at the campground, Nathan, Dougie & I pitched tents, attended the race briefing and then had a quiet meal before hitting the sack early.

I’d been watching the weather forecast all week, and it had mostly been bad news for the Saturday. In fact, I’d been checking the metservice website so often, I’m surprised I didn’t overload it – “F5 .. rain … F5 … still rain … F5 … blast, still rain!”. Rain could be viewed as a blessing for an event like this because it would keep us cool, but I wanted to enjoy the scenery at it’s best under clear blue skies, so I was hanging out for fine weather. After a gorgeous Friday it seemed hard to believe that rain could be on the way, and sure enough I was greeted with stars twinkling down from clear skies when I rose at 4:30. Awesome!

Listening to a few last words from Andy before the start at 5:30am

Listening to a few last words from Andy before the start at 5:30am

After a quick breakfast, it was time to gather all my gear, take down my tent and gather at the start line for some final words from the race director, Andy Reid. Then at 5:30 on the dot, we were off, with just enough light to find our way. We started by following the Coromandel Walkway which winds along (and up and down!) the coastline to Stony Bay. Quickly we were into the hills, and most of us chose to walk the steeper hills from the beginning, looking to preserve our legs for what was going to be a long day.

We were quickly into the hills after leaving Fletcher Bay

We were quickly into the hills after leaving Fletcher Bay

The views up and down the coastline were spectacular, and we got to watch the sun rise out over the Pacific Ocean. There were a couple of substantial 200m climbs along this section, but the combination of fresh legs and the cool morning air meant that the running was relatively easy at this stage.

Sunrise from the Coromandel Walkway

Sunrise from the Coromandel Walkway

After 12km of coastal walkway, I arrived at the aptly named Stony Bay. I met up with Ross & Caroline at this point, and we had a couple of panicky minutes as we tried to work out where we were supposed to go from here. We decided to take the only road out, and were quickly reassured by the site of one of the kilometre signs. Unlike most off-road races I do, this one had a sign at each kilometre mark, and just to be really different it displayed the distance remaining rather than the distance already covered – in this case I think it read “59”.

The metal road climbed to yet another peak of around 200m, giving more great views along the coast. I felt good so I pushed on and left Ross & Caroline behind who decided, possibly more sensibly, to take it a bit easier on the uphill. I soon caught up with another group of 3 runners including Garth, who I’d sat next to on the bus. Garth is one of those ‘hewn from the rock’ type of guys who builds heavy machinery at a factory near Thames, and spends his spare time running and swimming. His idea of relaxing after work is a quick run up to the pinnacles and back (a 2-day tramp for mere mortals). He’d complained to me that he hadn’t been running enough before describing a training routine that was definitely tougher than mine. Not exactly what you want to hear the night before race.

Soon the road descended to Sandy Bay. Obviously the early settlers were a little lacking in imagination when it came to naming beaches, though I had to admit that the name was again entirely appropriate. What a great spot – just a beautiful sandy beach and a few simple baches. And more importantly, the first aid station, where I was able to fill up on water.

Picturesque Sandy Bay

Picturesque Sandy Bay

At this point I caught up with Douggie, another I’d met on the minibus trip. He was fresh from a brave attempt at the world famous Western States 100 miler, where he was on course for a 24-hour finish before his calf blew up at the 70-mile mark. That injury had prevented him from doing much training so he was taking a fairly conservative approach to today’s race, a plan which was also influenced by throwing up during this race the last 2 years straight! Douggie hails from the Hawkes Bay and his honours include victory at his hometown Kaweka Mountain Marathon, a tough and prestigious offroad race that I’d love to try one year.

Douggie heads up Carey Road after the first aid station

Douggie heads up Carey Road after the first aid station

After a brief road section we turned onto a farm and – would you believe it – started climbing again. This was the tallest and steepest hill so far, topping out at about 240m, but it also brought the reward of more great views.

More great views from the farm section

More great views from the farm section

Along the way we noted the 43 and 42km signs. I guess an ultramarathon is one of the few times when you see you’ve got 42km to go and think “hey, there’s just a marathon to go now”. After a sharp descent, some of which was steep and technical (and fun!), we arrived at the pretty Potiki Bay. Douggie decided to pull back at this point, in line with his race plan, so I headed off on my own again.

Potiki Bay

Potiki Bay

From here the trail climbed again, this time to 257m, before a difficult descent on a hard and uneven clay surface. I was relieved to reach the metal road at the bottom where an easy flat section completed the leg.

Road to Waikawau Bay - some flat running at last!

Road to Waikawau Bay – some flat running at last!

The next aid station was at Waikawau Bay, which also served as the start line for the 32k Kauri Classic. I got there as the 100-odd runners were gathering prior to their race briefing and they gave me a rousing applause as I came in – a real adrenaline boost! I refilled my water reservoir and also took on more food from my drop bag – my only one on the course. I realised at this point that I hadn’t been eating enough. Only one sandwich and a few snacks wasn’t enough for 4.5 hours of running so far. As well as chicken sandwiches, I was carrying beef sticks, pureed fruit (baby food sachets), potato chips, choc-licorice sticks and gummy lollies.

Waikawau Bay

Waikawau Bay

The section along the beach was tough because the tide was in and I was forced to run on soft sand. Shortly after I got back into the bush I felt like I’d hit a bit of a wall. I don’t know whether it was the soft sand, the accumulated 5 hours on my feet, or a lack of food intake, but I was definitely struggling – especially when the trail inevitably started to climb again. I eased off the pace and made myself eat some more food and I was relieved when I started to feel my energy levels coming back up again. The Waikawau Trail followed the stream for a while, crossing it often, and climbed gradually to the Waikawau lookout.

From the lookout, the trail broke out of the bush and onto farmland. Now I was on a hard dirt trail that followed the ridgeline, offering great views in both directions. It was early afternoon by now and the sun was hot and there was little cover. The trail was continually climbing and falling, and it was so steep in some places that I had to take care not to slide backwards on the crumbling surface.

This was probably the toughest section of the course. I’d already been on my feet for about 6 hours when I started along the ridge and my legs were sore and tired. My hamstrings in particular were fatigued from all the climbing and I was forced to walk hills that I’d been running easily in the morning.

It was on one of these hills that Caroline caught up to me. After leaving her and Ross behind at Stony Bay, I hadn’t expected to see either of them again, but now I could only look on as she easily passed me on one of the tough uphill sections. Perhaps she was just stronger on the uphills, but it also made me wonder if she’d been a bit smarter than me with her slower pace earlier in the race. One of the great things about ultras is you’re always learning, both from your own experiences and from watching others.

This dirt trail followed the ridge line, offering great views in all directions

This dirt trail followed the ridge line, offering great views in all directions

After ascending to a high point of 520m, the trail started to gradually descend again. There was also a bit more overhead cover now and the easier running gave my legs a chance to recover a little. Soon I arrived at the top of the Tokotea on Kennedy Bay Road, where I stopped at the last of the aid stations. Less than 10k to go now, but the challenges weren’t over.

After a quick but steep climb up a metalled road, I was onto the Kaipawa Track – easily the most technical track of the day. The surface was uneven and covered with roots and small tree stumps, and the trail was continuously up and down – but mostly up. Fortunately, I often train on terrain similar to this in the Waitakeres but it was still a challenge on tired legs.

It seemed to take an age but finally I reached the Kaipawa Trig, marking the highest point of the course (560m) and signalling that it was all downhill from here! I could have kissed the trig, I was so happy to see it, but I made do with a “whoop” and a photo.

At 560m, the Kaipawa Trig is the highest point on the course

At 560m, the Kaipawa Trig is the highest point on the course

The organisers had cleared the old Success mining trail especially for this race. After about 65km of running, and far too much of it climbing, it was great to spend the next 20-odd minutes blasting down this trail to the township below. Okay, maybe I wasn’t exactly blasting on these tired legs, but I was certainly enjoying being able to stretch out a lot more.

From near the top of the old Success mining trail, looking down on Coromandel Township

From near the top of the old Success mining trail, looking down on Coromandel Township

At the bottom of the trail I was out onto the road and with just a couple of km to the finish line. There’s always a slightly unreal feeling about nearing the end of an ultra. I think you develop a mindset early on in the race that the finish line is so far away that it’s not even worth thinking about – perhaps its a coping mechanism – so that it’s hard to believe it when you actually get there. The final stretch took me through the town and into the school for a final lap of the field and over the finish line.

I’d been predicting a time of about 9.5 hours and sure enough I finished in 9:35, which was good enough to place me 5th out of the 12 men. Nathan was the 3rd man home in 8:29, after running awhile with the eventual winner Kerry Suter, who blitzed the course in 7:05. Garth finished behind Nathan in 9:03 and Caroline wasn’t much further back with a time of 9:14. Ross finished just behind me in 9:43 and Douggie finished 8th in the mens section, in a time of 10:06 – and more importantly, I don’t believe he vomited this time!

The Kauri Ultra was definitely a tough race with a lot of hills – the section along the ridgeline being particularly challenging. However, the stunning scenery made every step worthwhile. There are so many spots along the course with elevated views across the forest and over the coast, and we also ran next to (and along) some pretty beaches. In about 8 years of trail running, I’d have to say that this is definitely one of the most enjoyable races I’ve run.

I’ve been to Coromandel Peninsula on a number of occasions, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever been north of Coromandel Township, probably because it is off the main touring route. However, it is the area’s remoteness, combined with it’s natural beauty, that makes it such a special place.

A huge thanks to Andy and his team for a well organised and memorable race. As always seems to be the case, the marshalls were very helpful and always had a smile on their face, despite standing out in the sun for hours. They are definitely the unsung heroes of the offroad running scene, and I take my hat off to them.

Karekare to Whatipu

This is probably my favourite training run. It includes some great spectacular coastal views, awesome beach running and passes through the Pararaha Valley – one of prettiest spots in the Waitakere Ranges. I always run it as a loop, starting at Karekare and taking the bush route to Whatipu, before returning via the beach.

I’d gone somewhat into hibernation over the winter, just doing 2-3 shortish runs each week to keep up a fitness base (and to help keep me sane). This is my typical pattern over the winter, but I’d had an extra reason to take it easy this year. After completing the Tarawera 100k and the Hillary Trail only 5 weeks apart in the autumn, I was left feeling pretty drained and needed some time away from the long runs.

However, with a new season looming, and plans to race the Kauri Ultra in November, it was time to step up the training again. Tired of evening runs in the dark, and struggling to find much enthusiam, I decided to head back to one of my favourite spots in an effort to recover my mojo.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated and turned on a crisp sunny late-winter day. From the Karekare carpark, I started along the Pohutukawa Glade Walk and then turned onto the Zion Hill Track. From there the track climbed quickly through the bush, offering glimpses of the beach below.

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Soon the track broke out into the open, offering uninterupted views behind me over the beach and occasional views of the wetlands lying south towards Whatipu.

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At the junction with the Zion Ridge Track, I turned right to remain on the Zion Hill Track. At this point the trail reentered the bush and the next 20-30 minutes were spent on a rolling muddy track. The bush is quite dense along this section of the trail and the lack of sunshine means that the track doesn’t dry out at this time of year. 20130905 020

After turning right at the next junction onto the Buck Taylor Track, I descended into the Pararaha Valley. This is a beautiful spot surrounded by steep and rugged slopes, where the bush gives way to wetlands and sand dunes.

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At the junction with Muir Track, I turned left and headed up the valley.

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After crossing the stream and passing the shelter and campsite, the track climbed steeply back up into the bush. At the next junction I turned right onto Gibbons Track, which was mostly flat and gradually descending (at last!). The vegetation had been cut back here, so the track was a bit drier. Some of the muddier sections had branches laid down, which helps keep the shoes clean but can be tricky for running. 20130905 027

The track was mostly surrounded by bush, but occasionally the trees would thin out sufficiently to offer spectacular views out over the wetlands below.

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Then suddenly the track broke out into the opening and I was treated to a great view of Whatipu Beach and the mouth of the Manakau Harbour.

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From there, the track descended steeply and then I was out of the bush for the last time and running along the grassy track next to the Whatipu campsite. After passing through a pretty glade with several Pohutokawa trees, I took the track out to the beach. No mud to worry about here, but the soft black sand is not exactly runner-friendly!

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One thing I love about Whatipu is the way its character changes so dramatically with the tide and weather. On a calm sunny day like today, it’s hard to believe that this was the scene of New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster, when the HMS Orpheus went down taking 189 crew with her.

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I quickly found myself alone on the stunning expanse of beach that stretches north from Whatipu to Karekare. This is a special place, with the Tasman ocean on one side, wetlands and cliffs on the other and only sand stretching before me and behind – and not another soul in site!

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On a seemingly endless beach like this, it can feel that you’re making no headway, so the Pararaha stream provides a welcome milestone.

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It was an enjoyable run along the beach, but it’s still a relief to finally close in on Karekare.

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After scrambling around on the rocks for a while, I took a lesser-used path from Karekare up to Coman’s Track, from where it was just a few minutes back to the carpark.

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Hillary Trail

The Hillary Trail is a 4-day 75km tramp along the wild west coast of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park in West Auckland. The scenery is spectacular, encompassing beautiful native rain forest (including the majestic Kauri), a rugged coastline, wetlands and waterfalls. However, the terrain can only be described as brutal for running, with countless steep sections, some of which become reacherously slippery when wet, and technically demanding surfaces that include soft sand, stream beds, mud and ankle-breaking rocks and tree roots. If you don’t bring your A-game on this run then you’re going to struggle. Unfortunately for me, this was the one day when I couldn’t find me A-game and, boy, did I struggle! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The trail is named after kiwi icon Edmund Hillary, famous for being the first person to scale Mt Everest (with Tenzing Norgay) and for his subsequent charity work with the Sherpa in Nepal. Edmund Hillary had a special relationship with the west coast, building a bach at White’s Beach (north of Piha) where he would retreat to find peace from the media attention. The trail was officially opened on 11 January 2010, the second anniversary of Edmund Hillary’s death, and already a number of runners have completed the course. There’s even an honours board to record their feats.

I’d been meaning to give it a go for a while, and I figured that now was a good time to do it, since I had recently run the Tarawera Ultramarathon and was hopefully still in pretty good shape. I’d already run the first half or so on a number of occasions, running as far as Arataki to Anawhata Rd in 7.5 hours, but I knew that I’d be looking at 12 hours plus for the full trail, so I’d have to carry more food then I’d ever carried before.

I managed to stuff enough food for the day in my bag, along with a small first aid kit, but it meant that I had no room for a rain jacket or any warm gear other than the thermal that I’d be wearing at the beginning. I wasn’t too worried about the rain jacket because I prefer to just get wet if it’s raining. However, a bit of extra warm gear would have been preferable, just in case I injured myself badly enough that I couldn’t walk out and had to wait for an extended period for help. I didn’t bother with a map because I was pretty familiar with most of the trail, and for the couple of sections that I didn’t know so well, I printed out the relevant pages from Shaun Collins’ excellent Runners Route Guide To The Hillary Trail.

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It was a challenge to fit everything into my running bag, but I managed to get all of this in, minus 2 beef snacks and one bread bag, plus a cellphone.

You can start the trail at Arataki in the south or Muriwai in the north. I chose to begin at the Arataki Visitors Centre, since it’s not far from where I live. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at 6am, to find that the carpark was already open (since 5am). Fortunately, I realised at the last moment that it closed at 6pm and I knew there was no chance that I’d be back by then, so I exited again and parked in a layby 100m further up Scenic Dr. At 6:10am I found myself by the Hillary Trail information board, where I started my stop watch and was off.

The slip track lived up to it’s name, with the heavy rain earlier in the week having made the surface slick. But I had a long way to go, and wasn’t in a particular hurry, so I was happy to take it nice and easy on this section. I’d anticipated a chilly start and was wearing a long-sleeved thermal under my running shirt, but by the time I reached the bottom of the hill I was already sweating and quickly shed the thermal.

After a short but muddy section of the Pipeline Track, it was onto the Nihotupu Dam Road and the first decent climb. That was followed by the Hamilton Track, notorious for it’s endless mud, but the monster has been tamed by a recent track upgrade that includes boardwalks and a metalled surface. The excellent track surface meant that I was able to make good progress and it wasn’t long before I began the descent into Huia Bay.

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Dawn breaking over Huia Bay.

I think it was during this section that I first began to sense that my body wasn’t quite in tune. The legs were feeling lethargic, which wasn’t a good omen when I was relying on them to carry me over some pretty tough terrain during the next 12 hours or so.

After running alongside the lower Nihotupu Dam, and tackling another decent hill, the road descended from the dam to the beach below. Fortunately, the tide was heading out so I was able to take the low-tide option around the rocks before heading inland again at Karamatura Valley.

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The low-tide route at Huia Bay.

The Karamatura Loop Walk is one of the prettiest sections of the trail, hugging the banks of the Karamatura Stream. After an easy flat section, the track started to climb and I could hear the sounds of the stream rushing and crashing over boulders as the valley steepened. After turning off onto Karamatura Track, the gradient increased significantly and for the first time I was forced to walk. I must have slogged my way up the valley for about half an hour before reaching the junction with Donald McLean Track, after which the going was much easier and started to descend towards Whatipu Road.

After crossing the road, I entered Omanawanui Track, one of the ranges most spectacular tracks and something of a hidden gem. The views over the Manakau Harbour, and out through the heads to the Tasman sea, were nothing short of breathtaking. Then it was an ankle-breaking descent down a rocky trail to Whatipu.

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View over Whatipu Beach from Omanawanui Track.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite my feelings of lethargy, I had arrived at Whatipu just inside my target time of 3:30. I wasn’t sure whether my body was really struggling and it would soon catch up with me, or whether it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Time would tell.

This was also the location for my first water refill. The tap by the toilets say that it isn’t safe for drinking but I’ve used it on a number of occasions without any ill effects. I’d only drunk a little over half of the 2 litres I was carrying, so I obviously wasn’t paying enough attention to my hydration, a mistake I often make. However, I was about to make a bigger mistake, as I reasoned that it was only 3 hours to my next water stop at Piha, so I’d obviously consume even less water this time. So instead of filling my hydration pack again, I only filled it to about 3/4 (1.5 litres) to save having to carry unnecessary weight – a move I would later regret!

The route out of Whatipu was via Gibbons Track, which started with a steep climb through the bush before offering some stunning views out over the wetlands and the wild remote beach. Other times when I’m training out here, I’ll take the beach all the way from Whatipu to Karakare and there’s nothing but the sand, surf and sea birds.

The trail soon turned onto Muir Track which descended steeply, before following a stream for a while and then dropping down into Pararaha Valley. This is one of my favourite spots in the Waitakere Ranges, beatiful wetlands surrounded by steep rocky cliffsides on the inland side and sand dunes on the ocean side. From here, the trail led onto the beach and a short but energy-sapping strecth over soft sand to the Tunnel Campsite and then onto Karekare Beach.

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A brief stop at the Tunnel Campsite, a pretty spot surrounded by cliffs, wetlands and beach.

At Karekare, I took the trail back to the carpark and there was a short road stretch before taking Comans Track and starting the long climb up to Log Race Rd, above Mercer Bay. By now, I was pretty sure that my body wasn’t right and I was struggling – both physically and mentally. I’d been running for over 5 hours and was hurting, but I wasn’t even half way there yet. And then to top it off, my water ran out. I was obviously consuming more water than I had earlier in the day, and now I faced about an hour of running without water.

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View down the coast from Mercer Bay Loop Walk.

One reaching Log Race Rd, there was a boring road section for about 20 minutes or so. It should have been easy going but my right leg was hurting with every step, but a quick bit of massage in my lower back helped alleviate the pain. Then it was back in the bush and a steep descent to the foot of the Kitekite Falls. In summer, I’ve often seen people swimming in the pool or sunning themsleves on the rocks, but was alone this time while I stopped briefly to admire the falls before pressing on.

Water at last! I’d been slowly dehydrating in the humid weather for the past hour or so, so it was a relief to finally arrive at the next water source. There’s a tap at the Glen Esk Rd carpark and I made sure I drank plenty and filled my bag completely for the next leg. Another road section, but more pleasant this time as I ran past summer homes and then onto Piha Beach. It was hard passing the Piha Store without popping in for a pie and a drink, but I wanted to complete this run using only the supplies I was carrying (apart from water of course).

The beach made for easy running, but it was short-lived as my next challenge was to climb the steep White Track to Anawhata Road. Near the top there was a brief shower – the first rain of the day. After a short road section, I arrived at the beginning of the Kuataika Track. This was the equal furtherest I’d run along this trail before, and while I’d taken about 7:20 to do it last time, I wasn’t surprised to find my watch showing 7:50 this time round.

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Piha Beach offered a rare flat section.

Kuataika Track was the only section that I’d never covered before, but I’d heard that it was very hilly. It started off easily enough, with a grassy paddock followed by a wide flat track. Then it all went downhill from there – literally! The hard clay surface was slick with the recent rain, and it was pretty painful trying to negotiate the steeply descending track with legs that were crying out with every step. I had no idea that I’d climbed to such an extend, because the downhill seemed to go on for ever. However, eventually it bottomed out and crossed a stream before climbing upwards at an equally steep gradient. Once more I was reduced to a walk and forced to endure an agonising climb as I again negotiated a slick surface that threatened to send me backpedaling in places. This was possibly the toughest section of the course and I was relived to finally arrive at Wainamu Junction, which signalled a return to more familiar territory.

Houghton track meant more downhill, but a lot easier going than what I’d just experienced. At the bottom I was greeted by the sight of Lake Wainamu, which I then proceeded to circumnavigate in an anti-clockwise direction. The track was mostly good and only gently undulating, so it was a chance to stretch the legs out and make some good time. Shortly after arriving at the popular Wainamu Sand Dunes, I followed the stream to Te Henga Road (a lot of time running in it) to Bethells Road, and the start of the Te Henga Walkway.

There’s a tap here so I took the chance to fill up my hydration pack for the last time. As I sat on the grass I noticed the storm clouds rolling in and felt the first drops of rain. I couldn’t complain because I’d had a pretty good day weather wise, but the exposed cliff-top Te Henga Walkway was the last place I wanted to be in the middle of a storm as night was falling. However, I didn’t have much choice so I strapped by bag back on headed up the track. As it turned out, all I got was a brief shower as the storm passed by inland, where I could see flashes of lightning.

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Bethells Beach from the Te Henga Walkway. This photo was actually taken a week later when I was walking a portion of the Te Henga Walkway with my boys, but its the photo I would have taken while running if my phone battery hadn’t have died (and it wasn’t getting dark and a storm wasn’t brewing).

I guess it must have been the knowledge that I was on the last leg, because I felt new strength in my legs as I wound around headland after headland. Progress was made difficult in places by vegetation growing across the path, and after threatening to trip me on several occasions I finally succumbed and fell flat on my face, only to have my fall cushioned by a bush. I tried to get by without my head torch for as long as possible, but I soon found myself stumbling too often in the gloom and had to put it on. A torch is a vital tool when running trails in the dark, but I do find it reduces my ability to scan ahead. On a difficult trail such as this one, that meant I had to slow my pace, which was frustrating when I’d been making such good time. Eventually though I found myself at the bottom of the dreaded staircase, and my last big climb of the day. A short time later the stairs were behind me, and I was celebrating my arrival at Constable Road, happy in the knowledge that it was easy running to the finish line now.

The next section was along a flat sealed road, but I still had to fight hard to resist the temptation to walk. I was helped by the knowledge that my wife and boys were waiting for me at the finish, and I knew I was going to be later than I’d estimated, and didn’t want them to be waiting in the dark for any longer than was necessary. After 2km, I turned onto Edwin Mitchellson Track, and before I knew it I was onto Lookout and Quarry tracks. With milestones tumbling I could almost feel the finish line and, with it, a sense of relief mingled with elation.

I was all smiles as I trotted past the gannet colony, and there may have even been a couple of celebratory fist pumps. Then it was down the steps and to Muriwai, where I finished at the information board. Sure enough, my wife and boys were there to greet me and provide a much-needed taxi ride back home. But not before I sat on the bench for a few minutes to reflect on a tough but satisfying day.

I wish I could say that I loved the experience, as I have so many times before, when running portions of this trail. However, my body struggled from early on, and it ended up being a bit a pretty tough day. Still, that’s the way life goes sometimes, and there’s satisfaction in digging deep and making it to the end regardless. My finishing time was just under 13.5 hours, about an hour longer than I’d hoped, but I was just relieved to have finished it, regardless of my time.

Wild Turkey

Running the Wild Turkey is always a bit nostalgic for me, because it’s the first trail running race I ever participated in. When I arrived at Whatipu Beach on a sunny January day in 2006, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Not only was it my first trial running race, but it was my first race of any kind for almost 20 years (excepting a single very social running of the round-the-bays). I checked the website results and did a trial run over the course beforehand to ensure that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by coming last by a huge margin! As it turned out, the course and the people were great, I didn’t embarrass myself and the addiction began.

The Wild Turkey is organised by Lactic Turkey, owned by Shaun Collins. Shaun is a bit of a running nut and I don’t use the word “nut” advisedly here. He’s run the Hillary trail in both directions back-to-back and, as one who has experienced the torture of running it in just the one direction recently, I have serious concerns for Shaun’s mental health! On race day, Shaun is resplendent in a wild red beard, which only enhances his wild running man image. He’s in good form at the briefing too, describing the course as “undulating”, which draws a chuckle from the listening crowd.

So I’m not sure whether he’s joking when he promises us warm, sunny weather when we arrive back at base after the race. After an unusually hot and dry summer, the weather has turned and race morning had dawned cold and wet. As I drove west alongside the Manukau Harbour and over the ranges, I could see that the weather was clearing and, sure enough, the rain had thankfully moved on by the time I arrived at Whatipu. However, in it’s place was a chilly southerly, and all the talk in the portaloo queue was along the lines of “where has our summer gone”!?

heythatsme: UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon/Half Marathon/15km 2013-04-06 &emdash;

The race start was scheduled for 9:30, but we needed to leave exactly 2 hours after the marathoners (presumably we were sharing the same race clock?), and in true Lactic Turkey fashion the marathon had started 15 minutes late so we had to do the same. Did I mention that Shaun is pretty laid back? Once we were away, we had a few hundred metres to spread the field out and then we were straight into a gut-busting climb up Gibbons track.

heythatsme: UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon/Half Marathon/15km 2013-04-06 &emdash;

After a while we broke out into the open and the climbing became more gradual as we followed the ridgeline. Occasionally, the track offered elevated views of the spectacular coastlines, with it’s steep cliffs, wetlands and vast sandy beach. When we reached the junction with Walker Ridge Track we took a sharp left down Muir track. The recent rain had turned the track surface muddy, so the steep decent required some care. After scrambling alongside a stream and over some rocky outcrops we descend into one of my favourite spots in the Waitakere Ranges – the Pararaha Valley. With rugged hillsides towering over the tropical wetlands, it’s like a lost world down here.

But there’s no time to linger and we’re directed onto Buck Taylor track and our second big climb. There’s an aid station where we meet Lone Kauri Road and then we’re heading downhill again to Orange Peel corner. Then we’re onto Odlin Timber track and the last of the really big climbs up to Donald McLean track.

heythatsme: UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon/Half Marathon/15km 2013-04-06 &emdash;

Donald McLean track provided an easier gradient and track surface compared to what we’d been on so far, so it provided the perfect opportunity to stretch out. Then we turned for home and began to descend along Puriri Ridge track, which offered some impressive views over our eventual destination at Whatipu.

heythatsme: UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon/Half Marathon/15km 2013-04-06 &emdash;

Once we turned onto Kura track we had a steep technical downhill to the stream below. The track was flat and easy going now, apart from the occasional stream crossing. I could hear the finish line calling me now, so I turned on the after burners and cruised home.

heythatsme: UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon/Half Marathon/15km 2013-04-06 &emdash;

It turns out that Shaun does have a future in weather forecasting because the weather is indeed warm and sunny, and the cold southerly is a distant memory. There’s the usual BBQ at the finish line, but in a non-traditional move there’s a vegetarian option alongside the mandatory sausage sizzle. I’ve been influenced by my vegetarian wife and a book I read recently by avowed vegan and ultramarathon legend Steve Jurek, so I ordered the vege option and I’m pleased I did. The tofu & rice salad roll is delicious!

So in the end, the Wild Turkey delivered what it always does – great scenery, an honest workout and a laid-back atmosphere.

Thanks to Shaun and the team at Wild Turkey for organising another great trail run, and especially to the marshalls and other volunteers who made the event possible.

And thanks to the guys at Hey That’s Me Event Photographers (http://www.heythatsme.co.nz) for all the photos used in this blog.

Tarawera Ultramarathon

The Tarawera Ultramarathon is a pretty new entry on the race calendar, only in it’s 5th year. However, it’s already one of the most prestigous running events in New Zealand this year and it attracted about 400-500 runners, including some elite runners from around the world. The course is nothing short of spectacular, taking in several of Rotorua’s stunning lakes and bush, plus the magnificent Tarawera falls.

This was the biggest event of the summer for me. I’d never raced over more than 42k, so it was going to be a challenge to step up to 100k. However, I’d put a lot of effort into my preparation and a couple of weeks out from the event I was ready and raring to go. Training had gone according to plan and I’d managed to stay injury-free all summer. I’d been experimenting with different foods and I had a support crew in place that would provide me everything I needed at most of the aid stations. What could go wrong!?

Then about 10 days out from the race we got the news that the course had been changed. The fire risk in the Tarawera Forest was so extreme that the event would no longer be allowed to pass through. This meant that at the 60k mark, instead of continuing into the forest, we’d need to turn around and return 42k back the way we’d come. This increased the toughness of the race significantly, and not only because it’d be 102k instead of 100k! The last 42k would be much hillier and more technical than the original route and I estimated that I’d need to be out there for about an extra hour. In addition, there would be less aid stations accessible to my support crew, and I’d have to deal with a 6-7 hour stretch without seeing them.

But all that seemed a minor inconvenience when I unexpectedly suffered an injury only days out from the race. What started as a minor irritation under the arch of my left foot when getting out of bed in the morning, quickly developed over the course of a few days into moderate pain whenever I walked or ran. I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate the pain for around 15 hours and I had visions of it deteriorating quickly once I started the event. I was absolutely gutted and could see my ultramarathon dream disappearing. A trip to the podiatrist resulted in a regime where I kept my foot strapped during the day for support and then massaged it in the evening and morning to speed up the healing process. There was nothing else to do but pray (which we did) and give it a go and see what happened.

On Friday afternoon we piled into the car and set off for Rotorua. We’d booked a holiday home in the city centre for us and my sister and brother-in-law, who completed the makeup of my support crew. After a short but sound sleep I rose at 4:30am to my usual pre-race meal of spaghetti on toast and a glass of milk. Then it was off to the race start at the Redwood Visitor’s Centre, where hundreds of runners and supported had gathered in the darkness, head torches at the ready.

I’d been obsessing about my foot and realised when I got there that I’d made a hash of the strapping and needed to redo it. I tested out a couple of pairs of shoes but my foot hurt on both of them and so I picked the one with the best arch support in the hope that it would do the best job of preventing the injury from worsening. As a I joined the other runners at the start line, I felt an absence of the usual nerves, instead feeling pretty flat because of my fear that I was going to have to pull out early.

Not long to go now

Not long to go now

The race started at 6:30am with a decent climb into the forest. The pack was so compressed at this stage that the pace was pretty slow, especially when the track narrowed. I was happy with the slow pace because I didn’t to stress my foot and the good news was that the pain was staying steady and well within manageable limits. The race soon joined the Blue Lake walkway and lake looked serene in the still morning air. The morning had dawned as still and overcast – perfect conditions for running. Things were looking up!

Blue Lake

Running alongside Blue Lake

My crew were waiting for me at the first aid station at the head of the lake (13k). They weren’t sure whether I’d be making it or not, so it was an emotional experience for me to greet them and let them know the foot was holding up and it was all on! Then it was off around the rest of the lake and a mixture of track and road to Lake Okareka (18k). Impressive homes lined the lake foreshore, enjoying a beautiful sunrise across the other side of the lake. I too was enjoying the lake views but I was also enjoying the sight of the buffet aid station and my crew waiting with my own cooler bag of food.

There are some short road sections near Lake Okareka

There are some short road sections near Lake Okareka

With food in hand and a refilled hydration pack, I was off again, this time heading for the hills. The next section was fairly boring with no real lake views, but I passed the time by chatting with a fellow runner and we made pretty good progress together, overtaking a few runners. After a long and steep descent to the shores of Lake Okataina I was reunited with my crew at Okataina Lodge (36k). I stopped briefly to chat to them and grabbed a couple of sandwiches before heading off, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing them again for several hours.

Leaving Okatain Lodge and my crew behind for the next 7 hours

Leaving Okatain Lodge and my crew behind for the next 7 hours

The next two sections skirted the shores of Lake Okataina and Tarawera, with great lake views. However, the trail was pretty technical so I needed to keep my eyes on the trail surface a lot of the time to avoid tree roots and rocks. I was feeling great for most of these sections and ran strongly, overtaking a number of other runners. It was a real privilege to see some of the elite 100k runners passing me in the other direction, including stars such as Western States champion Timothy Olsen and our own Ruby Muir. However, my stomach started to revolt at the Tarawera Outlet aid station (54k) and I felt nauseous as I ate one sandwich and part of another. From this point on, I struggled to get any decent food down for the rest of the race, mostly surviving on biscuits and lollies.

Even my stomach problems couldn’t stop my loving the next section out to Tarawera Falls (60k) and back. The falls cut a dramatic scene, tumbling out of the cliffside into the rock-strewn river below. Now I had to return to Okataina Lodge, only at a considerably slower pace than on the outward leg. The good feelings were ebbing and I had pain in my stomach, knees and hip flexors. The good news was that the foot pain was hardly noticeable now!

Spending time with my family before the last 15k to the finish line.

Catching up with family before the last 15k to the finish line.

After an age I finally arrived back at Okataina Lodge (85k) and was reunited with my crew. It was only 15k to go to the finish line but I knew it would be the toughest section of the lot. It was 6pm so I’d been running for 11.5 hours and I knew a 300m monster of a hill awaited me and darkness would be closing in soon. On the plus side, my sister was joining me as pacer so at least I’d have some company to help me home.

Trying to find something I can eat before pushing on for the finish line - still 3 hours away

The last thing I feel like is eating but I need to get somthing into me for the tough last leg.

The next 3 hours was every bit as tough as I’d expected, if not more so, with an agonisingly steep climb and then technical trails negotiated by torch light. It was a relief to break out of the bush at the Millar Road aid station and then we kept up a pretty fast pace to the finish line, where the rest of my supporters were there to welcome me.

Crossing the finish line with my sister who paced me for the last 15k.

Crossing the finish line with my sister who paced me for the last 15k.

All finishers are presented with a beautiful carved wood medal at the finish.

All finishers are presented with a beautiful carved wood medal at the finish.

My final finishing time was 14:28:38 and I finished 51st out of 123 starters. Only 87 finished, with 18 withdrawing during the race and another 18 being pulled because they missed one of the cutoff times. A pretty pleasing result for my first 100k, but in truth I was mostly just relieved to have finished.

A huge thanks to my support crew and pacer. It made a big difference to have their support on such a long and challenging event. And a big high-five to the volunteers that made this race possible. They were so helpful and encouraging and kept their energy levels up despite a very long day. And a final thank you to Paul Charteris for organising such an amazing event.