Sunday, June 27, 2010

Midnight Hillary Trail run

At Midnight on June the 25th a group of runners under the leadership of inspirational and legendary runner Malcolm Law, ran the 70+ Kilometer Hillary trail. Following is an account as well as I can remember it. I have omitted using the names of my fellow runners and support team as while in the trance induced state brought on by fatigue, exhilaration and exhaustion I may forget to mention someone. You all know who you are and I thank you in all sincerity for the camaraderie and support both mentally and physically that I received from you all. I didn’t know if I could finish this run or what 16 hours running through the toughest environment I have encountered would do to me. I still don’t know and hope to spend many years musing on this with the greatest and fondest memories. I used this run to raise awareness and funds for The Braveheart Youth Trust whose work I will continue to support. Thank you all to those who sponsored me. You are good people.

24 hours of rain previous to our run had ensured that this was going to be 16hrs of muddy wet and slippery trails. We met at the Arataki Visitors Centre in good spirits and glad that the rain had stopped; a cloudy moonlit night accompanied the start of our epic journey. We were made up of seasoned Ultra Marathon runners, long distance runners, multisport and Ironman competitors and novice Ultra runners like myself. We agreed to stop at major intersections en route to use the shoe clean facilities along the trails and regroup to make sure we were all safe and accounted for. At midnight, with our headlamps on full beam, we began. The trail started off muddy but relatively clear of debris with the odd fallen tree on the track and a few deadly overhead branches and dangling vines. We stopped to regroup once or twice in the mist shrouded bush as the clouds parted and the moon shone on the wet muddy travelers on the wild west Coast.

The first leg would see us to the Huia dam and then down into Huia for our first meeting with the support team. Next was the climb up to the Karamatura forks. We made steady progress up the slippery trail stopping to regroup before dropping down the Omanawanui track where its sheer cliff drops down into the Manukau Heads. At Whatipu we met our support team and re-filled our hydration systems. A quick bite to eat and we were off climbing out of Whatipu, up the Gibbons track. The rain had made its mark here with deep mud filled ruts which brought most of us to our hands and knees and some much closer (ha ha). Along the Muir track we filed, making our way to the zig zag trail that drops down into the Pararaha Valley. This trail is fast and deadly in the summer but right then it became a mudslide and your eye was constantly looking for the next tree to hold onto. The roar of nearby streams revealed that they had now become raging torrents. I also noticed that parts of the waterlogged trail had started to landslide. At the bottom you could look up and see a zig zag trail of headlamps making its way down the track accompanied by shouts of balance.
Regrouping once more at the hut in the Pararaha Valley, we stopped to treat our wounds and inspect our torn clothing. There is a stream crossing next which in the summer is nice and cool on your feet. Swollen to a small lake this crossing soothed the thighs of the taller runners while the smaller received a more bracing caress. Onwards and upwards on the Buck Taylor track then down the Zion Hill track into Karekare. Here we replenished ourselves meeting with the ever more welcome sight of our support team. Here several members of the run were leaving us and others joining.

Daybreak had arrived and the headlights stowed. There was yet more ascent to start us on our way to Piha along the Comans track and onto the AhuAhu track to meet with Te Ahuahu rd then Piha Road. This is a real road and the people who were driving on it that Saturday morning encountered a group of bedraggled muddy runners that caused them to toot their horns and wave. Whether in support or sympathy I did not know or get the chance to ask for we were off again into the bush. The track now was quite firm underfoot and the going was good as we made our way to the amazing Kitekite Waterfalls. We stopped to admire the falls. Like all the waterways we had so far encountered these were also torrential from their embrace with massive amounts of rainfall.

Like an oasis in the desert were our support crew and none more so than at Piha, Where civilization loomed large in the shape of pies and coffee cups. Out of Piha we traveled along the beach and then more ascents climbing the White Track up to Anawhata Road. Leaving Anawhata Road we joined the ankle deep in mud Kuataika track. This track raised and fell until it reached the summit of the Kuataika. This was a massive climb with its false descents that allowed you to think you’d finally reached the summit only to be confronted by more ascents, a real test of mental stamina. The descent down the Houghton Track was by now as painful as the ascents, if not more so. At the bottom there is a lake whose track around it was swamped in water. The trails were now in full daylight and all fallen tress and low branches were thankfully clearly visible. The trail then leads either over or around a vast bank of sand to the next pit stop at Te Henga (Bethells). Here we had our final water top-up and nourishment from our support team before the final push onto Muriwai. The track here hugs the coast and cliffside taking in every jutting out piece of land into the Tasman Sea. The views are stunning as are the drops off the sheer cliff faces. Previously the road ahead had been hidden as you were running through the dark or in bush and rainforest, now the distance was clear and painfully so. Another climb away from the coast brought us onto Constable Road then Oaia Road. Finally we were on a track down onto Muriwai Beach and at the end of the Hillary Trail. Our Ultra Marathon of 16hrs was over.

The Hillary trail is an amazing trail on the West coast of The North Island of New Zealand. It is rugged and challenging just like those who travel it and the man whose name it bares. The views are amazing and the countryside and coast are of insurmountable beauty. The trail is protected and preserved by the ARC. All the runners who took part observed and abided by the codes and laws pursuant to the protection of the land and trees. Words cannot express the high regard with which I hold my fellow runners who displayed mental and physical powers, at which they excel, that we as Human Beings have gifted to us, but which our modern world seems to have forgotten. I’d like to thank them also for keeping me on the right track as I was often lost and in particular one runner who was my ‘GPS’. We would never had been able to complete the run without the help of our support team and if there is any way in which you will ever need my support you will only need ask. Lastly I would like to thank Malcolm Law for making this possible and the great work he does for The Leukemia and Blood Foundation. Mal will be running his amazing 7in7 Challenge again this year and if you don’t already know about it, go on line here and be amazed…

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