The headline would have read “another one bites the dust” but that seems wholly inappropriate after wallowing in the worst Waitakeres mud I can remember for the best part of 14 hours. Dust? I wish!
But anyway, I love the idea of completing running firsts and so this week’s solo, unsupported run along the length of the Hillary Trail was special because it had not been done before. I’m the first to admit that my strength lies in my perseverance and endurance rather than any raw athletic talent or blinding speed. So I have no doubt that before long somebody will take on this monstrous run and better my time by a considerable margin. But at least there is now a stake in the sand (or should that be a stake in the mud?) for anyone who wants to set a new record.
I’ve run it three times before, always in the company of other runners and with some kind of support along the way. So I was interested to find out just how much harder it would be to go solo and totally unsupported. The answer is that it was a lot harder than I expected.
In part this was due to the underfoot conditions and nothing to do with lack of company or support crew. The mud was at times unbelievable. Running was often impossible and even just standing could be a challenge! On sections such as the Gibbons Track I felt like a drunk on his way home from an all-night bender. Every time I lifted my front foot the back foot would slide from under me forcing an ‘emergency landing’ of the front foot in some unpredictable (but always muddy) spot. The only blessing was that the weather stayed cool and clear, no rain.
Other aspects were predictably tougher. Running alone meant I had to carry all my food for the scheduled 13 hour run (I didn’t even allow myself a stop at the one cafe on the route as that had to constitute support). And as it turned out I felt too sick to eat anything for the last 5-6 hours so I hauled a lot of uneaten food from one end to the other.
But it was the psychological battle that fascinated me and which I found toughest of all. I’ve done plenty of long solo runs but never one of quite this duration. What I noticed was that every section of the trail and every hill along the way (there are 3,300m of climbing in all) seemed so much longer than I remembered. I put this down to not having anyone to talk rubbish with. While our trail chat is rarely elevated conversation about anything meaningful I only now realise what a valuable time killer it is. Without it I was just so much more aware of time and my surroundings. That’s not a bad thing but it definitely did play tricks on my perception of how far the brow of the hill was around the next corner!
So for a very brief summary of the run:
I started at 4am and ran in darkness for the first 3 hours. At Whatipu, almost 4 hours into the run I was 15 minutes behind my carefully calculated 13-hour pace. So I pushed hard over the next section and arrived at Karekare only 1 minute behind. Still laying down the gauntlet to myself I got 4 minutes ahead of schedule by Piha and maintained this until reaching Anawhata Road, now 8hrs 25 mins into the run. But shortly after the nausea started and the pace fell off. The hills became a massive battle as I struggled for sufficient energy to battle gravity. More than once I tried to throw up but nothing would come out. Had there been a car at Bethells I might have been tempted to call it a day but of course there wasn’t and so I pushed on, albeit slowly.
Then as so often happens I finally got a second wind. On reaching the end of the Te Henga track I knew I had to run the remaining 5.5kms, no stopping, if I was to break 14 hours. I managed it until just a hundred metres from the end when I just had to stop to take my only photo of the day – the beautiful sunset over the Tasman Sea.
And so it is done – another running first – another notch on my belt. And now that the memory of just how awful I felt over the last third is fading the thoughts of “what next?” start sneaking into my overactive brain…. so watch this space…. hopefully it won’t be filled with mud!
If you’d like to receive Running Wild’s blog posts by email you can subscribe here.
For the geeks amongst you here’s the run as recorded by Garmin Connect.