Guest blog by the incomparable Steve Neary
We are very lucky to have two large beautiful regional parks in Auckland. While Hunua is my local, I also love spending time in the Waitakere ranges.
Having run the Hillary Trail in both directions and various tracks in between, I decided it was time to step it up and give a double a go. I made my decision back in August 2013 when I was running with Kim Allan as she was doing the double supported. I ended up running with her as a result of Vicki Woolley having to pull out with injury.
The problem was I had a few events to do before the end of the year. So I thought the end of the year would be good with longer days and drier conditions, albeit with hotter temperatures. I found out at the Speights West Coaster in November that Mal Law was also planning on a double Hillary solo unsupported before the end of December.
I finalised my date, the 31st of December 2013 starting at 1313 hours at Muriwai.
With my Omega pack full of everything I needed for my journey weighing in at 4.5 kg and a Garmin on each wrist, I set off.
Muriwai beach was chocker with people enjoying the hot sunny afternoon. I had worked out my hourly splits and main spots to reach and refuel. My estimation was to get to Arataki in 13 hours. Those who have run on the Hillary know how limited mobile coverage is so I said to my wife, Jane that I would send her a text to let her know I was still going and where I was in relation to the schedule I had given her.
I kept it fairly steady for the first 5.4 km to the top of Constable Road and the start of Te Henga trail. The afternoon sun was blasting down and the only respite was a bit of a sea breeze. But it was just me and the trail. Fifteen km in I reached my first fuel and water stop near Bethells beach. I downed a banana and filled up with another litre and half of water and grabbed a Hillary peanut butter and jam sammy to go as I jogged past all the people in the car park heading to and from Lake Wainamu and the dunes. It was nice to cool down a bit splashing up the Waiti stream.
Houghtons track was a welcome relief from the beating sun and a chance just to walk for a bit. Then onto Kuataika with its roller coaster of ups and downs. Taking it easy just trotting down and a fast walk up the steep sections. I was keeping up my hydration so much so I had finished my 1.5 litres just before Anawhata farm when I mixed up a 250 ml electrolyte drink. But I knew it was only a few K to the back of the Piha surf club and the next fuel stop.
At the north end of Piha beach I turned my phone on to text Jane and let her know I was about 2 km ahead of schedule and feeling good. Refuelled and onto my fourth litre of water I decided to walk a bit along the beach and finish another sandwich.
Putting my blinkers on I jogged past the Piha café and dairy. The heat of the day was still holding on so when I got to Kitekite Falls I walked straight into the water up to my thighs and dipped my head in to cool it down.
My plan was to get to Karekare in 6 hours which from Muriwai is 42 km in. I was still a good 15 to 20 minutes ahead on my times. Coming down into Karekare my right little toe hit an old step peg at full flight and almost sent me tumbling down. You know that moment when it hurts so much no sound comes out of your mouth? It was one of those and I immediately thought I had broken it. Not wanting to stop fearing the worst, I ran it out hopping along for 50 odd metres.
There were a handful of cheerful people at Karekare and I thought I would top up my water but the toilet block had been locked up.
I did run out of water before Whatipu but finally it was starting to cool. Taking a photo of the last sunset for 2013 and not looking too hard at the campers drinking and cooking up some mighty fine smelling food, I made my way to the tap and filled up with water, yeah.
At the top of the heads on the Omanawanui track I sent Jane another text, had my last sandwich and grabbed out my head torch.
By the time I got onto Puriri Ridge track it was well and truly dark and the Moreporks were taking over the night from the Tui calls.
Heading down Karamatura I started to feel a bit nauseous which was not a good sign and not something that I usually get. I tried to breathe it out and in the end I had a spit. So I mixed up another electrolytedrink and used up most of my water.
Just before the Karamatura track I spotted my first live Kauri snail and I even stopped to move it off the track thinking I did not want to stand on it on my return.
As I passed through the Huia camp site with a few tents dotted around I heard the loud bangs from the fireworks in the city. So I said a happy New Year to myself and carried on.
So I made it into Arataki ahead of my estimated time, in 12 hours and 13 minutes. Still feeling a little queasy I filled up with water and took out a bar to eat on the run.
It was going down the ridiculously rocky Slip track that I noticed my toes were feeling a little sore.
Besides seeing more Kauri snails which were great, there were a lot of possums and the odd rat. Back on Hamiltons track a possum ran out of the tree and then along in front of me before it decided to turn back and run straight for me. Thinking the best thing to do would be to kick it on the run before it attacked, but luckily for me it veered off the track and down the bank at the last second.
Back through Huia all was quiet with the New Year revellers fast asleep.
Heading back up Karamatura it started to get ugly. My toes were feeling it as I pulled myself up the steep track and tiredness had set in. It was after all about four in the morning and I was now 15 minutes behind my estimated time.
Trail running in the dark does add a whole new dimension. I had never run through the night and well into the next day before, so I had a few stern words with myself along the lines of ‘toughen up’ … ‘carry on’ .. ‘ and get to the end’.
Just before I got back onto the Omanawanui track above the cliffs of the Manukau Harbour, there was a faint glow in the sky and the Tuis started to call out. This was followed by some Kaka- unbelievable! I had only ever heard Kaka in the Hunuas before. So it was quite special to be above Whatipu to see the new sunrise of 2014. I had made it through the night even if the toes were now feeling trashed.
Getting to the end of the board walk at Pararaha in the burning sun, I decided to be brave and just see how bad my toes were. It was not pretty at all. Multi-tasking I had a feed and changed my socks after drying them out in the morning sun a little. I also took a couple of Panadol to help the pain.
Big mistake though, I should have changed them at sunset.
The crazy thing is the legs were still feeling good and I was determined to get back to finish.
Not to go on and bore you to tears, I pushed on running and walking and cooling myself down at any stream I came to by immersing my whole head. By this time I was on my gels and water as it was a struggle to eat anything solid.
Te Henga in the heat of the day was a furnace and it seemed I was tripping over every flax bush and rolling into every second gorse bush.
Getting to the top of Constable Road with only 5.4 km to go I sent out a final text to say I was almost there.
Down the steps and onto the rocks I knew there was only 200 metres left of my solo journey. I spotted Jane with camera in hand on the road side and then I heard the unmistakable voices of Vicki Woolley and Sally Law. They were at the back of the car park by the notice board along with Vicki’s boys and my two girls.
I touched the notice board and stopped the watch, JOB DONE. My solo unsupported double Hillary Trail journey complete!
It is now a week on and I am well rested and my blisters are better but still healing. I have had a lot of great comments from friends and family which has been fantastic. I am more than happy with what I set out to do and achieve. From all the planning and training and putting it into reality the one and only thing I would change is not running in wool socks and changing socks earlier. I certainly don’t intend to do a triple but I do now know that I am capable of a 100 miler event one day. But I am still very much looking forward to doing the inaugural Hillary Trail Ultra at the end of March.
(153.5 – km 29 hours, 18 minutes and 5 seconds with 7269 metres of elevation gain.)
Note from Running Wild: Great blog Steve and a truly amazing effort. We are very proud of you and in awe of what you quietly go about achieving. But even more than that we know how much support you give to the rest of the trail running community & how much you give of yourself, never expecting anything in return. The true mark of a great person. Good on ya mate!
I’m not only impressed, but I’m inspired – here I am training for my first marathon, and others out there are running for hours at a time.
Great write up Steve and such an inspiring run, love your work !