Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Hillary

The Hillary – 80km of pure Waitakere Ranges goodness from Arataki to Muriwai. 
Naturally I was keen to race in my training ground, and when photos4sale offered me an entry a month before I jumped at the chance. I have completed the Hillary Trail 3 times before but always in the opposite direction (Muriwai – Arataki). A time of 12 hours was my rough estimate but I was unsure how I would perform with the limited training I had done. Local knowledge was definitely a huge advantage and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single step of the way.

The short 2km loop around the Arataki nature trail was a good warm up before getting on to the Hillary Trail proper down Slip Track. Generally I am pretty good at not starting out too fast, but the excitement was contagious and I had to keep reminding myself to just run my own race and take it easy for now. The urge to speed up was particularly strong when I could see Shannon-Leigh Litt ahead of me all the way along the gravel road to Hamilton Track. My rule of thumb was to ask myself if I would still be running up a slope like this in 3 hours time. If the answer was no then I slowed to a walk. As soon as we hit the track I passed Shannon, and also Reegan Absolum (15 years old) and Gerald Waters who stuck with me for the length of Hamilton. Gerald’s torch wasn’t working and Reegan’s torch died so they were glad of my bright headlight in front. Running in the dark was fun!

The first aid station at Karamatura was reached in 1:30 and Dad was there to quickly fill up my bladder and stock up my food. From the aid station it is up the Karamatura and the first of the big climbs and I changed down into low gear. Gerald caught me up at the top of Puriri Ridge and we ran together until Whatipu. The first couple of legs were very social with conversation flowing freely. Near the bottom of Puriri Ridge I got stung by a wasp on the back of my calf. It was a bit of a nuisance for the rest of the run but thankfully it didn’t swell up (until the next day). As we neared the final high point on Omanawanui track we could hear a loud buzzing. Initially I thought it must be a large wasp nest nearby but it sounded too mechanical and we realised it was the camera man’s quadrocopter flying above the ridge.

Omanawanui Ridge

Running into the Whatipu aid station the volunteers filled up my water while I grabbed a couple of bits of banana, although as far as food went I was pretty much self-sufficient. Heading up Gibbons Track I spotted a woman not far ahead (Bryony McConnell) and I gradually reeled her in. Reegan caught up to me on the steep descent of Muir track, and we ran together from here all the way to Piha. Crossing the Pararaha Stream provided some pleasant cooling relief. Here the course deviated slightly from the official Hillary Trail as the event was not allowed to go through the sand dunes at Karekare. I was happy about this because despite adding another gradual climb it avoided lots of sand running under the hot sun.

From Karekare it’s a steady climb up Comans track then a gentle run along the cliffs above Mercer Bay and along Log Race Rd and Piha Rd. I was still feeling pretty good although I could tell my legs were starting to get tired. A nice flowing downhill to Kitekite Falls followed by an easy track out to Glen Esk Rd and a kilometer or two of road to the aid station at Piha Beach. Dad was there to pass me more food and refill my water so I whizzed through the aid station. Mum told me that I was second woman so I headed out to Piha Beach with a smile on my face. Now I just had to maintain my effort for another 35km.

The sand along the beach was hard work and I think this took more out of my legs than I realised at the time. A quick toilet stop at North Piha before heading up the steep Whites track to Anawhata Rd. My legs were definitely tired now so I settled into a pace which was (relatively) comfortable. Regan came zooming past at the top and I thought that would be the last I would see of him. Turning onto Anawhata Rd I realised just how tired my legs were as I had to walk the very gentle uphill to Kuataika track. As I began the first long descent of the Kuataika rollercoaster my legs turned to jelly and I had to take it very carefully and slowly. It was nice to cool off crossing the Anawhata Stream before embarking on the climb up and over into the next valley. The long haul up the other side is always hard, but I was in a good frame of mind so it didn’t faze me. Houghtons track was quite a nice descent although I wasn’t running as freely was I would have liked. Hitting Lake Wainamu meant there was just a few km of flat to reach the aid station at Bethells. The stream was low so it was easy to run down the sandy streambed without getting shoes full of water and sand.

Above O'Neill Bay

While refilling my water at the aid station Mum asked how I was feeling. “I’m stuffed!” was my succinct answer. However, knowing this was the last leg was a great feeling and I headed off in good spirits. I spotted Reegan ahead on the climb up to the cliffs north of O’Neill Bay and every now and then as we wound in and out along the Te Henga walkway. From the clifftop it is a very satisfying feeling to look back all the way to Whatipu and ahead to Muriwai. Often this track seems to go on forever but this time I knew each twist and turn brought us closer to the end and my legs were feeling better all the time. As I came around one corner I was surprised to catch up to Reegan – he had stopped to chat to the video guy. The stairs up to Constable Rd were a welcome sight as they signaled the end of the Te Henga walkway and the final aid station.

With Reegan on Te Henga Walkway

No stopping this time and I simply grabbed some food off Dad and continued running down the road. The few kilometers of road were both a blessing and a curse: the even surface meant it was possible to get into a good rhythm and steady stride, but my feet were protesting about the constant pounding. Turning down the final track to Muriwai Beach I couldn’t stop smiling. A few hundred metres along the beach then up to the surf club. Once again I was surprised to catch up to Reegan – he and another runner had missed a turn. I crossed the finish line in 11:16:26, placing 2nd woman, and I was stoked! Completely stuffed, but stoked.


Jo Johansen (1st), Heather (2nd), & Bryony McConnell (4th)


Arataki – Huia
Huia – Whatipu
Whatipu – Karekare
Karekare – Piha
Piha – Bethells
Bethells – Finish