Offside with Hillary

“You won’t be needing that much” were the words that began my adventures on the Hillary Trail several weeks ago. What followed was a dumping of half of the contents of my newly acquired camel pack on the advice of a trusted running colleague, Froste. I had to trust Froste, he had claimed after all to be at school in the same year as my father. If he didn’t know what he was talking about, who would?

The Hillary Trail is a spectacular 74km “tramp” stretching from the Arataki Visitors Centre near Titirangi through the Waitakere Ranges and follows the coastline from Whatipu near the Manukau Heads north to Muriwai. The first attempt at the trail started with a group of about seven – three determined to run the entire length in one day, me with a “50ks or five hours – whatever comes first – hoping to get to Piha” and a group who were doing 11 out and then back.

The trail has incredible views and it is not easy! It is steep – so much so that language not used in polite society was heard on occasion. The trail takes in the peak of every mountain between Arataki and Piha. There is gorse and more gorse north of Bethells. At times the gorse gives way to Thistle. Lovely relief. Michael Simons knows that if you scratch your legs after gorse all hell breaks loose.

And the fluids? Well I ran out at about 15km. Amazing how all the usual hygiene rules go out the window when you’re dehydrated and you’ll happily slurp on anyone’s camel pack.

Arriving at Whatipu (22km) in 6 hours it was pretty clear that all ambitions for the day were seriously in doubt. I vaguely recall assaulting Michael in my dehydrated delirium. Sorry Michael.

I seriously considered pulling out – having met my pre-conditions for the day but after drinking about 3 litres of water and filling my camel pack, I decided to do another 10k to make it to Karekare.

Karekare took another two hours and I called it a day. The remaining pack continued on for another two hours to Piha.

The following weekend we ran the Piha to Muriwai leg (32km) in a total time of six hours. Again, we ran out of water – there is a horrendous climb out of the forest supposedly near Muriwai, but fortunately Froste and Michael found a friendly resident who offered her scarce, so I found out later, tank water. With Froste and Michael having replenished (or so I thought) their camel packs I proceeded to rinse my cap thoroughly and fill my pack. Little did I know that with the tank water at low levels they had taken a quick slurp, which explained why they waited 700 metres up the road to share on mine. Bad luck boys, I’d drunk the whole lot by then!

Michael declared it was 2km to Muriwai but the GPS proved otherwise – 7 in fact – and on arrival we were met by Julie M and Mrs Froste with drinks, muffins and good cheer.

For reasons that escaped me at the time, I agreed to go and do the last 32km again today, with an anticipated 6.00am start – “be at Froste’s at 5.30am sharp” was the command (news has got out that I’m not always on time). Sunrise is much later guys! Get with the programme – but we got started by 6.40am.

Rolled my right ankle twice and my left five times going off the trail today – fell over 3 times (though others say it was at least 5).

Would I do it again? You bet. The views are stunning – rainforest, black sand-dunes, waterfalls, surf, bulls, sheep, other runners looking even worse, trampers, babbling creeks, rivers to run in (with roads parallel that “you can’t use – that’s not on the map”). It’s a lot of fun. Plus there’s the 10ks I haven’t yet covered in the middle.

And it builds resilience – reslience that stays with us beyond running, whether that be in managing a family, running a business, leading others or caring for someone.

Thanks to Michael Simons, Mike Frost, Julie McMillin, Mike Dickie, Danny Baker, Michelle Garrett, Carol Bielby, Simon Clendon, Penny Kirkwood and Liz Frost for being part of my journeys on the Hillary Trail. I have a feeling I haven’t got everyone’s name here so forgive me – you have your own stories too so feel free to share.

Kodak moment? Running next to Froste on a wide stretch of track. Suddenly without warning he appears to be sliding in for a try next to me. Picks himself up. No ball. Offside Froste it’s clearly a penalty. Don’t bother bringing out the drink bottles mate – you won’t be needing that.

Stephen

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