The Hillary 2014 Race Report by Glenn Goldie, bib #39
I'm a little late posting this, but after my 80km race on Saturday 29th March I was pretty broken. For those who don't know, THE HILLARY was the first ever race to be held over the Hillary Trail, which is a network of joined West Auckland trails running through the Waitakeres bush and coastline from the Arataki Visitor Centre near Titirangi, down through Huia and Whatipu, then back up to Karekare, Piha, Bethells and finally Muriwai beaches. It is proposed as a 3-4 day hike, with camp ground stops. But then some idiot decided to run it all at once and a new pastime was born :)
I've run the full Hillary Trail twice before but never raced it and certainly never with so many other people at the same time, so there was much added buzz. In the days leading up to the race I didn't think about it very much, neither nervous nor over-excited. I was more focused on silly little things like making sure I had the right sort of tape required for the compulsory first aid kit that would have to be carried. But on race morning in the final minutes before the gun I was the most hyped I've ever been to start a race. With only around 44 starters in the inaugural 80km event I personally knew more than a few of them. I wandered around the start area one final time and greeted some of these friends again with a crazed smile and a handshake or manly double shoulder pat. We were all about to embark on a ridiculous journey that would hurt, tire, make us swear, possibly injure us, but at the end provide such an awesome feeling of achievement it's difficult to explain. It was my way of acknowledging that I understood what challenge lay ahead for us and wanting to show my respect to each man and woman for taking it on, but also to share my excitement that I knew how elated we were going to feel at the finish - no matter how long it took us to get there. "Good luck, hang tough, don't forget to have some fun along the way, and I'll see you on the other side!".
Much later in the day a lot of other friends would be starting shorter 34k races from Piha or 16k races from Bethells. All three events finished at the same place at Muriwai and that was another motivator to complete the task, to share in their achievements also.
PART 1 - START TO OMANAWANUI
The initial 2k loop was interesting, starting quicker than I had expected. I enjoyed a few moments with Reegan Absolum, Carl Southgate, Steven Blackburn, Clive Start and probably others. It seemed steeper than I remembered from quite a few years ago and I was glad there were many marshals pointing us through the junctions. It served it's purpose perfectly and spread the field prior to hitting the single-track portion of Slip Track. On the metal road part of Slip Track I remember passing Chris Hope and teasing that downhill was supposed to be his speciality (he really does fly downhill).
Onto the Pipeline Track all rooted and vines, being careful not to trip I passed Shannon-Leigh and wished her a good run. When she shouted back that she'd see me later I thought she was probably right and told her to pat me on the back as she ran past later on. I had said the same to Steven Blackburn earlier. Proper pacing is most definitely a weakness for me and going out too fast is always a very real worry for me.
Coming onto Lower Nihotupu Dam Rd I could hear Reegan Absolum ahead and trotted up to join him a short while. Another runner I hadn't met, Gerald Waters was running and chatting with him at that stage. I hiked quickly up the steep hill sections and found myself alone again.
Hamilton Track next - one of my very favourites. But I knew it was a long gradual climb to start and I've been caught out running it all before. I walked the steeper sections but as it flattened out I saw a hint of another head-torch up ahead. Instantly that was more motivation. I just wanted to stay with that runner really but as I caught the unknown female runner she politely moved aside to let me past. We were onto a fast downhill section now and I felt pressure not to slow her down, so I just went for it. I figured I had a strong head-torch and knew it was mostly gravel path now, aside from the always present downed tree that would need to be vaulted. So why not make up some time on the downhill sections if I could?
At the end of Hamilton Track (Smith Road?) the volunteers weren't having it easy. They hadn't managed to secure the foot brushes into the ground due to some equipment malfunction. But they diligently held the brushes in place themselves so I could rake my shoes through properly and loosen any debris. I thought that was fantastic. I made a point of thanking them and wishing them a good day, as I tried to do with every volunteer I met thereafter. It's only fair after all isn't it? They had gotten up as early if not earlier than me, hiked or ran to their stations and then stood in the dark waiting for us to ensure the event could go ahead.
On my own now until catching a strong looking runner walking up the Huia Dam Rd. Back running, I trailed him for a while thinking it was too fast a pace for me. Once onto Huia Rd proper I could see another group of three further ahead. The stronger runner I was trailing caught and passed them - as I got closer I realised one was Greg Hall who I've run with occasionally. He's a hell of a nice guy and invited me to run with the Huia Bush Runners just a few minutes after I first met him. We all crossed the farm and found the first Aid Station together - cheerfully greeted by the always smiling Dan Roberts. I want to acknowledge everyone else there as well but Dan's is the name I know. I left Greg here as he went off to find some gels.
The Karamatura climb was just ahead now. This takes us to the highest point of the day, just over 400m from sea level at Huia. I know moving up hills can be one of my strengths, others have remarked that I'm able to hike up them quickly. But what they can't see is that my heart rate does still get very high doing it. So I wanted to be assertive up the hill but still controlled. It must have worked because I soon passed that earlier stronger runner I'd trailed, without exerting myself too much. For me this climb is okay, it's very steep but reasonably short - you get it over with quickly, unlike the Kuataika later on which can seem to drag and drag. Once the steep climb levelled off I knew I would see my friend Penny Kirkwood at the Karamatura Forks. I knew she had been unwell but selfishly I still couldn't wait to see her. Penny had run with me and my brother on our very first Hillary Trail traverse a few months before and imparted much wisdom that day. Including warning me what her usual running buddies would have been saying had they heard me complaining and fretting about my sore calf/achilles that day.
As I came to the forks in under 2 hours, Penny looked freezing in a beanie and jacket. I felt very grateful she had made such a superhuman effort to make that tough climb early in the morning. I couldn't resist giving her a quick hug and then pressed on.
It was at this point I had my first glimpse of what the rest of the day was to bring. I kicked a root or stone and tilted forward. While I managed to recover and not fall, both my calves had instantly cramped as I had relaxed them while starting to fall. That wasn't a good sign. This exact thing had happened to me 2 months prior going down Kuataika in the dark (except I hadn't recovered that time and received a great superficial wound on my knee). I was a bit bemused by how I was cramping after only 2 hours. I realise now with hindsight this is very probably the result of racing a hard marathon one week before at The DUAL (Rangitoto / Motutapu marathon). I simply couldn't have lost enough salt to cause cramps in two hours I think now. Til then I had only been drinking electrolyte but starting taking salt capsules as well for the rest of the day. I now think it probably wasn't necessary but during the race it was the only thing I could do to try to escape the constant cramps.
Very soon after I stopped at the next foot wash station and heard a familiar and distinct voice call out my name from the other end. Without my glasses I couldn't quite see him but I knew this was Christian Stockle, another fella I've met in the Huia Bush Runners and bumped into a few times. As I changed bottles he told me the earlier group had gone through about 11 minutes ahead. I had no idea how many that was, or what position that put me in but it did mean I could concentrate on my own race and not have any illusions about catching the next runner. I was still fretting that I'd come out much too fast and would pay for it dearly later on.
As I climbed Omanawanui I came to where you can look out to the sea. The clouds were lit up by the earlier sunrise and now I thought of my old school friend Trent (RIP). Truthfully I hadn't spoken with Trent in over 10 years, we'd drifted apart as I lived overseas but I had been saddened to learn recently that he had been killed in a gliding accident in January. The reason I thought of him now was that just the day before I had received an unexpected message from his wife, telling me that he had run in the Waitakeres each Sunday with a group of friends from his work. I hadn't known this and I'd like to think if time had permitted we would have reconnected and run there together. Apparently they had often stumbled accross parts of the Hillary Trail and she mentioned he had spoken fondly of me, impressed that I'd managed to run it all back in December. It felt pretty humbling to realise that after all of these years, Trent still remembered me and spoke of me to his wife. So I had decided to take him with me on this journey that he never got to make. Immediately as I paused and looked into the sunlit sky, I could imagine him urging me on, telling me not to stop and to get a move on. So I did.
PART 2 - WHATIPU TO PIHA
I was having to be careful getting down the cliffs now, unsure when the next calf cramp was going to bite but I made it safely down to the Whatipu aid station. There was some buzzing at ground level and I figured this was Matt Jenke's quad-coptor camera. Once again I'd love to acknowledge everyone there but I only remember hearing Kim Allan greeting me as I came in. Sure enough she has snapped a photo of me going through the shoe-brush station.
I had worn some hybrid trail shoes for extra cushioning on the gravel and tarmac roads to Huia, with a pair of Inov8's ready for me at Whatipu. The cramp had spread now to my quads making it impossible for me to even untie my laces, and it was only thanks to the wonderful aid station staffers that my shoes were changed, the timing tag transferred and my laces done up. I gulped down a stash of baby food and replenished my gel stocks, said good bye and good day and went on my way.
Still I was alone up Gibbons, down Muir, along Pararaha Valley and up Zion Hill. As I descended towards Karekare though, disaster (almost) struck. My left ankle rolled on some of the technical trail and I distinctly heard something crack. I'd never heard that before and let out a short involuntary shout. I've rolled ankles before, in a minor way. Usually you can just hobble on, gradually putting more weight on and things come right pretty quickly. But this was different and I had to sit down. Considering the sound I'd heard, it really wasn't as painful as I had been expecting. So I decided to just try pulling my shoelaces really tight to get some extra stability around the foot. Thankfully the cramps weren't too bad here and tightening the laces did the trick. I was able to walk and slowly added weight and pace. I arrived into Karekare to yet another smiling foot wash crew, and soon after a cheering aid-station crew.
With a quick toilet stop I gulped down some drink and fruit and carried on. I got distracted though and followed a path up into someone's back yard. Realising my mistake I quickly moved back down to the road I had been following and found I should have crossed over some small wooden fences, that I guess are just to stop bikes. If only I'd glanced a few metres ahead I would have seen the course markers. As I came back down another runner I didn't recognize in a blue shirt caught me. We started up Comans track together, I just a few metres ahead. I couldn't tell in the light if this was the same strong runner I had passed going up Karamatura. From looking at the results I guess now this was Andrew Marshall.
Comans Track is possibly a little more enclosed than some others, maybe more sheltered, I don't know. But at this point the humidity started to hit me for the first time. I had been wearing a technical T-Shirt until now but knew as soon as I reached the open lookout spot above I would have to change into a running singlet to try to cool down. I made no real gains on the hunter behind me, each time I looked back to see if I needed to let him pass he was still the same few metres behind me. So off he went as I changed tops. Unexpectedly, Greg Hall appeared again moments afterwards. We set off together and chatted a little. It was nice to see Greg doing well as he'd had a couple of injuries recently and was still sporting a compression sleeve around one calf. I knew from running together, Greg was someone that could push me pretty hard and I also knew he had clocked a time somewhere around 10 hours on a Huia Bush Runners Hillary day. So while we jogged a little I was again worried I'd fatigue quickly trying to stay with him. I was even more worried when he mentioned the pace had been so slow up until now - thanks Greg! But he also offered me encouragement and after downing a gel it was I who pushed the pace soon after we left Piha Rd, heading towards Kitekite Falls.
Somewhere along Kauri Grove Track? you run along a rocky technical section next to a stream. I allowed myself to become distracted enjoying the view and nearly tripped again. As before both my calves cramped and spasmed. I slowed, took a deep breath, and realised what I'd just gotten away with. Falling onto flat dirt and suffering grazes is okay. Crashing face first into boulders and rocks is not okay. Greg rejoined me and we carried on together until we approached the Piha aid station. Here I saw the familiar and unexpected site of Christian Stockle again - holding his hand up for a high five. This brought another great smile to my face as I hadn't expected to see the same people I'd already passed. Christian was obviously doing double duties that day. He helped me with my drop-bag and another kind gentleman suggested I would probably be needing some sun-block at that point. Greg was quicker out than me and I could only just make him out in the distance as I moved on.
PART 3 - PIHA TO GANNET COLONY
I followed the familiar Piha beach route, closing the gap on Greg and we rolled into North Piha together. I really enjoyed the company after running so long on my own. I was okay going up the stairs of White Track, and along the short flat gravel section to Anawhata Rd. But as soon as we hit the up-hill of Anawhata Rd the cramps wouldn't let me run up hill and I had to say goodbye to Greg. I hiked up a road I've only ever run before and at the top where you cross an electric fence to Anawhata Farm I twitched and spasmed while the poor marshal lady tried to make sense of what I was doing. I explained I had cramp and I wasn't sure how I was going to climb over the fence. All she could do was remind me that number two wire was live.
Eventually I realised the cramps weren't going anywhere and they afflicted me no matter how I straightened or bent or twisted my poor legs. I could hesitate no longer and just went for it. Somehow I got over and carried on a slow walk towards Kuataika Track. I used the rest walk to send my second text of the day, to a friend about to start their 16k race. I must have looked a lazy sod to the marshal who watched me ambling along playing with my phone. I put it away and started the great descent into the abyss.
The Kuataika roller coaster was pretty uneventful. I saw no-one save a very cheery volunteer in a great big hat. I'm not someone who fears Kuataika - the first time I ever ran it, I turned straight around at Piha and ran back over it again. But the last time I had crossed it had been at night, with a head-torch. Then, you can't see too far ahead and I guess I had forgotten what it looked like. Now, in the bright sunlight I absolutely stopped and swore a few times when I saw almost no progress being made up the second part of the climb. I wondered how Greg was getting on and whether I was being hunted down by the next competitor. Finally I passed a metal gate to my left signifying the end of Kuataika, for now at least. Just a few short metres down the track would be the Houghton's Track turn-off. There was a fist pump and some more celebratory swearing here.
As I started down Houghton Track I stopped to change my socks. They were wet, bunching up and had started rubbing. I knew I'd lose time but figured it was worth it for the little extra comfort for the next hours ahead. Unfortunately the chorus of leg cramps started again as soon as I sat down and it took an age to change my socks. I took another gel, salt pill and filled my hand-held bottle. Ready for action again, I removed my running singlet and tried to enjoy another of my favourite technical trails.
At the bottom I started along Lake Wainamu. I knew from a few weeks prior, lots of bamboo and vegetation had been removed but I was surprised to find large portions of the track now gravel filled. I hated this and tried to run at the sides where there was still some soft dirt cushioning. Now I hit the dunes and followed the Lactic Turkey markers along the stream. Realising I had just changed into dry socks I hopped around over shallow sections and managed to avoid getting my feet too wet. Somehow the gels were working and I was still running. It was here I passed the first of the 34k competitors who had started at Piha an hour before I arrived there. The heat was screaming down and I couldn't help but admire this fella not letting it beat him.
I reached the Bethells aid station and the looming figure of Simon Clendon greeted me. The volunteers filled all three of my water bottles while I restocked gels from my drop bags, and ditched some solid food bars I knew I wasn't going to need now. I dropped an electrolyte tab into two of the bottles and left one with plain water. Poor Simon Clendon did the unenviable task of getting some sunblock onto my exposed back and arms. Thanks Simon - I must owe you a High50 donation if you've signed up for one of Mal's days out. They gave me the happy news that Rebecca Edgecombe had looked strong passing through earlier. This pleased me. Rebecca has trained consistently and though less confident on technical terrain, I never forget she has finished many more marathons than I.
Off I went up Te Henga Walkway now. 16k to go. Maybe a little extra at the end. It started well enough but after a time, before the main climb, I began feeling nauseous. Just ahead was the small tree enclave and I heard voices. Taking temporary refuge from the sun also, I found Rebecca and another runner there. They were in the same boat as me, not feeling great, just regrouping. But I was very glad to see another friend. I decided the sweetness of the berry flavoured electrolyte had caused the nausea so refilled half my bottle with just plain water. Diluted, it was much more paletable. I took the opportunity to throw down another gel, bid these companions a safe journey ahead and moved on. Soon after I greeted two other athletes on the trail and was a little stunned when they turned around, recognized me and became my own personal cheerleading team on the trail. It was none other than Jane Thompson and Laurie Wilson. I knew these two from the trail running facebook groups but not well and not personally. So I was taken by surprise when they greeted me by name and seemed so excited to see me. They told me how well I was doing and gave my spirits yet another boost. Wishing them also a safe journey, I carried on and passed a few other unknown 34k entrants.
There were a lot of tourists on the climb to the top of the cliffs, following the fenceline. They all stepped aside and let me past and I tried to thank them all as I went. One made a point of checking my race bib and she gasped when she saw I was in for 80km. I showed her my watch which at that point said I'd completed 65km and she looked suitably impressed. With a wave we each turned around and carried on our journeys, in separate directions. My spirits were crushed at one point when a bloke came zooming past, wearing a pack with two bottles at the back. He was too fast to be a 34k racer this far back, but could he really be an 80k racer with this much energy left in him? I couldn't dwell on it and carried on at my pace. Virtually all of the flax and gorse had been cleared for the race and though I understand why, the trail had become unrecognisable in parts for me. At one point I wondered if I was lost, before realising there probably wasn't any other trail I could have turned onto.
Finally I knew I must be close to the Devil's Staircase. These are the stairs leading up to Constable Road. These have never presented a problem for me before but with the constant threat of cramp I was nervous. Before I even reached them I came to one particularly steep, enclosed section that I really didn't recognize. For a second time, I questioned if I'd wandered off the trail. I tried to sit down to compose myself but immediately cramped and shot up again. I think it was here I decided I had to put back on my soaking wet running singlet in the hope it would actually cool me slightly. I had started using chomps in the last half hour to try something different from gels but they weren't sitting well in my stomach so I stuffed another gel down and got going.
The stairs, as expected, presented a huge challenge. I pride myself on not being beaten by stairs or climbs (at least in the Waitakeres - I'm no mountain runner yet). But today was different. I started up them slowly but only managed three sets before the cramps set in. If I moved I cramped. If I stopped I cramped. I tried to sit and that was even worse because then more and different leg muscles cramped. I contorted and fidgeted a couple of minutes trying to get things to calm down so they could recover for the next few sets but they were having none of it. Eventually one of the 34k entrants reached the bottom of the stairs and I decided I could waste no more time. I started climbing with my left quads still spasming, and kept climbing, while they kept spasming. Somehow this worked. I think I just knew there was no other option, or perhaps the muscles were just no longer capable of cramping so painfully hard any more.
At the top I managed only a walk to the aid station where once again I was greeted by Dan Roberts. This gentleman had manned the Huia aid station many hours before. I mentioned my cramps and was told to get banana down me. I grabbed a piece, but immediately knew I couldn't get it down. It wouldn't have made any difference anyway, I'd had so much electrolyte drink and salt tablets and gels containing sodium/calcium/potassium throughout the day I knew the cramps just couldn't be due to any sort of deficiency. It was just sheer muscular fatigue. Dan must have seen me staring at the piece of banana or just sensed what I needed and offered me watermelon instead - before I even answered he was on the ground with a knife carving out a huge chunk for me. "There you go, take it with you" he said, or something to that effect. The message was received and knowing I had enough water already I moved on. That watermelon was glorious as I followed another 34k runner down Constable Road.
At the point where you move off Constable into a short trail she looked a little confused, and stepped aside to let me past. I assured her the trail just followed the road maybe half a km and came out at the bottom. I offered to let her past as I was so slow with the ever present cramps but she insisted I was still faster than her. I wasn't sure how. At the bottom of Constable Rd I was directed onto Oaia Rd and began what I thought would be a disastrous last road section. I ran a little and walked a little. Somehow I came right and managed to run more than walk and caught the next competitor. As we reached a hill I slowed into a walk behind her. "No more running now?" she asked cheerfully. I explained I just had to walk any hills at this point. I wish I could have managed a better conversation with her. At the brow of the hill I got another jog on and switched to the grass, knowing I was very soon to hit the final few short trails down into Muriwai. I'm still not sure how but managed to jog all but a few steps of those trails until hitting the road near the gannet colony. As per Chris Hope's race report, I remember a very enthusiastic volunteer supporter there, but I didn't get a personal escort around the colony. Perhaps Chris is just better looking :)
PART 4 - GANNET COLONY TO FINISH
Amazingly I still had a jog in me through the colony and across the extended beach section that isn't normally required. Jogging up the road off the beach, Greg Hall called out as he walked back down towards the water - obviously finished. That brought one more smile as I passed the surf club. Heading up onto the village green the first face I remember seeing was Rebecca Short and probably her man Matt Rayment must have been there too? (Sorry Matt it's a little hazy - I was trying to figure out how to get into the finish area.) Someone, Rebecca again?... pointed me in the right direction. Turning alongside the finish area I saw a smiling Vera Alves and Steven Blackburn duo - my heart sank for Steven - he had 'toed the start line' with me as he put it, all those hours ago, though suffering a painful foot injury since Tarawera. Obviously he had pulled out but I still stupidly shouted "What are you doing here?". He was supposed to be in the race behind me. I was supposed to get to see him finish later on. I was glad to see Vera up and about though - it meant she had not suffered another ankle malfunction in the 16k race. I removed my hat for the finish line photo and then mustered everything I could for a strong sprint finish. I bounced into Shaun Collins who handed me my finishers medal, and I think weirdly Paul Charteris might have been standing right next to him too. Or did I hallucinate that?
The next few hours were a mixture of elation and agony. The cramps really started again once I stopped. I could barely stand, but couldn't sit or lie down. As soon as I staightened or stretched or twisted one leg to alleviate a cramp in one muscle, another different muscle would start cramping. Friends suggested making use of the free massage available but I didn't want to risk kicking anyone in the face if I got a sudden leg spasm.
I wasn't able to eat anything though I knew it was important for any sort of recovery to be able to start. One moment I was hot, removing everything but my shorts. The next I was cold, putting on two shirts and a fleece. Occasionally I felt nauseous again. All along friends brought me water and one even tried to poison me with warm beer. Eventually I did get a little food down, the cramps stopped long enough for me to have a lie down and even more people came over to offer me congratulations. It felt pretty wonderful. My body was broken and my mind was tired but still I felt high. I tried to make sure I clapped for each finisher that came through after me. They all ran hard that day regardless of the distance. The sun was out in force on the exposed Te Henga cliffs and anyone tackling that is brave.
A few names I remember talking to from the finish area are Shaun Collins, Paul Charteris, Steven Blackburn, Vera Alves, Andy McManus, Mike Tennent, Lance Hunniford, Michael Rodliffe, Carl Southgate, a returned Greg Hall again, Forsyth Thompson, Chris Hope, Nat Thompson, Matt Rayment & Rebecca Short, Rebecca Edgecombe, Laurie Wilson & Jane Thompson, Arvin Gardiola, Kate Townsley, Steve Neary, and there were surely others. Of course my brother Mike Duckett turned up safe and sound albeit with a busted ankle. Oh and young gun Reegan Absolum came in not long after me. There was possibly a Paulo Osorio. I think I might have gotten a Tracey Benjamin confused with a Lesley Turner Hall - sorry about that! I've just met so many new and awesome people in the last 4 months it's ridiculous. I definitely also saw Shane Absolum and Stuart the bus driver. Really sorry if I missed anyone, I was pretty screwed at the time.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say thank you here to each and every volunteer whether they were out on the course that day or not. Some of the jobs might not have been that flash or interesting but they all had to be done. They had to go to volunteer meetings and attend foot-wash training sessions. Some spent hours in the hot sun clearing overgrown vegetation on Te Henga Walkway and others climbed to the highest points in the Waitakeres at 5am to set up foot-wash stations and make sure us runners couldn't take a wrong turn.
Seriously, thanks once again to every volunteer. The event obviously couldn't have happened without all of you.
Here is the photo that shows my time and placing. I have to be exceedingly happy with this. Both times I've run the Hillary Trail at a reasonably sedate pace with times of around 14 hours. I knew at a faster pace, with several aid stations (for water) and drop bags (for food) I SHOULD be capable of a 12 hour finish. After all I wouldn't have to carry all my food from the start and support myself as I had in the past. So that was my goal. I dared to think if everything went exceedingly well, I might get closer to 11 hours. But I knew after a good start, the final third of The Hillary Trail can often take a lot lot longer than the first and second thirds. Fatigue can set in and there are some relentless hills. So you never really know what is going to happen on the day.
10th Male. 11th Overall. Time of 10hrs 46mins 54secs.