Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Hillary, NZ 80km 2015

Permanent course marker.
Never before in a race have I wanted to stop more than I did in The Hillary, NZ 80km Ultra Marathon race. Not because I was injured, not because I was tired and not because I was sore, but because the views were so amazingly breathtaking. Unlike mountain races where you spend the day running into the same view, or around the same view, this race the views draw you further along the trail towards new, different, more exciting scenery. It was a pure pleasure to traverse this course, a treat for the eyes.

The start of 2015 for me has been a bit flat. This far into 2015 I was hoping to have done at least one major trail ultra, followed up with a more low key trail ultra, but the way things panned out I had done nothing. Essentially all trained up with nowhere to race. Fortunately, training is rarely wasted, and with the way trail running is at the moment there are plenty of trail races on offer. My pick for March was The Hillary 80km Ultra Marathon. As I always do, I follow races in advance before entering. For some reason, I feel more comfortable going into races with a preformed expectation.  I followed The Hillary's inaugural race last year (2014) and it definitely left a positive impression, so I marked it as a race to do in 2015.
Spectacular scenery.

The Hillary stood out for a number of reasons. Most of which are evident in the event's promotional video from the 2014 race (link). It is amazing to think that an ultra trail running event such as this is held so close to the city of Auckland, New Zealand.

I flew over on Thursday before the event by myself and stayed with Brian's Aunty Bev and Uncle Jack at their beautiful abode on the shore of Lake Takapuna. Without Brian's usual fastidiousness I took the time on Friday to do some recce of the bus pick-up, race HQ and some parts of the course. This was time well spent, as at 4:30am on race morning, I would have definitely missed the bus to the start line. I hate early starts, it is even worse when you have to do everything yourself. I've already missed an early morning race start and didn't want a repeat performance. I was definitely missing my regular support crew. Luckily come race morning I made it to the bus pick-up on time and scored myself a back row of seats to stretch out and continue my sleep on a rough and twisty road.
The race start was very dark.
Having arrived at the race start, I was ruing my decision to use an inferior head torch, as when the race started pre-dawn I resorted to using other peoples light, which therefore restricted me to their pace. I was comforted however that other runners around me with better head torches still found it difficult in the pre-dawn light on the technical terrain. The early pace wasn't particularly fast and suited my mood as I was struggling to get into a comfortable rhythm. I often find that I take a few kilometers to warm up and get switched on. For me I didn't feel race ready until the Huia (14km) checkpoint.
The terrain was mostly runnable. The Hillary.

After the Huia checkpoint the 80km field started to spread out more and more. I saw less of the runners ahead and runners behind as the course weaved in and out of sight around the coastal headlands. Running between people didn't particularly bother me. I easily navigated the trail, following the permanent Hillary Trail markers. Knowing that I had Jo Johansen, Fiona Hayvice and Justine Medin nearby kept my motivation up and pace honest. In the early stages of the race I found myself running with South Australian Andrew Hough until about the 27km mark. Andrew informed me that we met during Yurrebilla last year. He was running well over the mixed terrain and was quite fast on the downhill and uphill sections, and we found ourselves swapping places quite a few times. Its always good to have some company for long stretches during a race. 

At the Whatipu (27km) checkpoint I caught up to and passed two other 80km runners. Andrew was taking awhile at the aid station so I went on expecting him and the other two guys to catch me up but they never did and this was the last I saw of any 80km runners until the finish.
Checkpoint security was fantastic. The Hillary Facebook.

After the Piha (46km) checkpoint was where I got the opportunity to start chasing down the  34km runners/walkers. The Hillary is unique in that there are three race distances (80km, 34km and 16km) over the same point-to-point course. The start of all three races are staggered so as to have runners running and finishing together at the same location.The 34ker's had started about 45min before I arrived at the checkpoint and it wasn't too long before I started catching up to and overtaking some of the 34km walkers. The format worked quite well and I found myself eager to catch and pass the 34km runners ahead.
It was difficult to keep eyes on the the trail with view like this. The Hillary.

I came through Bethells (64km) checkpoint shortly before the 16km runners started. It was nice to receive a cheer from the assembled runners and spectators. Not running with a watch I knew from the 16km starters that I had approximately 2 hours to cover the last 16km of trail in order to get a sub 10hr finish time. As I climbed up, away from the checkpoint, I was chased down by some of the more enthusiastic 16km runners. Some were quick to pass, and I had to stop and let them go by as the trail was very narrow. Then I thought bugger this I'm losing time pulling over, if they want to get past they can make the effort, so I held my position on the trail. The other runners were polite enough to allow me my own space on the trail once they figured I was doing the full 80km event. In all honesty this race format made for a good distraction and helped lift my pace in the later stages of the race, chasing fresh legged runners, at a time when I knew Jo Johansen would be pushing hard to catch up to me.
There was lots of company in the later stages of the race. The Hillary.

It felt fantastic to descend out of the mountains and out into the finish area. The whole day had been a repetition of ascents and descents with a few short flat sections. After 80km's traversing the course I can see why the event is a sanctioned ANZ Sky Run, as the variation in grade is relentless.
Happy to finish, but not before washing my shoes one last time.

I was happy to cross the finish line in 9:57:44, 1st Female and 7th overall. Coincidentally the next two finishers were Jo Johansen and Fiona Hayvice, for 2nd and 3rd respectively. Any slacking off and they would have had me for sure. In reflection this is a race I already want to return to.

A big thank you must go to Bev and Jack for allowing me to stay with them. They openly accepted my intrusion when their thoughts were understandably focused on their more immediate family.
Female podium was nicely colour coordinated (me, Jo & Fiona, L-R). The Hillary Facebook.
Andrius Ramonas and I with next years weight penalty. Marcus Warner.
The Hillary mementos.
I wonder what the beach goers were thinking? The Hillary.
80km Course profile.


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