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Race Report: The Hillary 80 km

My race along the Hillary Trail in New Zealand took place over 2 months ago, but it took me time to find the motivation to write about it. After a good early-year race at Two Bays, and with some good training in my legs I had arrived expecting to do well. However, in ultra marathons sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

A pre-dawn start provided some great running by headlamp through the forest, and rerouting due to a washed-out trail provided some extremely technical early sections. The first half of the race contains the bulk of the race’s climbing but it also contains some stunning views. The vistas on the climb out of Karekare were amazing and I briefly considered pulling out my camera to snap a picture, but it was tucked away and wrapped in two zip-lock bags, and I was focussed on time. In hindsight I should have stopped to take the photo, as the few minutes wouldn’t have really mattered.

By the time I dropped into Piha at the 45 km mark my legs were a lot sorer than I expected. I took off once more but I was starting to struggle and my pace decreased. I started feeling twinges indicating the onset of cramping, and around 63 km into the race I stretched my foot out during a descent only to have my calf cramp. I put down the leg in a way to alleviate the cramping calf and then my quad cramped. I fell to the ground in an agonising cramp that I was unable to stretch out myself.

When the next runner behind reached me and offered assistance I requested him to stretch out my calf, and that allowed me to stand once again. I commenced walking down the trail to get the legs moving once more, and after a few minutes I tried to run, but I could feel the onset of cramping so I returned to a walk. I would barely run another step until reaching the oval at the finish.

I briefly considered a DNF, but I had plenty of time and I decided that nothing would stop me from crossing the line. Climbing a set of stairs to the final aid station at Constable Road I had an easy downhill to the finish, tailor made for picking up the pace but an attempt to run was again unsuccessful. I walked down to the beach at Muriwai, crossed the beach, climbed over the sand dunes and headed over towards the finish line at the village green. As I reached the grass I refused to walk across the line so I broke into my longest stretch of running in over 3 hours.

It was a long and tough day, and a reminder that this sport can ensure that you stay humble.

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