The Hillary 2016 was an event of extremes! It was an adventure for all as is planned for the event. To conquer your Everest it should not be easy! Sir Ed himself said “In some ways I believe I epitomise the average New Zealander: I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed.” These typically modest words were spoken by arguably the most famous New Zealander – a sporting and adventure hero, who scaled heights and reached places where no human being had gone before. And hence the pull of the Hillary Trail for so many today: we all want a challenge!
This was the third year of The Hillary and as is the way the word had obviously spread because the 16km event sold out in mid-January and the 34km at the start of February a month out from the event. On Race day there were about 570 people (of a 600 person Council imposed limited field) competing in one of the three difference courses – the 16, 34 or 80km.
The Trail follows a variety of terrain and scenery – many claim a magical pull of the trail and keep coming back for more. Stunning views throughout the trail, rugged West coast beaches, magnificent native bush including the hundreds of year old native Kauri trees. Past large waterfalls and sand dunes, along cliff tops or through marshlands – there is something for everyone.
The 80km course follows the Hillary Trail from the Arataki Visitors Centre West of Titirangi all the way to Muriwai, via Huia, Whatipu, Karekare, Piha and Bethells. There is no denying, this is a tough challenge – mentally and physically. With 3,700m climb, the current fastest time is 8 hours 23 minutes. Many would think this seems a long time for 80km but, those that have done would agree – this is no ordinary 80km.
The 34km course follows the Hillary Trail from Piha to Muriwai and the 16km course follows the Hillary Trail from Bethells to Muriwai.
The first half of the day was extremely hot (by New Zealand standards) and the event directors words of warning about hydration we understood, although many suffered by not taking on enough water despite the numerous aid stations. However by midafternoon the storm clouds rolled in and were quite different to the small showers everyone expected, by chucking down everything the sky could offer in torrential rain. Dehydration turned to wet, cold and in some cases near hypothermia.
Event Director Shaun Collins recounts…“the last 5 hours of the event I was pretty much full time on the radios talking to our marshals, paramedic, police dealing with incidents. The record was 4 at once and as they were resolved (with people walking out themselves or getting help), another would take its place – it was crazy stuff!”
At the end of the day near 6pm Collins had to make a call to close the track because the rain made a goat track across the top of a slip, too dangerous to pass.
“unfortunately, that meant we had to turn 14 people back to the aid station they’d last came through and then work out transport for them back to the start. Full credit to them and the great ultra/trail running spirit, in that they were disappointed but understood we had to do this for their safety!”
The days begins at 6am with the 80km Ultra Sky Marathon runners starting from Arataki with about an hour of darkness and some nice gnarly single track before arriving at the first aid station where they could dump their headlamps and get straight into the biggest climb of the day and the top 3 runners through here for the men’s race stayed as the top three through to the finish. There was a change in places and a big gap between them but that’s a joy of the Hillary – you need to be having your best day to come out on top and that can change hour to hour, big hill to big hill! At the “halfway” aid station of Piha it was Danny Garrett (Wellington) 4 minutes ahead of Martin Kern (recently arrived to live in New Zealand from France). Then a decent stretch back was local Tom Hunt. But in the brutal section from Piha to Bethells the lead changed with Danny extended his lead and by the finish line, finished in 8 hours 28 (a good 10 minutes off the record scored by Andrius Ramonas in 2015). Martin finished in 8 hours 51 and Tom made a hard day of it but kept hold of 3rd place finishing just under an hour later in 9 hours 46.
Gill Fowler (Australia) won the woman’s race finishing an awesome 4th overall in 9 hours 55 setting a new course record! It was literally neck and neck at the Piha “halfway” aid station with Gill and Corrine Smit coming in other aid station and leaving together. However the second half was a good one for Gill as she raced ahead finishing strong. Veteran woman Deb Nichol (Australia) also had a good second half and overtook Corrine to finish 2nd in 10 hours 31, with Corrine taking 3rd in 11 hours 02.
The 34km event seemed to have all the guns – both local and Australian as most seemed to do the Moonlight Marathon the weekend before. The means was stacked with lots of talent in last years 80km winner Andrius Ramonas, Australia’s Majell Backhausen and Daniel Green and local top orienteer Gene Beveridge. In the end there was no stopping Andrius who was recovering from an injury late last year and trained hard on the course as his path to recovery. He stormed ahead from the start and smashed the 34km SkyRun course record by around 15 minutes finishing in 2 hours 47. Second was Daniel Green in 2 hours 56 and third after knocking himself out on a tree partway through the course was Majell finishing in 3 hours 04, six minutes ahead of Beveridge.
The 34km women’s field was just as strong! Contenders included Wellingtons Fiona Hayvice who came 3rd in the 80km last year and just a month before The Hillary this year won the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, in recent great for Lucy Bartholomew from Australia and last years winner and current record holder Zara Fowell. In the end Fiona showed that she is someone to watch at the money taking another win and despite tired legs from the Tarawera finishing just a minutes shy of the course record in 3 hours 37 and in 8th place overall.
The 16km is the last course option and although not part of the skyrunning series, it provides first time trail runners a chance to compete and be surrounded by inspiring athletes doing the longer courses. This year we had a few 80km runners who did the 16km in the first running of the event, the 34km last year and have built up to the 80km – the perfect example of how we designed these stepping stones to an ultra! The mens 16km was won by local builder Garrick Stevenson in 1 hour 43 a little shy of the course record set in 2015 by Sawyer Hitchcock of 1 hour 21. The women’s 16km was won by Maureen Stachowicz who is 80km second placegetter, Martin Kern’s partner and therefore has also just moved to NZ from France. Maureen won in 1 hours 57 finishing 7th overall in the 16km and just 12 seconds ahead of 2nd – Sammy Hensley!
Words by Shaun Collins, Race Director, Lactic Turkey Events