The Hillary Trail Ultra Marathon Run

hillaryI feel like running is all I have been writing about lately, I would apologise to those who don’t care but if you didn’t care you wouldn’t be reading, right? It has become such a huge part of my life in such a short time and I am actually really enjoying being part of the community and love the places it is taking me.

At the beginning of the year James started running. By the end of February the furthest he had run was 42kms, a marathon. James doesn’t do baby steps. He went from zero to marathon in two months and on the 29th of March he went from marathon to ultra marathon, 80kms through some of the toughest terrain in New Zealand on a trail that people tramp over a three day period. He did this in under 15 hours. James, along with Gene, ran and completed the first ever Official Hillary Trail 80km Ultra Marathon.

It was another painfully early morning where we woke at 4am, by 5.30 we had arrived at the Arataki Visitor Center and by 6 we were counting them down to begin what would be a day of unknowns for all parties involved.


This is the first time this race has ever been ‘official’. There are some crazy people who have done it 10+ times just for fun on their own accord however it has never been an organised event like today was. Emma has been along to and has crewed a lot of these races, she has been to a lot of debut events and from her experiences she did not have high expectations. We expected it to all be a little bit stressful.

From Arataki we headed to the first Aid Station in Huia. They arrived fairly quickly as this point was only 14kms into the race. Spirits were high and it was a short, sharp visit as they wanted to move on quickly to keep up good time.


From Huia Emma and I went into Titirangi Township for coffee. A much needed, we woke up at stupid o’clock kind of coffee. It was easily one of the best coffee’s of my life. We had quite a while to wait before the boys would arrive at the next aid station so we killed a bit of time with a bit of girl talk in the sunshine and once the coffee kicked in we were ready to roll!


Man we live in a beautiful country. I sometimes forget that paradise is only a 30 minute drive away. Right now, paradise was Piha. My last experience crewing an ultra marathon was during a cyclone. Mother nature obviously felt bad so for this one she gave us, in my opinion, one of the best days of the entire summer.


We came prepared with one of Emma’s 6 tents (not an exagguration) however before we even got that out of the car we were offered our own gazebo. We were treated like VIP’s – One of the guys who was obviously in charge of the Piha station, we didn’t catch his name, was more than accomodating. It was incredible. He saw that we had Caitlin with us and offered us one of his massive Gazebos to set up under while we waited for our men to join us. They even moved it into prime position so we’d have the best view of people running through. They were so helpful and I feel as thought I should give them a shout out! I don’t know if customer service is the right word but if it is, it was impeccable! It made our day just that bit easier.


When they ran through they had run just over half way, 45 kilometers. They looked as fresh as they did at the first stop. I really don’t know how they do it, look as though they’ve done nothing when they’d run more than a marathon. Especially now that the sun was high in the sky and hot as hell.

This stop was another short one, they refilled their water bottles, sun blocked up and were off again.


Because we had a few hours to spare before we headed to Bethells we thought while it was nice and warm we would take Caitlin to the beach and dunk her feet in the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. Oh my gosh. We laughed so much. This incredible idea kind of backfired, hilariously. We underestimated the amount of water that would come in with the waves, Emma ended up breaking her jandals and due to me crouching down to get a good shot of Caitlin, I walked away with a very wet bum. (The water did only come up to just below our knees so before anyone thinks or says it, the baby was not put in any kind of danger during our little adventure.)

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After we dried off we headed out to the next station. Bethells. This was my personal favourite. We arrived at the station and were greeted into a hula themed haven, the volunteers were all in Hawaiian shirts wearing colourful lei. The atmosphere was awesome. The atmosphere needed to be awesome. I had a feeling that this would be a tough point to pass as they were now 64 kilometres into the race, twenty kilometers further than James had ever run. We were right. The boys arrived, still running, however looked a little worse for wear. You could tell that it was starting to get the better of them. We tried to stay positive and after a quick chat and a scrub of their boots they were off, back into the bush at sunset about to battle darkness on what was described as the hardest part of the trail.


Constable Road was my least favourite. I tried to keep a smile on my face but it was hard. I could feel the exhaustion James was feeling from the look on his face deep in my heart and it hurt. I have never witnessed him like that & i’m not going to lie, it was a little scary. Still, I had no doubt he would continue and complete the race because he is the strongest person I know and if anyone could do it, he would. They had 6 kilometers to go.


It was just after 9pm when they arrived at the finish. It was such a surreal moment. There were still a handful of the organisers and spectators there to help us cheer them through the finish line! They ran in and just like that, it was over. They had finished. They had just run 80 kilometres. Their final time was 14 hours 55 minutes. They came dead last but they finished. Not everyone who entered did.

I still don’t understand what possesses these people to put their bodies through such a strenuous, torturous event. It blows my mind that people actually do this. The fact that James is one of those crazy people both scares me but makes me so proud. James doesn’t do baby steps. He went from zero to marathon in two months and on the 29th of March he went from marathon to ultra marathon, 80kms through some of the toughest terrain in New Zealand on a trail that people tramp over a three day period. He did this in under 15 hours. James, along with Gene, ran and completed the first ever Official Hillary Trail 80km Ultra Marathon.

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This event had a bit of controversy surrounding it. Whoever was kicking up a fuss really had nothing to worry about. Shaun, the organiser, did such an amazing job with everything. As mentioned earlier we expected the day to be stressful however it was the exact opposite. The aid stations were more than equipped and so easy to find, the volunteers were so helpful and our overall experience was flawless. I really have nothing I would change about this day. That, of course, is an opinion from someone crewing. James is going to be doing a short post on his experience here in the next week or so. I truly believe that this event can only get better.

I certainly hope this event lives to run another year.

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