New Zealand Grand Slam

“The mix of these three events makes it very hard to complete the set – not many trail runners want to do Taranaki and not many road runners would want to do Northburn.”- Simon Clendon

When William Hunter crossed the line at the Taranaki Steelformers Round the Mountain 100mile in 20hr25min (2nd place) he not only finished a journey he started almost a day earlier, but one he started way way back in March, in Central Otago. William finished all 3 of New Zealand’s 100mile ultra marathon races-  the Northburn, Nasbey and the Taranaki Round the Mountain- the first person ever to complete what is being referred to as the “New Zealand Grand Slam* of Ultra Running”

Having completed a certain swim-bike-run endurance event a few times (well, 3x, but can’t swim, can’t bike…can’t run a marathon in under 3.20, and certainly not after swimming and biking) I started looking for something that would be more than just a very expensive, carbon-equipment-focused, catered plod.  And I found it in cheap, un-catered plods. Just joking, but there is a definite enjoyment to be had in the simplicity of Ultra Running …..that quote about the Barkley Marathons for me sums it up “The only prize is that after 100 miles, they get to stop”.

St James Ultra, Northface100, Kepler came and went, and thoughts turned to doing a 100mile run.  Only ‘one’ 100mile event I told my wife Jane – just one.

William at Northburn

William at Northburn

Northburn100, 2013. This event would be everything I wanted in terms of placing myself in a universe of hurt and seeing what would happen. “Are you a nut case??” some said before the event. “Oh – you actually are a nut case” lots more said after. And that included my crew. By the end it was blisters, blisters, blisters, bruised hip flexors, wind burnt skin and lips, cramp-on-cramp, hallucinations……and that’s even with a good base and then 4 months solid, focused, targeted training. On reflection, for me, the best 2 bits of advice I read were to simply find the biggest hill you can (Mt Isobel) and just go up and down it for long periods of time, and to start slow and get slower (Matt Bixley and Marty Lukes respectively). Possibly you have no choice re the ‘get slower’….

I lost quite a bit of weight over the first 2 laps of the course and then spent 45mins debating with concerned parties about my departure for the last lap. That discussion and the enforced calorie intake that went with it was an endurance event in itself. Yes, I know, the best interests of the competitor…..but I actually felt fine and finally out I went and finally I finished. And I had fantastic crew (thank you Peter White and Christian Hance).

36 hours plus change in the end. I am really, really stoked with that. “How much of it did you run though?”, those-who-do-not-understand ask. Speak up I say, I’m still partly deaf from the noise of the 120-130kmph constant, hammering wind that forced me backwards on many occasions during the event. “HOW MUCH OF IT DID YOU RUN??” they yell. Well, I ran all of it, but sometimes I had to take little steps……

And then Jamie Sinclair (the Great Naseby Water Race organiser) got up at prize giving and said there’s a 100 mile option at Naseby fo rteh first time this year. “Is there really?” I thought – 2 in a year. But then I wondered, well, whilst I’m here – why not shoot for the other 100 Mile event that I knew of – Round the Mount, in Tarankai, Solo. And do all of them..…

Only 1 year of doing 100mile events, I told my wife Jane…….no, honestly, only 1 year……no, I didn’t say 1 event….

The Great Naseby Water Race 100mile, 2013. 25 and a bit hours, taking it easy, concentrating on being in one piece for the bigger goal. Of course it’s hard (well it’s a 100 bleedin’ miles for a start, and someone said it was minus 7 overnight) but great fun. And just for a crazy moment when I first heard the noise of the frogs in the water race I thought I was hallucinating again. I had fantastic crew (thank you Jane).

By now training was 3-a-day runs, 3 or 4 times a week – 12/15km in the early morning, 10km at lunch, 20km after work. Easy/steady 30-40km days. Slight niggles now and then. That I could do this I put down to several years of accumulated mileage. The rest days were based on how I felt. Tired? Didn’t run, or cut back. Tired during the run? Bailed. Swimming and biking on occasion. More specific back-to-back longer runs of 4, 5 or 6 hours on varied terrain in the weekends. Some hill training, but I dropped that, rightly or wrongly, to once a week. I’d already done the hill training earlier in the year and I seemed to get more niggles if I pushed hills. I don’t know if this breaking up the mileage approach is better than say dedicated daily 3 hour runs, but it seems to work for me.

Ticking off #3- William crossing the line at Taranaki RTM

Ticking off #3- William crossing the line at Taranaki RTM (and I am pretty sure that is a can Double Brown in his hand)

Taranaki Steelformers Round the Mountain (Solo), 2013. Same, same but different – tarmac, and on what were sometimes very, very busy roads. By the end of this my knees hurt where they hadn’t before and I’m not sure if this was because of the hard road surface. But hurt they did.

I had to cede right-of-way on the verge to a milk/petrol tanker more than once or twice. But that’s ok, the first priority was to stay safe, and it’s all part of the character and all part of a unique range of things to deal with that each race offers. The second priority was to just finish. And it was fairly straight forward for the first 120 or so km. And then that last 30km into New Plymouth, well, that hurt. But some aspects went well also – no blisters! I ended up with 20.25, and if you are me, you have to be very happy with that……and I had fantastic crew (thank you Mark Rhodes and Stuart Lynskey).

All 3 done, in a calendar year. Is it the NZ Grand Slam? I’m claiming it. Just call me “Slammer”. I tested myself for sure but across the training and the events my main takeaway is I just really enjoyed the journey. And at 48, I was lucky (the more I practice, the luckier I get, as they say) with no major injuries. If you are looking for a 100mile run, these are 3 quite different choices that in my mind really enhance the NZ ultra scene. I’m sure you won’t have to go overseas to experience one of the hardest, one of the friendliest, and one of the fastest 100 mile races on offer….and in doing all 3, something pretty special.

Thanks to great, great family Support (The Lovely Jane Hunter) and a mention to Kathryn Pierce (Riccarton Physio), Hans Lutter (Hands On), Bruce Baxter (PodiatryMed) for their valued input in keeping me moving over the years.

*- see definition of “Grand Slam

Big thanks to Simon Clendon for putting William in touch with us!

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  1. Excellent summary, and bloody good effort. They are all completely different events and bring out the best in each of us. It isn’t easy to do 1 x 100 miler, so 3 in one year is quite an achievement. I remember hearing one so called running expert saying once you can only run 1 good marathon a year. WRONG. You can do anything you are mentally tough enough to attempt. As long as you train properly and nothing goes wrong on the day. Gear failures are no fun. Running ultras is 90% mental, and the other 10% is all in your mind. The legend Jim Kerse says ” Sometimes you have to run too far to see how far you can go”

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