The Hillary Ultra- Chris Morrissy Report

Chris Morrissy shares his 2nd place finish at The Hillary 80km Ultra-

At Tarawera I had decided to run my own race, ignore everyone else. Pretty much jog for 60km then hopefully begin to push a bit harder over the final 40km. Didn’t quite work. It was more a case of 60km jog, 30km slower jog and then 10km pushing hard. However at The Hillary my plan was to try and keep in touch with the leaders while aiming for under 9 hours. In my head the guys pushing at the front would be offshore kiwi Scott Hawker fresh from a win at the Ultra Easy 100km six weeks earlier, Andrius  Ramonas fresh from a bunch of NZ trail victories in the last few months and who also passed me at the 85km mark at Tarawera and the not so fresh but tough as nuts Ironman Sam Clark who had the misfortune of having to ride an extra 77km at Ironman Taupo 7 days earlier to get his finishers medal.

The alarm on my phone went off just before 3am. Sleepily I lied back down waiting for my alarm on my watch to go off. Shortly after I got up anyway and went to cancel them before they went off. It was already 3:10am. They should have already gone off.  Opps!  Set on pm not am. That would have been a disaster.

A quick bite, a nice hot shower at the Muriwai motor camp and then a 3 minute walk to the race finish where the bus would pick us up and take us to the start. What could be easier? It also meant I didn’t have to navigate my way through Auckland at night.

With Cyclone Pam bearing down on the country I was a bit surprized to find the gear requirements had been relaxed a little. No jacket, no hat and no gloves.  I quite like it when there is more stuff to carry for some reason. It must be the adventure racer in me. However, a quick repack and I was ready to go. A few nice words from Sarah Hillary, (daughter of Sir Edmund Hillary) and we were sent on our way to enjoy 80km of trail heaven that race director Shaun Collins has worked so hard to establish a race on for us. How lucky are we. Thanks Shaun.

hillary start

Sam Clark was the early leader until he made a crucial mistake 3 minutes in by missing the first shoe scrubbing bay. There were 17 shoe baths and scrubbing  bays along the way to restrict the spread of Kauri Dieback. As Sam doubled back I took the lead as we headed into the official Hillary trail following the start loop. The 6 am start meant we were in darkness for the first hour beneath the thick canopy of the Waitakare ranges regional park. After about 40 min I settled in behind Andrius and Scott but slowly began to drop off because my light wasn’t as bright. (that’s what I keep telling myself anyway). While running by myself, my race nearly came to an abrupt end as I jumped across a small muddy creek bed. Watching where my feet were going, I didn’t notice a rather large branch sticking out. The branch skimmed off my collar bone and hit my trapezius from the front, just missing my neck. One step backwards while grabbing the guilty branch for balance, I said “ouch” and few other things before continuing on my way. The lights of Andrius and Scott slowly disappeared from view just as the daylight began to make things a little clearer. Coming out onto Huia dam after an hours running, I was 200m behind while a small group behind were about the same distance back. Drinking and eating as much as I could was my main focus for the day. Coming into the Huia aid station my supplies were pretty much empty as planned. I quick top up and I was underway again but with only a small gap to the leaders.

Just out of the  Huia aid station the biggest climb of the day takes us up over 400m. Tagging on behind Scott and Andrius the uphill was comfortable given the early stage of the race. Across the tops we chatted back and forth about races coming up and ….. nah, that’s pretty much it. Just races.  Along the open peaks before the Whatipu aid station I notice Scott admiring the scenery. Relaxing for a bit I did the same, realising it’s a long day and I might as well enjoy it before the time and distance sets in and moving takes all of my focus. Two minutes later, Andrius was off the front and Scott was trailing 20m behind in second. I’d been dropped or my legs didn’t really want to respond. Perhaps both. In hindsight I probably should have stayed in my happy place just cruising along in third instead of tagging on for the uphill.  Drinking and eating.

I refuelled at the aid station with the leaders out of sight. Was that it for me for the day? Was I about to start going backwards? I kept on piling the food and drink in. By now I was craving water. The descent on the Muir track couldn’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, with it came Sam Clark. We chatted for a bit. I told him when I’d last seen the guys up front and they were both pretty talented guys. Sam said something about “even guys with long fuses can blow”. Before I could come up with a witty or rude reply he was out of ear shot.

Crossing the Pararaha stream I took a big drink and filled a bottle. “That’s high quality H20” I thought before chasing Sam up the Buck Taylor track. At the Karekare aid station I was told that the leader was 15 min in front then the other two were only 5 min in front. Something had happened. After  a slightly slower refuel, noticing the aid station table for the first time rather than just my drop bag I headed for the hills banana in hand. I settled into a pretty good rhythm even though it felt slow. I was beginning to find it hard to eat all my drop bag food and drink my fairly high concentrated drink but as I wasn’t really having a great day I figured I should still load up my pack with all my drop bag food because if I didn’t eat it today I could eat it tomorrow climbing Mount Ruapehu with Mal Law in quest to raise $400,000 for mental health in the high50 challenge. I was hoping there would be a lot of walking.

Sam Clark running along the Piha Beach (we didn’t have a photo of Chris!)

Piha Aid Station came and went. With another banana in hand as I hit the beach and headed for the Piha Surf club tower.  As I ran along the beach I was thinking “Where do I turn in? Where are all the markers? Someone should be out here directing us.”  It was about then that I realised I was running on the foot prints in the sand of about 100 runners who had just started the 34km event 10 minutes earlier. As my eyes traced the tracks along the beach I spotted a marshal off in the distance. “That way then” I thought. Off the beach and beginning to climb I met the tail enders of the 34km. That gave me a bit of focus. I knew the more I picked off the faster the next ones would be.  Andrius had come through with a sizeable lead and well clear of the 34km competitors. Sam had come through in second still in front of the 34kers while Scott came through shortly after. Not knowing this at the time but my chasing position through the 34kers after they had spread out possibly helped me focus more so than getting passed by them would have.

By now the sun was scorching hot. I was dipping my hat in every creek I crossed and drank from a few of the better ones. Running through the stream out of Lake Wainamu at the Bethells Beach sand dunes made me want to stop and go for a swim, but I was so close to the end now with only one real hill to go. While stocking up on food and drink at the Bethells aid station I notice a few big bottles of sunscreen. I left a minute later with a really bad paint job.  Two full bottles and pockets packed with surplus food I was beginning to feel quite good. Forgetting the 64km I had just run. I only had 16 to go. That’s not far. I focused on runner after runner. Nearing the top of the last “real hill” of the day I saw a group of about 6 trampers ahead of me. As I approached I noticed one of them was the familiar figure of Scott, not looking very spritely.  I asked a fairly stupid question like “Scott, how’s it going?” when I obviously knew the answer. I then asked him if he had any food because I had heaps. He explained that food wasn’t the issue.  He was having hamstring problems. He then told me that Sam was only 12 minutes in front. From having an average day, to feeling good, to feeling like bridging a 12 minute gap in the last 90min happened in about 60 seconds. I took off after Sam. With about 2km to go on the Te Henga walkway  I spotted him across a small gully. At about the same time he spotted me. I stuffed some food down followed by a drink thinking that I wanted to be fuelled up in case I have a race on my hands. As I approached I realised Sam was in a bit of difficulty cramping up pretty badly and just generally not enjoying himself. I gave him an electrolyte tablet but he was out of water. I was pretty low at that stage too so wasn’t much help. I explained that the next aid station was less than 3km away but I don’t think that helped either. Any other day I’m sure Sam would have run away from me. I’m also sure that he’ll come back stronger, wiser and more determined next year.

The Hillary 80km top 3- Scott, Andrius and Chris.

I hit the Constable road aid station in about  8hours 20, giving me about  4 minutes to bridge the 5km gap to Andrius out in front. Breaking last years record by over 14 minutes and oblivious to the carnage that was going on behind him, Andrius crossed the line in 8:23:59. I crossed in 8:55:31 for second while the positions continued to change behind me. Scott came through for third and Sam came home in fourth.

The finish line. What a place. A big aid station, ice creams, hot food, ice baths, tents and chairs. Amazing. It’s the small things at big races that make the races a success and The Hillary had it all. Big thanks again to Shaun, his crew and the huge number of volunteers out on the course for making our day the easiest a technical hilly 80km race can be.


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