Jo Johansen Hillary Ultra Report

Jo Johansen gives us her race report from race 2 in the Australia/New Zealand Sky Running Series- The Hillary Ultra.

hillary Header-Banner-1000X2304Its not just the toughness factor and the out of this world scenery of Waterfalls, massive sand dunes, clifftops and hundreds of years old native Kauri forest that keeps me coming back to the Hilliary, it is also now part of the Oceania Skyrunning series. I had alot more fear and anxiety going into the Hilliary this time as my performance at TuM left me seriously doubting my abilities as a runner. Under new Guidance and help I was nervous but had trust in my training and was looking forward to seeing how the race pans out.

We start at the Arataki visitor center where Sarah Hilliary handed Shaun a very special meaningful scarf from Tibet associated with her father, the late Sir Ed.

The countdown starts and we head off on the trail named in honour of Sir Edmund Hilliary-what a legend. We start off comfortably in the dark its very muggy and murky and the sweat is dripping in the first 5kms, I just knew from here that this is going to be a hot day. The trail starts out very technical from go with lots and lots of tree roots, twists and turns, steep ups and downs- I love this type of technical running through native bush. At this point dark is turning into light, I meet up with Fiona and soon enough Beth and an Aussie guy who is doing his second ultra and coached by Brendan Davies.. We have a good banter about races and the trail for a wee while till we pull away from each other. I follow Beth and not long after that I take my first fall when heading into a dip jumping on a log to slip right off smashing my knee into another log losing all grip, hats, headlamps and all. With the knee throbbing I keep my speed to catch up with Beth and within a couple of kms of running downhill fast I completely lose control on the trail and go right off course into scrub and bush. I find this more hilarious then hurting. Coming out the bush I roll my ankles twice. In total for the day I counted 10 times I rolled my ankles- the next event they will be strapped!

Coming into Huia I was already limping but felt strong and happy. I grab a whole lot of gingernuts, a banana, water and head off. Here was the first big climb of the day – less then 2k up to the ridgeline, with just over 400m ascent. Basically when you leave each aid station on The Hilliary trail you always climb up. At this stage leaving Huia, Beth was just in front of me, as we start this steep climb, which we hike fast. Getting up onto the ridgeline it flattens out to some short fast running and then after some big undulations we top out, the cloud has lifted away and we are on clifftops, with views of the harbor and Whatipu Valley. This is probably my favorite part of the course and I am filled with excitement with being in such a wild environment.



Running on the edge of a sharp clifftop in between native bush with waves crashing below, only you and nature. This was only the time I forgot I was in a race. It was a steep descend into Whatipu aid station. Out of water I was quick to hydrate and for the first time ever I use the sports electrolyte drink supplied by R-line ,which I actually really liked and went down well. I was also going with eating alot more real food then usual, taking my time at aid stations looking at what I actually felt like instead of speeding through. It was a day of hot cross buns, tonnes of gingernuts, bananas, snacklogs,snickners bars and a few gels. Seems alot and when I look back and at times I felt heavy- funny that, so next time I wont over load.

Leaving Whatipu into a 200m vertical climb with weaving technical single track ahead. Throughout the course there are a series of foot baths where you brush your shoes and stamp over a spongey soapy path. This is to stop the spread of the  Kaui dieback disease.We want to keep our native bush thriving and surviving- not dying. Once again the climb flattens and undulates then to a big zig zag steep descent into the marshlands. It was a relief to cross through a high stream cooling off the legs and face. I made the most out of each stream crossing as I ran out of water all day long . Moving round the broadwalks you climb up a valley that drops into Kara Kare. Starting to feel the pain here and knowing the suffering is about to start, I am not really worried bout catching Beth or Fiona catching me, I focus more on being able to see my brother at Piha which will be delightful and just what I need.

Jo refueling at Piha.

Jo refueling at Piha.


The heat of the day was in full force, but at least the further into the course, the less technical the trail gets. getting to closer to Piha I started to see more people out and about and the track was much more easier. Running along the tarmac road was not as bad as I thought, but cars, people, a big sun beating down and each step hurting, I was hating the arrival into Piha, that was until Is seen my brother standing there. The guys and girls on the aid station here are fantastic and are onto your needs before you even need to think about it. Knowing my brother will see me at each aid station from here until end reassures me. From here you head along the very busy beach for a km or two and it is hard to pinpoint where to pull off the beach,but thankfully a could see one runner 400ms ahead.

Knowing its only 34ks to go I am slightly uplifted and  focus in on get the job done. Another 200m climb- we head up onto farmland and in the open from now on with wide clay tracks that are a nice change and easier to run. Passing by waterfalls  (which I nearly jumping in) you then come to the walls of the Bethells sand dunes, first thing I think of is great hill repeat training here. You follow the stream below then pop out onto a road at Bethells beach. I’m pretty full from food here and feeling a bit over it, suffering with heat and hurt As I load the coke in a see Fiona arrive! Biggest fright I ever got and I forget about standing around and take off. For the first time I feel a burst of energy-  all the pain has gone and I am fighting for my position. It must be adrenaline, I just dig it in and say to myself that I am gonna push it like never before. I kept thinking I had been wasting my time feeling sorry for myself suffering mid way through the course.

Hillary top3 girls

The Hillary top 3 girls- Beth, Jo and Fiona.


The Last 16k is not far but there are other runners from the 16k & 34k distance on the course. Feeling the pressure I wanted none in the way and being on the narrow Te Henga walkway in the open sun was very challenging. Looking over my shoulder constantly I could see that I had pulled away from Fiona but I maintained my focus right till the end. Running out of water coming into Constable St aid station I abuse my brother for water. In a panic I drink lots of coke and go, the last 7 kms go quickly which is a surprise as I usually find the last kms take forever. Last 2kms come and I am absolutely busting to pee, but I definitely not stopping!. I am stoked to finish without any major problems, having a great day running and new experiences. Thank you so much Shaun for putting on another great, well organised event.Thanks to all the volunteers, supporters and my brother Joseph.Cant do it without these peeps- Ultimate Direction (Jenny Vesta and AK trucker for sun protection) , Hoka One One NZ (Kailua) and Marmot NZ.

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