Hunua Hillbilly -Unapologetically Tough

Auckland’s, maybe the North Island’s toughest Ultra? Quite possibly.

Well, finally, overcoming the postponements for distancing 😷 and then pest eradication, race day arrived for the Hunua Hillbilly.

After dosing off at 21:30, I gave up trying to sleep about an hour before my 02:30 alarm. Peanut butter sandwich and long black in the holder I head on down to the start line. I meet Pat, who’d overnighted in a tent by the babbling brook, and Steff who had left home 45mins earlier.

A second coffee and a heartfelt message from Dave on Steve Neary (epic trail runner and all round good guy) in whom the event was in memory of, followed by some quick safety instructions and we’re off out onto the easy 15k warm up.

It’s groomed trails, paddocks and gravel roads. My $5 head torch (normal kit broken) was giving about 50cents of luminosity so I opted to sit behind other runners and use theirs. Pat and I are chatting and Steff catches up, Steff and I are moving ever so slightly faster and pull away a little.

Leaving the first aid station on the second pass, we climb a gravel road and hit the first technical section. Know that it wasn’t the hardest part (from Dave’s video the day before) my strategy shifted from, hold back a little for the last 20ks, to hold back to survive the tough bit.

My quads are burning on the the ups and shaking on the downs. We climb tracks like Pukapuka and Mangatangi with 15% – 25% gradient. I move ahead from Steff. “Auckland central guy” and I climb together for a bit, then “Brit with the tats and I” hit Auckland’s highest point, and drop down to the next aid station.

I get to the Mine road aid station dry and top up my bottles. Heading out we then hit the TK scramble. The orange markers are no longer pointing left and right. They point straight up. We’re literally crawling up tree stumps and roots with our hands. I stop twice on the accent dizzy and heart pounding. There are a few 20 minute plus ks here.

From here there’s some ok ridge lines and I fall in, having caught Gandalf (tall in grey hat) and Mr airPods. Gandalf having passed me with a “op, mr Orange is not liking Mine climb”, as I paused to swallow my heart. He’s now my pacer. I didn’t really want the same comment at every hill so I stick with him and airPods.

My strategy shifts. We run the ridge line together and I’m no longer counting KM, my new plan, try and stick with these two until we have under 400m of climb to go.

I’m mesmerised by Gandalf’s ultra shuffle, I can walk and jump almost faster, but hold back, as we’re still hitting steep sections. Between 42 and 47k, Gandalf took a tumble on the clay and lands on his glute on a hard bit. He recovers, but I lead and pick up the pace to run the downhills.

My quads aren’t coming back to me, but the flatter ridge line bit has stopped them shaking. I get a good run going on the gravel into the 47k aid station, the gravel road ending all too soon.

I fill my bottles and we enter the Wairoa Loop. it’s still around 400m of climbing to the finish according to my watch, but it’s a wide, mostly boardwalk, stairs or gravel loop. So I pick up the pace and bomb 💣 down to the bottom, crossing the swing bridge. I’m gutted there’s nobody around to double bounce.

I’ve saved 2/3 of my water for the climb. We cross a dam, I see there’s nobody behind me. I worry that the others have found a second wind too and that the 20+mins I made on the down gets eaten up on the climb, so get my head down.

Passing the repeater station my watch ticks over 3000 meters, and worryingly over 57k. I can’t remember how far back the last blue ribbon was.

I’ve pulled both of my bottles out and removed the lids trying to get the last drops. Just when I consider turning back for the second time, I spot the red arrow. I grab an electrolyte refill, mash the bottles back in and sinch my pack.

3.8ks of bombing gravel road and some trails and I cross to the sounds of the finishing bells/medals and Dave shouting me in.

It’s done, 60+k, 3200+m, 7.5k calories of brutal fun. 10/10 would recommend, but I’m going to do some hill work before I’m back 😂 🤣.

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