Many of you reading this may relate to others saying “hey, I saw you running the other day…” to which your mind casts back to some point in a run when you were saturated with sweat, mouth gaping, limbs swinging clumsily with fatigue, and praying no one would see you in such a state. Yeah, a lot of my conversations play out this way too.
My name is Zara Fowell and I am 21 years young. Few people know me as a physiotherapy student, most people know me as that girl who is always running. Some say that I’m addicted to running – I prefer to say I’m a running enthusiast. Although I haven’t always been this way. As a youngster I loathed running with a fiery passion that rivals the sun. My Mum, as a successful triathlete, often encouraged me to attend Saturday Harrier club runs to which I begrudgingly consented purely on the incentive that there would be Mallowpuffs for afternoon tea afterwards. Gluttonous child I was. I was deterred from the sport because I felt mediocre and could never fill the running footprints my mother had laid before me. It wasn’t until my late high school years that my running abilities began to flourish (thank you puberty) which boosted my confidence to pursue more sporting endeavours. But it was in university when I started to take up running as my sole sport, mainly because it was the most economical way to keep my student body fit. After deciding to put all my running to good use and tick one off the bucket list, I ran the Auckland Marathon in 3 hours 15 minutes and I haven’t looked back since. I became infected with the bug that compels thousands of distance runners to devote hours of their time pushing themselves to their physical limits, savouring the sensation of their bodies floating over the power of their own two legs, much to the bewilderment of “normal” folks who are immune to the condition. Personally, I am most content when running out in the wop wops where you can run for miles without encountering another soul and discover spectacular views few others get to see. I’m fortunate to come from a beautiful part of the country called Whakatane where trails fitting this description are plentiful and never grow tedious.
A year ago, a like-minded distance runner at university introduced me to the Hillary Trail Challenge, advertising it as a must-do trail run with breath-taking views, which sounded like my cup of tea (if you can call a 34km run over rugged terrain in sweltering heat a cup of tea). Being a Hillary virgin, I was so overwhelmed with the stunning scenery and compassionate supporters that I spent a large part of the race with a goofy grin on my face. And after crossing the finish line as the first female with a new course record to boot, I was in a state of elation – I had just completed the longest run I had ever done, and I didn’t do too badly! But upon reflection I realised I could do even better – imagine how much faster I could if I didn’t stray off the beaten track so many times! So that is what I have set out do: improve on last years’ time and enjoy running the beautiful Hillary trail once again. Many returning participants probably share similar aspirations, but for you first-timers let this be a warning – you are about to embark on a bizarre yearly tradition of returning to the physically arduous event that is the Hillary. I hope you enjoy reading about Rob, Brent and my own experiences in that they entertain and inspire you to conquer your own mountains, whatever they may be. And with this in mind, I’ll leave you with some motivating words from Sir Ed himself – “I will come again and conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow, but as a human, I can”.