Marathon: Council's track ban mystery to runners

By Peter Thornton

City believes race is threat to kauri, but participants say decision makes no sense

Shaun Collins and Vicki Woolley run the Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Natalie Slade
Shaun Collins and Vicki Woolley run the Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Natalie Slade

Runners say an Auckland City Council decision to prohibit the use of the Hillary Trail in West Auckland for an off-road running event is bizarre and makes no sense.

Lactic Turkey Events organiser Shaun Collins, who has run the Wild Turkey in the west for the past 10 years, spent most of last year trying to establish another trail running event which would have followed the route of the established Hillary Trail and had 75km, 32km and 17km runs.

"There is a section of the Wild Turkey event that has a council-imposed one event per year limit on it," explained Collins.

"We were going to have to replace the Wild Turkey with the Hillary event. However, this new event was declined by the Auckland Council so we are now allowed to have the Wild Turkey again."

Despite the new event having a proposed limit of 130 runners on this section of the Hillary Trail the Wild Turkey is allowed a limit of 300 people on the same section of the Hillary Trail as it is an established event.

The council said its decision was "based on a thorough review of the event application, a kauri dieback impact assessment and expert advice provided by Auckland Council's biosecurity team, and the council's active kauri protection programme, which has closed 17 per cent of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and seeks to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.

"We have concluded that, while the recommended phytosanitary measures would reduce the risk of spreading kauri dieback, council should not be promoting activities of this nature in areas infected with the disease at this time.

"This decision is not a reflection on the standard of Lactic Turkey Events Ltd's application or their reputation for delivering successful and well-managed events."

Collins - a popular member of the off-road running community - is hoping for a big turnout from Auckland runners to send a message to the council.

"It would be great to fill this limit [of 300] to show what a great event 'the Hillary' could be and how well we all manage the risk of spreading kauri dieback, because in general trail runners want to look after the environments we run in."

The return of the Wild Turkey is the silver lining but frustration has come from all over New Zealand on the council's decision.

"When I heard about this I said 'I have to go to support Shaun and stick it to the council'," said Dunedin ultra-marathon runner Matt Bixley.

The statistician is coming to Auckland for his first Wild Turkey marathon and says he is motivated by the council's decision.

"It was all go and then the council said 'no' which was a real shame. This decision is completely bizarre. Shaun has a great record of organising events in a way completely respectful to the environment. I was really disappointed by the decision to not utilise what is a great part of Auckland."

The defending champion of the Wild Turkey run, Chris Morrissey, echoed that sentiment.

"I am not really sure what the difference is between the two events," said the 37-year-old builder.

"Hopefully someone there sees sense and puts through the approval for the Hillary run next year because it just makes no sense why they rejected the proposal."

In the meantime the Wild Turkey remains the best way to experience the ruggedness of the Waitakere Ranges.

To celebrate the unexpected return of the race Collins has introduced an off-road marathon course - two laps of the 21km course which promises to be a tough, tough off-road marathon.

"It is going to be tough mentally," said Morrissey. "To see the finish line for the half and know that you are heading back to do it all again will be hard. It is a tough run."

Morrissey said that the record being 1h 50m for the 21km race showed how demanding the terrain was and he expected anything around four hours for the twice-around run to be competitive.

"It is a pretty unrelenting run and it feels like a long day out there," said Morrissey, who has not trained as much as usual as he has a six-month-old daughter to take care of.

Bixley added: "I am told that it is tough and I am aiming to break five hours. I was supposed to run 160km last week at the Northburn and I had to pull out after 40km.

I don't know how I am going to go but it's all about fun and a new adventure in a great place. And of course it's important to run this and support Shaun in his case."

The event is also offering a shorter, 15km, option which is more suited to those new to trail running.

Starting and finishing in the same place the 15km course includes only one hill, compared to three for the 21km race.

With 11 years of running the event, Collins still gets a kick out of seeing people trying the 15km course one year and then eagerly stepping up to the longer course the next.

Off-road marathon

When: Saturday, April 6.

Where: Waitakere Ranges, West Coast, Auckland.

What: The UltrAspire Wild Turkey Off-Road Marathon, Half Marathon and 15km is an Auckland adventure run in its 11th year. To celebrate the return of this event, organisers have introduced a marathon distance in this trail run which takes in the stunning tracks of the Southern Waitakere Ranges.

Event options: 15km, 21km, 42km trail run.

A complimentary barbecue and prize-giving follows the event.

For more information visit:

- NZ Herald

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