The Heaphy Track ultraMARCH

New Zealand – Aotearoa. The land of the long white cloud and the land of long, epic walks!

Great Walks.

One is the greatest of them all….The Heaphy Track. The longest of the 9 Great Walks of NZ.

And we’re gonna MARCH it – we’re gonna ultraMARCH the Heaphy Track - both ways!

  • Totally unsupported – packing on our back everything we need….
  • 78.4 km (48 miles) one way – we’ll do the double – there and back – smashing out 156.8 km (96 miles)….
  • Normally a 4-6 day tramp one way – we’ll do it in 1 day – and then MARCH back again….
  • 7 huts along the way – we’ll grab a couple of hours kip in the bush at the turnaround….

156.8 km (96 miles) of compelling coastal track on the rugged West Coast of the South Island, described as follows:

“The Heaphy Track combines all of New Zealand’s magical natural beauty into one walk. Travel through expansive tussock downs, lush forests and nīkau palms to the roaring seas of the West Coast. The longest of the 9 Great Walks many people consider the Heaphy Track to be the greatest of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, combining alpine environments and a primeval, palm-fringed coastline.”

(Plenty of rivers and sea views as the track works its way down the rugged West Coast of NZ – photo courtesy of DOC)

You’re welcome to MARCH with us?!?!

We will lead a range of ages and fitness types. Not a race. A personal CHallenge. There is no barrier. People who want to get out. People who want to MARCH. Last year we took 8 ultra newbies and together trained over summer and they all then took on their first ultraMARCH – 3 marathons – in 3 days – and everyone finished! People attended training even if they weren’t doing the ultra! It was that much fun….See here –

To MARCH is to finish – whatever your pace, wherever you place.

(Gorgeous sunsets await – here with the beautiful silhouette of Nikau Palms – photo courtesy of DOC)

Watch our facebook site for updates and progress reports – ‘Like’ us to keep in the loop  –

You can also follow our progress on this blog (for new followers, read from the bottom up).

MARCH on. UltraMARCH onward!!


29 September – Monday MARCHing

We continued to push the time out, building on the plan to increase the time on our feet over September, before hitting the back to back long MARCHes in October. It was also time to add some terrain CHallenges to the mix. We started by running up Botanical Hill at the start of the Maitai Valley to the Centre of NZ, a relatively steep but short run. We then followed the top ridge line of the Malvern Hills above Nelson. A decent undulating off road course to add a little hill work to the session. Stunning sunny views over Tasman Bay proved quite a treat.

We then dropped down through Atawhai on to the waterfront walkway and headed out towards the Boulder Bank.

 (Here you see Lizzie and Vesty at the start of the Boulder Bank. For the first couple of hundred metres it is easy under foot….)

The Boulder Bank is a very unusual spit of boulders 13km long! It’s a thin strip of rocks that creates a tidal inland area called the Haven, separating the inland water from the Tasman Sea. The Cut, which unsurprisingly is a cut in the Bank, is man made and allows access to Nelson Harbour. The Boulder Bank is naturally formed and seems to have resulted from rocks washing off MacKay Bluff, which is the mainland cliff the Bank extends from.

(Lizzie attacking the Boulders)

And my there are a lot of Boulders!

 (Vesty taking on the Boulders too)

A really good workout for ankles and quads. Pushing on through the boulders required a lot of concentration and a fair bit of extra effort. A little like running though sand it takes more energy to push off with each step and certainly requires extreme care. A broken ankle was never far away.

As well as the great work out there were other treats. At about the spot above we all stopped to watch a massive pod of about 30 or 40 Dolphins enjoying a feeding frenzy near the shore. There must have been something very tasty swimming about as they were having a ball of a time splashing around and jumping for joy. What a sight!

(Lizzie and Vesty in silhouette as we leave the Boulder Bank and head back to town with the sun setting behind the Arthur Range)

All in all a great MARCH. A good mix of hills, flats and boulders. 3.5 hours on our feet for just under 21 miles. Stunning weather with a cloudless evening and the welcome company of sea life!


20 September – an ultraMARCHer wins !

Big congrats to Lizzie. After our 3 hour MARCH on Monday she pitched up at the Able Tasman Coastal Classic and smashed it. She won the ladies section of the 36km Trail Run from Awaroa to Marahau along the renowned Abel Tasman National Park and placed 8th overall. Only 2 mins off the course record.

Top MARCH lizzie!

(A front page photo followed by a decent article in the Nelson Weekly celebrating Lizzie’s win!)


15 September – MARCHing longer

We hit our first 3 hour MARCH last night. Lizzie and Camo putting in a good session along the waterfront.

(Here you can see Lizzie striding along Rocks Road)

The plan was to stick to a fairly modest pace 9.5/10 min miles. At this stage it’s about time on your feet. The pace should be easy enough to maintain conversation throughout and fairly constant for the whole 3 hours.

(Lovely to be running with the sunlight fading over the beach. Here you see Lizzie in silhouette with Tahunanui beach in the distance)

We wanted a mix of terrain under foot but for our first 3 hour run we were planning to stick to a fairly flat course.

 (Camo moving smoothly over the sand on Tahunanui beach)

The sand provides some good variation. We headed out round the beach and then on to the golf course. Past the airport and Monaco peninsula to our turnaround point at Richmond.

(Camo heading off in to the distant setting sun)

The last 90 minutes was MARCHed in total darkness. It’s good to train without a head torch. Running naturally, feeling your way in the dark and running freely. It can be challenging over sand dunes and rough terrain but a liberating way to MARCH!

We knocked off just over 30 km (19 miles) for a total time of 3 hours. A great session!


September – setting the plan for the next 3 months

With a couple of months under our belts it was time to fix a general plan. This is how Camo laid out his thoughts on it:

“I’m not a big fan of structured plans. Life is too chaotic for them to work. But a little outline structure is good.
There are 3 things we must achieve before December – the rest is detail – as follows:
1. Time on our feet – we gotta get used to long sessions on our feet. Speed doesn’t matter, just time moving over difficult terrain.
2. Back to back long sessions – we gotta get in some multiple back to back long runs where you are hauling long on tired legs. These sessions are critical.
3. Speed/fartlek sessions – the least important of the 3 but perversely speed sessions are important training for ultras.
Broadly I propose a structure as follows:
  • September – focus on 1 above – getting the length of our runs up. By the end of September our target should be to be running for 4+ hours. 
  • October – focus on combining 1 & 2 above. Start hitting some double sessions. Starting small with say, back to back 2 hour runs, but by the end of October be hitting back to back 4+ hour runs. 
  • November – working in some speed/fartlek sessions, 3 above, and continuing a combination of 1 & 2 above including by way of having a trial long (6+ hours) back to back long session with over night camp where we test kit, food, hydration and everything as per the CHallenge – but treating ourselves to a hut for the overnight.
We can choose terrain that reflects our target CHallenge terrain so build in hills, rocks under foot etc as part of the outline above.”

 Everyone agreed it was the right approach – so lets get ready to ultraMARCH!!


23 August – a MARCH race – the Brooks Sanctuary 25km

It’s always good to slot a few races in to the training programme. A fun variation to training and a good chance to add a little intensity.

Vesty and Camo chose the Brooks Sanctuary 25 km off road race. A challenging MARCH to the top of the highest hill in Nelson. 

(Here you can see Camo pounding his way to the summit on a beautiful Nelson winters day)

For a full write up and more photos you can see our plog here –


July/August – building up the base fitness

July and August provided a good opportunity for the ultraMARCHers to bed in some consistent weekly training, building up a level of base fitness and sampling a few different training techniques.

We mixed things up choosing a range of different paces and terrain.

(Above you can see Vesty pounding out some sunset beach miles)

The aim was to get everyone’s body ‘running fit’ before pushing for high mileage and intense sessions. With time on our side it made sense to ease bodies in to the demands, hoping to avoid injury.

(Scott and Vesty make it look easy on the sand)

That said, we also wanted to test our bodies as we built strength and fitness. We therefore incorporated some steep hilly sessions, some sprint sessions and some fartlek training with mixed terrain (sand, rock and water).

By the end of August everyone was feeling confident. No injuries and broad enthusiasm for the CHallenge!


8 July 2014 – first night of training!

It has begun!

Great first session with Camo, Benji & Vesty! Early days so we are building up slowly.

(Benji & Vesty striding out having crossed the Matai River bridge)

In this first month it will be about getting to know each others fitness levels & starting to build some base fitness.

(Benji & Vesty working their way up Botanical Hill to the centre of NZ – Camo clearly needs to focus on a steady hand!)

To give a taste of the future we sampled a range of different training aspects. After building a solid base there will be blocks of training for each aspect.

(Benji’s comfort break at the top of Sir Stanley Whitehead Park allowed time for a Camo pose as the sun set over Nelson city)

We did a little power walking, on both steep & mild incline, some short tempo sections & some high speed descent.

(A fast moving Vesty with Nelson port, the boulder bank & the start of the Southern Alps in the background)

A nice easy 43 minute session to get the legs moving. Everyone enjoyed their first MARCH. Looking forward to next Tuesday already!


23 June 2014 – more ultraMARCHers join !

Super stoked to welcome Lizzie Wesley-Smith to the Heaphy Track ultraMARCH! Lizzie has some quality running in her legs and she is looking forward to stepping up to a multiday ultra. Big congrats to Lizzie for joining the ultraMARCH!

(Camo puts in some beach training with mini-MARCHer Master Finlay on Tahuna Beach on Saturday – and wishes he had such perfect poise and technique as 4 year old Finlay! Great inspiration to get training for the Heaphy Track ultraMARCH!!)


 12 June 2014 – the beginning

All great ideas start in a pub – and ideally, finish in one too!

And this one was no different!!

On Thursday Camo hosted a small crew of likely chaps and launched the Heaphy Track UltraMARCH ! A couple of beers, a goody bag of MARCH products – naturally including the classic MARCH T – ‘Marathons Ain’t Long Enough’  and the CHallenge was sealed !

And what a great spot! Before craft beers took over NZ there was only one choice outside the big boys – Macs Beer. The Vic Macs Brewbar was the first in the South Island. Based in the historic Victorian Rose building on Trafalgar Street there was no better place to start the banter and press for commitments….

Which takes us back to the CHallenge – Camo was stoked to receive early pledges from two new ultraMARCHers with a lot of interest shown by the others…!

Big shout out to Michael Vesty and Scott Gibbons ! The first to join Camo on the Heaphy Track ultraMARCH !




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