The Great PukeokaHu Man v Horse

This was simply the most amazing event I’ve ever had the privilege of entering. Will I give it another try? Absolutely!!!


I’m still not really sure how to describe this race; but there were some clear themes that came through before, including and after.


The event was to raise money for the Pukeokah Hall and School. Talk about a huge and unique way of raising funds! They don’t do things by halves in Pukeokahu. They have a tiny school of just 11 students. This is a remote part of New Zealand and without this little school children would have to travel great distances twice a day. The community is right behind the school and the hall and it showed loud and clear. There were pre and post-race dinners. The kitchen was full of women cooking, dishing up food and cleaning up – all in the highland uniform of gum boots, jeans and bush tops. I doubt that anyone in the district was at home, they were all there helping and putting in their bit for the big event. Outside men, women and young people were buzzing around working hard to ensure that the event was successful. They all looked happy!


There we are at race start, at the back in orange (this photo is stolen from facebook)


The organisers and their huge team of volunteers marked the course with fence pegs, pink arrows and red dots for the gates to go through (it took a whole day; markers were every 100m – that’s a lot of marking!). I have been on many courses but never have I seen a course so well marked AND this was a 40km course in remote mountainous, hilly terrain. Once on the course I wasn’t worried about getting lost at all.


It has snowed the week before and the course had been partially covered. This melted. Then it full-on poured the night before. I heard it at about 4am. My heart sank. But the rain cleared by 10am which was great, but this meant the course was sodden, slippery and muddy.

The horses started 15 minutes after the runners. It took over 30 minutes for them to start passing me.


How do you describe the hills? Relentless. Constant. Steeper than steep. How do you describe the descents? Huge! Slippery. Muddy. No flats anywhere! Gates to open and close, markers to find. After a while the frustration at constantly slipping became more a mental game than a physical one. No, I won’t sit here in the mud and cry, I will keep plodding-sliding-plodding on. From time to time there would be a brief lull from the mud and it felt like heaven! Oh the joy of grassy banks. At one point I’m pretty sure I heard a stag roar!

Look for an orange dot - that's Pauly
Look for an orange dot – that’s Pauly

20150418_115458 20150418_103930  20150418_103126


I lent my GPS to Pauly because he was doing the full and I was only doing the first 16kms (his is being repaired). Honestly I missed my darling Polar RC3 GPS so much. I had no idea how far I’d run. There were drink stops every 4kms ish – but that got hard to keep track of. The course almost became maze-like and I felt trapped. But with a big deep breath in, I’d look for the next marker, say Girl Power (thanks Shaz) and keep on going.


I got to run the first leg of the relay. 16kms. It was decided that I was the more experienced runner so therefore I’d run what was determined to be the hardest leg. Ben ran the middle 10kms (about 1:20:00) and Alex ran the finishing 14kms (about 2:00:00). Strapping young men in their 20s. Ben and Alex soon discovered that even though their legs were a little shorter, they were just as tough and slippery! All up Paul ran 41.92kms so the relay leg distances are a bit sketchy (Paul thinks my leg was more like 17kms). I took 2:46:00 to run the first leg. I just couldn’t run down the hills as I had anticipated. Ben and Alex would have to be the most gracious team members, they were so ok about me being so slow. They made up a huge amount of time and The Internationals finished in 6:05:00. The team consisted or an Aussie, a Brit and a Kiwi.

Ben coming through the middle section of the figure of eight course
Ben coming through the middle section of the figure of eight course
Alex sprinting to the finish line
Alex sprinting to the finish line

Another world

This would have to be the most beautiful place to run a muddy endurance event. Despite the tough conditions never once did I feel worried about getting lost or that help was too far away if I should need it. It would have to be the best organised event I’ve ever participated in. This meant that even with the constant concentration of just putting one foot in front of the other that my mind could go to another world because of feeling safe and the awe inspiring scenery. It was like running on the very roof of the world. At one point I was so high up I could look down at the hilly terrain all around me as far as the eye could see.


Will I do it again?

Absolutely! I would love to do it again. Next time I’d like to run the first 20km loop on my own with a view to trying to get to the second relay change over point (about the 28km mark). I don’t think I could finish it in the current cut-off time. Even Pauly wants to have a re-match. I shall tell you about his run next post and it wasn’t the best!

I forgot to get a muddy finishing photo - this is all I have
I forgot to get a muddy finishing photo – this is all I have

Been there done that got the tee shirt

The Internationals
The Internationals

How’s this for the most awesome race tee shirt??? The volunteers even put each entrant’s time on and they were handed out at the presentation. The participants who had made the tough call to pull out were cheered and clapped and given a tee shirt too – it was all about participating and doing your best. This just reinforced the inclusive nature of this strong rural community.

What do I take away from the event?

  • Community is strong in Pukeokahu. The rest of the world could learn much from the way they all pulled together to make this huge event happen.
  • That endurance is just as much about mental toughness as it is physical (not a new lesson but a reinforcement in big ways).
  • That I love my GPS and running naked is just not what I want to do.
  • That tough runs don’t last but the joy and happiness of finishing lasts forever!

I recommend this event to anyone who wants to try something completely different. It wasn’t a road race, it wasn’t a trail run, it was described as an Adventure Race. It sure was adventurous!

Come to a small highland community and learn what it means to endure with the most fabulous community support.

Horses had three vet checks - if they didn't pass they were pulled from the race - they all passed.
Horses had three vet checks – if they didn’t pass they were pulled from the race – they all passed.

Results – official results aren’t out as yet so these are from memory on the day

  • Winner: A horse and rider, 4:02:00
  • Fastest Male Runner: 4:30:00
  • Fastest Female: just over 5:00:00
  • Fastest Team: just behind the fastest male runner, about 4:35:00
  • The International Team: 6:05:00
  • Pauly: 7:31:00!!!! Can you believe that? More on this next post.

Happy running 🙂

22 thoughts on “The Great PukeokaHu Man v Horse

  1. Wow that looks like a tough course! It sounds like you had a terrific time though! I can see that it would be tough for the horses too (especially in the mud). It won’t be long until a runner wins! Well done ! Juliex

    1. Thanks Julie 🙂 At times the riders had to walk alongside their horses. It was tough for everyone. We were told that over long distances humans can outrun horses. I’m not sure where the mud factors in though.

  2. When I saw this post in my reader, I couldn’t wait to read it! How wonderful! It all looks so beautiful! What an endurance race. And thank you for describing the community so well – how nice to have a race that benefits children. Such a great post!

  3. Great write up! I was running with one of the teams as well (last leg). Loved this event and definitely keen to go back next year (maybe for the full if I get good enough at hills to have a chance at making it in the cut off time)

    1. Thanks Els 🙂 it was difficult to write this post and do the event justice. I’m glad you feel it was ok! I sat on a few drafts. We are hoping to get back next year so if you are there too please say Hi x

  4. Hello! …my husband Bruce and I Heather, were the Tail End Charlie’s on the second loop…we have the greatest admiration for Pauli…for continuing and finishing the Marathon…it was quite fitting that he and the horse( rider Kelly) came in together. And it was such a thrill to see you waiting at the top of the last hill, and such a wonderful ‘finale’ to your husbands epic effort,and also your own huge effort! Our house was just above where you were waiting, and most of the 2 nd loop was on our farm. I ride nearly everyday,and do some walking but what you people did was quite astounding…the track up Puke. hill alone is quite a feat even for a horse. We are pleased that you loved our part of NZ as much as we do, but mostly we appreciate your kind words and thoughts on our event.

    1. Hello Heather 🙂 THANK YOU so much for all the hard work you did for the event. We won’t forget your warm welcome on the Friday or your patient and kind support of Paul as he finished the event. It was just so wonderful to see you all come up the hill and fabulous that a runner and a horse and rider would cross the line together. Honestly it was the most magic of events and day that will be retold by Paul and I for a long long time. We had such an amazing experience despite how tough it as. You sure live in the most beautiful of places. I’m glad my writing was ok, it’s always tricky to do things justice.

  5. I know there are a lot of hills in all those photos – but they look absolutely beautiful! Sometimes a very scenic course helps you get through tough sections, although it seems like this was a super-tough course and in not-so-easy conditions! Well done on getting through it, and demanding a rematch! 🙂

    1. Thanks Cecilia 🙂 you are so right, it was truly the most beautiful place to be challenged by super hills/mountains. It was like a reward for trying something a bit out there in toughness 🙂 I’m glad my snaps captured just a bit of the beauty.

  6. The mental and physical toughness of runners never ceases to amaze me. It sounds like a very tough event, but at the same time…something I may want to do some day! Lol. I also loved the sense of community you described (both participants and locals) – that’s what it’s all about. Just great. 🙂

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