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November 2011 Issue
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For a good cause

Malcolm Law’s rest year has given him the chance to line up another epic challenge and start a business venture, writes Michael Jacques

New Zealand’s most prolific trail runner isn’t happy. He’s injured. But rather than the after effects of another epic adventure, the strained hamstring he’s nursing is the result of a paint ball outing with his son. Apparently even the fittest and most adventurous trail runners amongst us are not immune.

And Malcolm Law is nothing if not fit and adventurous. In 2009 the Aucklander became something of a celebrity, even outside trail running circles, when he ran New Zealand’s seven Great Walks in seven days. Along the way he raised $85,000 for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation. Having lost a brother to leukaemia, the awareness and funds raised were the biggest part of Law’s motivation. So much so that a year later he headed off on another 7-in-7 Challenge, this time limiting his travels to the Southern Lakes area, but taking on much tougher and less travelled backcountry trails.

He ran more than 360km that week and all told Law has raised $260,000 for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation, and along the way run most of the country’s premier trails. But where did the original inspiration come from, and after such epic undertakings what does a 51-year-old trail running junkie do for an encore?

“I guess it started with Scottish hill walking really,” shrugs Law when we catch up. “My dad introduced me to that, and I’ve enjoyed being out in the hills ever since. I immigrated to New Zealand when I was 27 and got into tramping and mountain biking, and then multisport in the mid-90s, which is where the trail running came in.”

It was the original 7-In-7 idea, however, that got Law focused exclusively on epic adventurous trail running.

“It all started when I was doing a big solo tramp over the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Ranges,” he explains. “I was reading Ranulph Fiennes’ autobiography and he’d done seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. That concept and the inspiring surroundings I was in got me thinking, and by the end of the tramp it had morphed into running New Zealand’s seven great walks in seven days.”

Law just decided he was going to do it. Although it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

“I went home to tell my wife,” he laughs. “But before I could break the news she presented me with an early birthday present, which was the Dean Karnazes book, 50 Marathons in 50 Days. On the cover she’d stuck a post-it note saying, ‘Don’t get any ideas’, so I had to save my big announcement for a better moment.”

Despite two similar challenges, Law admits pleasant surprise at how unique the two experiences were.

“The first 7-In-7 was logistically very difficult and tiring, because there were long distances between most of the runs. But the second 7-In-7 was definitely harder physically. It was about the same distance but the runs were much tougher and took a lot longer.

“The first one was very rewarding though, because it was something I’d never done and I wasn’t sure I could do it. The second one didn’t have that aspect, but it was even more rewarding in another way because of the people that I met along the way and the friendships we made. The first one was really just me and a close group of mates doing some of it with me. But the second one had more than 120 people involved. It was amazing.”

From an enthusiast’s point of view, Malcolm Law has run more of New Zealand’s trails than most. Asked for a favourite he says without hesitation the Rees-Dart Circuit. “It’s spectacular, it’s tough, it’s not hard to get to. It really is an injustice that it’s not listed as a Great Walk.”

Following such a busy couple of years it’s not surprising he declined to take on another epic trail running challenge in 2011. “The whole 7-In-7 concept was two years out of my life,” he says. “It was hugely rewarding, but I needed a break.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t been busy. As has become his habit, a trip in January has turned into another life-changing challenge. Next June he’s heading home, to the UK, to tackle the 1000km Southwest Coastal Path.

“Earlier this year both my parents died within three weeks of each other, so I was back in the UK for a while. I did a bit of walking and running on the Southwest Coastal Path and started thinking about running the whole thing. Then I met another guy, Tom Bland, who was thinking the same thing. So we’re going to do it.

“It’s over 1000km long and has 35,000m of ascent, so it’s tough. It’s basically days of running up and down endless headlands. When we decided to do it no one had actually run it before, but apparently a 70-year-old dude ran it not long ago in about 30 days. We’re hoping to cut it out in less than 14 days.”

Both men are doing it for their country’s respective mental health foundations. “When Tom said he wanted the run to benefit mental health, I was in instantly,” says Law, revealing that just as leukaemia has touched his family, so has a mental health tragedy.

“I had a brother-in-law commit suicide,” he explains. “I came home from the Head 2 Head multisport race and found him hanging in the rafters of the garage.

“The link between exercise and mental health is very established, so it’s a fitting goal to benefit an important cause.”

With so much time devoted to his passion, somewhere along the way Law decided that the passion had to start paying at least some of its way. A background in marketing has come in handy with sponsorship and maximising monies raised for his charities. Now he’s taken that a step further with a business venture promoting guided trail running tours in much the same way that cycle touring companies operate. To this end Runningwildnz.com will be taking its first tour in February through the best trails to be had across the top of the South Island.

Of course, for someone attuned to epic adventures, a down year is somewhat relative. Thus far his restful 2011 has included Australia’s prestigious Northface 100k trail race, the Tarawera 100k, and then in August he became the first person to run the entire 75k Hillary Trail unsupported.

Law is a big fan of the Hillary Trail, which he managed to cut-out in less than 14 hours and finished surprised at how tough it was.

“Some people say the Northface race is the toughest 100k run in the world, but I reckon the Hillary Trail was tougher,” he says. “It’s only 75k, but it’s monstrous in mid-winter. Just so friggin muddy.”

Assuming the hamstring agrees, Law hopes to take in the new ultra distance option in November’s Kauri Run, which will be 70k from Fletcher Bay at the top of Coromandel Peninsula down to Coromandel Township. Then, just a couple of weeks later he’ll be down South again to revisit the famous Kepler Challenge.

“I’m really looking forward to Kepler,” he grins. “It will be a bit of a novelty running it without 300k already in my legs.”

– Michael Jacques

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