With only three days left before he begins his biggest ever feat of endurance, the Partners Life High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health, ultra-distance trail runner Mal Law is experiencing fear and excitement in about equal measure.
“I’m just champing at the bit now, after all the planning, scheming, dreaming and organising it’ll be great to start putting one foot in front of the other,” he says.
Starting on Saturday, February 7 at Tarawera in the Bay of Plenty, Mal will run a mountain marathon a day for 50 days, taking him to some of the most remote wilderness areas throughout the North and South Islands. Each day’s trail will incorporate at least one significant peak.
Mal reckons he’ll be traversing over 2,200km of rugged terrain including more than 101,000m of climbing. That’s the equivalent of 530 ascents of the Auckland Sky Tower, 27 Aoraki/Mt Cooks or almost 12 Mt Everests! It’s a massive feat of endurance that has never been previously attempted, though former businessman Mal has other ‘firsts’ to his name including having run New Zealand’s Seven Great Walks in seven days, and England’s South West Coast Path (1014 km) in a record 17 days.
This ordinary Kiwi bloke who doesn’t even rate himself as much of a runner has managed to persuade a huge tribe of fellow running enthusiasts, sponsors and volunteers from many parts of the country to join him for this unique event. And true to his strong belief that “ordinary people are capable of extraordinary deeds”, Mal’s already exceeded his initial goal of raising $250 000 for the Mental Health Foundation and has now upped the stakes to $400 000 by the time the Challenge ends on Saturday 28 March on Auckland’s Rangitoto Island.
Mental health is a cause close to Mal’s heart. Some years ago he lost his brother-in-law to suicide, and has experience of depression. He is keenly aware of the link between physical exercise and goal-setting for his own mental health, and believes that the Challenge will not only help people to gain a better understanding of how to manage their mental wellbeing, but could potentially save lives by encouraging people to seek help.
Mental Health Foundation Chief Executive Judi Clements says Mal is a great ambassador for mental health who gives generously of his own time, and is also hugely supportive of others.
“While not everyone wants or is able to test their limits in the way Mal does, he’s inspiring people throughout New Zealand to be more conscious of their mental health as well as their physical wellbeing and helping to reduce some of the stigma and discrimination that can surround mental illness,” she says.
“The Mental Health Foundation is enormously appreciative of this sensational fundraising effort. It will give a huge boost to the work we do to create a society where everyone can experience positive mental health and wellbeing. And we’ll look forward to celebrating with Mal on Day 50!”
After two years of training, truckloads of logistics and heaps of support from fellow runners, not to mention his ever-supportive wife Sally and son Beinn, Mal plans to throw everything he’s got at the Partners Life High Five-0 Challenge.
“Regardless of the weather or how tired and broken I’m feeling or of the inevitable pain and discomfort, I will not quit unless I really have no other option,” he vows. “And even then I won’t guarantee it,” he quips. “Having a cause I’m passionate about provides me with massive amounts of motivation to keep going when things get tough.”