High fives as mountain marathon reaches halfway mark

3 Mar, 2015


It’s 25 down and 25 to go! Today’s conquest of Mt Dunstan in Central Otago marks halfway for the Partners Life High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health as marathon charity runner, Mal Law, continues his relentless attempt to complete 50 marathons and climb 50 mountains in 50 days throughout the North and South Islands.

The first 25 days of the Challenge have seen as many ups and downs as there have been mountain peaks for Mal and his support runners. They have been in temperatures ranging from blazing heat to near freezing point, rejoiced in some of the most beautiful bush and mountain landscapes this country has to offer, and Mal has had a rare kiwi from the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef named in his honour. Little Nutter is described as a very active and curious chick!

Hugely disappointing to Mal was a nasty chest infection which kept him in its grip from Day 5 for over a week. And as if that wasn’t enough, on Day 9, he experienced excruciating pain in his left knee, sparking a serious injury which has since caused him to modify his personal goals for the Challenge.

"I'll still cover a hell of a lot of territory and I will do 50 peaks, but there will be more route changes and more shortening of days," he says, determinedly. At first this was a completely heart-breaking idea, but Mal has made peace with it, especially as the darkest moments of the Challenge were yet to come.

The death of Mal’s good friend, pilot Steve Combe, in a helicopter crash near Wanaka came as a terrible shock. Mal and his wife, Sally, were “utterly bereft” by the loss of their loving, funny, kind and generous friend. Steve was a huge supporter of Mal’s efforts on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation and Day 17 of the High Five-0 Challenge (Dragonfly Peak in Mt Aspiring National Park) was to have been his day as team leader. Instead that day was dedicated to Steve, and a few days later Mal and Sally drove from Te Anau to Wanaka to attend Steve’s funeral service. Still determined to climb his 50 peaks in 50 days, Mal left the service and headed straight up to the top of one of his favourite local hills: Mt Iron, while the team further south completed that day’s marathon.

Mal, whose knee is improving daily, is now running in memory of Steve, as well as that of his brother-in- law Max, who took his own life some years ago. One of the missions of the Partners Life High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health is to spread the word about the Five Ways to Wellbeing. For Mal, who continues to get through each day of the Challenge having to cope with the loss of his close friend, the Five Ways to Wellbeing offer a good prescription for dealing with grief.

"Grief is a very particular area of mental health. We all go through it. It's not a mental illness but it's a mental challenge. I'm picking a lot of the principles applied to how you deal with and avoid depression and I'm applying them to grief," he says.

“Mal is a real superhero,” says Judi Clements, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation. “He has put his own needs aside through a very testing time of physical and mental adversity. He has instead managed to keep his focus on why he is doing this challenge, and through his courage, authenticity and openness about his own feelings, he continues to be a great ambassador for mental health and we wish him well for the next half of the Challenge.”

To date Mal and his team have raised over $360 000 for the Mental Health Foundation and are on track to reach their goal of $400 000 before the Challenge ends on Saturday 28 March at the DUAL marathon on Auckland’s Rangitoto Island. In the spirit of optimism that has got him this far, Mal is now musing about raising the stakes to half a million dollars. Watch this space!