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From Notown to the World

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From Notown to the World

By Steve Bushby on 9th September 2018 Runner Profiles

From Notown to the World

Ben atop Mt Davy, Paparoa National Park, looking down on his home in Notown, which can be seen on the grassy river flat to the left of the photo

This week, Ben Williams packed his bags in Notown at the foot of The Paparoa National Park on New Zealand’s West Coast. He’s heading for the World Mountain Running Championships in Andorra, the small mountainous principality in the Pyrenees mountain range on the border of Spain and France. It’s a big step in the running journey of this quietly spoken 17-year-old West Coaster who has never raced outside of the South Island. Not that any of that appears to faze him in the slightest.

Ben earnt his opportunity to pull on the black singlet at the national mountain running championships held in Cardrona earlier in the year. The eight km course suited his strength ­– to run hard on unrelenting climbs. “It was the perfect race for me. Everything went well and I was fortunate enough to win my category, so yeah, it was good, aye.” He’s a typical Coaster: hardworking and understated. In the race, Ben bettered the next fastest under 20 runner by 10 minutes.

Ben credits rugby league with getting him into running. “The other guys were getting big, so I needed to get quick. I started off slowly, running one kilometre a day and things went from there.” His training has stepped up and he’s moved on from league. In the past three years he’s competed in iconic local events including The Old Ghost Ultra (86km) and the Coast to Coast run leg (31km). In his second year of the Coast to Coast (in 2017) he missed out on registering that year’s fastest time on the mountain run by a single second. “I could have made the time if I crossed the river in the shallower section, I got a bit keen and nearly went swimming.”

It’s the local climbs on The Coast that have Ben feeling prepared for Andorra. “99 per cent of my running has always involved hills. I’m working on longer, bigger hills and running them faster. There are plenty of good mountains on my doorstep here – Mt Davy, Croesus, Mt Watson, as well as some of the peaks around Arthur’s Pass. I’ve used them to try replicate elements of Andorra.”


Ben Williams trains on Avalanche Peak, Arthur’s Pass National Park

This man of the mountains is not easily deterred, highlighted when he casually mentions that he has “never missed a run because of bad weather.” An impressive feat when you consider the wild and untamed nature of the West Coast high country!

In his final year of high school, Ben has balanced study with training and raising funds for the trip. “It has been full on. The local community have been fantastic with their encouragement and support. They have been incredibly generous with their contributions.” The Coast is known as a close-knit community and in rallying behind Ben, set up a Givealittle donation page. “I wouldn’t be going to Andorra without that support.”

Ben has not had to look too far for inspiration in a region that punches well above its weight in the trail running scene. “It was awesome seeing Mel [Aitken] get her debut representing New Zealand earlier this year and perform really well. Ruth [Croft] reached out to me when she came back to The Coast for a couple of weeks and she invited me on a run with her. I was nervous about whether I would be able to keep up, but it was brilliant. I did a couple of runs with her. We ran over Point Elizabeth Track and up from Blackball onto the start of the new Paparoa Track. She gave me so many useful pieces of information and tips. We also talked about her races over in Europe which really got me interested in racing overseas.”

It is evident that it is his love of mountains rather than the fanfare of the race that has Ben filled with anticipation, “The European mountains are different to what we have here. Over there you start at 1,000m and the mountains go up from there, vast large climbs. I’ve been reading up on Andorra. It is a very small country but has 72 recognised peaks. I can’t wait to test myself in this new terrain”.

Ben is the only under-20 representative in the nine-person New Zealand team who will compete at the World Mountain Running Championships in Canillo, Andorra, on the 16th of September 2018, 

Follow Ben’s progress at “Ben Williams Trail Running” on Facebook or on Instagram at benwilliams.nz.

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