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You’d have to be crazy, right?

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How about running 50 off-road marathons cross country in 50 days and scaling a named peak each day. How about at the end of it all, apart from the thousands of kilometres you’ll have run, you’ll have climbed a total of more than 100,000 feet or the equivalent of 12 times up Everest?

Along the way they’ll have knocked off some of our highest peaks including Mounts Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe and Taranaki/ Egmont in the North Island and about 20 in the South. You’d have to be crazy, right?

Well maybe Mal Law is crazy because that’s what he has been doing around New Zealand for the last six weeks with support from our own Simon Wickham (CEO of The Trusts) and many, many, other ordinary Kiwis who picked up the challenge to fundraise for people who are very definitely not crazy but who need the support of the Mental Health Foundation.

Mal Law’s High 50 Challenge began on 7 February and each day he will have run a marathon with a side trip up the most challenging peak in the area every day for 50 days. Supporters who have signed up for one or more of the daily challenges, will have run at least one marathon and one peak with some support runners opting to do multiple days of the High Five-0 Challenge.

Simon signed up for Day One, on the Tarawera Ultramarathon course, which included the extra challenge of Mal detouring off course to claim Rangitoto Peak, his first peak of 50. Simon is a bit crazy like Mal, both of them believing that if you know you can do it there’s no point in even being there. In Simon’s case not only was this was to be his first marathon, it was to be a cross-country marathon that would end 40 kms later at Lake Okataina.

While he was never going to be on the winner’s podium, when he puts his mind to something, he stays focussed and for Simon, this was more about supporting the fundraising cause. And in this respect he is leading the field. He had committed himself to raising $10,000 towards Mal’s target of $100,000 for the Mental Health Foundation. By the time the gun went off in the shade of Rotorua’s Redwood Forest, at 6am on Day 1, the total was standing at over the $300,000 mark and still counting. Simon was top of the fundraiser leader-board, having already raised more than $23,000 and still going.

As Mal says and Simon agrees wholeheartedly, what makes the challenge worthwhile is the real difference that they can make to the lives of people less fortunate than themselves.

Mal Law is a Scot who grew up in the highlands and almost from the time he could run he was running in the highlands and “bagging” peaks. His passion for long-distance trail running started when he came to New Zealand and later thought up the idea of running New Zealand’s 7 mainland Great Walks in 7 days (7in7), in 2009. It had never been done before and it proved to be a life-changing experience.

Since then he’s run many thousands of cross-country kilometres, completed a second 7in7 Challenge, climbed ‘Everest in a Day’ and run the entirety of the 1,014km South West Coast Path in the UK in a record time of 17 days. All of which was a mere appetiser for the High 50 Challenge, certainly one of the most audacious endurance feats undertaken on New Zealand soil.

It remains to be seen if Mal will run his 50 marathons and “bag” his 50 peaks, but Simon has conquered his own personal challenge on the track and is still furiously fundraising off it. The 7 hour run took a lot of determination to finish. When the going got tough, Simon had a little mantra he drew on – I asked myself, “What would Mal do?” Simon said afterwards. Then added with a chuckle, “he’d keep running that’s what Mal would do. So I kept running”. “As the slogan for the High 50 support runners says, the challenge is 90% mental and the rest’s in your head.”

Having started out in August with a modest 6k run (“and I walked a couple of times”) Simon built up his training steadily over the next six months but even so, his longest training run had been 32kms and the terrain for that was nothing like as challenging.

But for all the physical challenge, it was the cause that first captured Simon’s interest. He was talking to Mal about fundraising ideas, and Mal took the opportunity to make Simon aware of the high incidence of mental illness and his own personal reasons for taking on the challenge.

The Mental Health Foundation estimates that at least one in five New Zealanders suffers some form of mental illness to some degree every year. The number may be far higher because many people won’t speak out for fear of ridicule or just from fear. People who have it aren’t crazy. They have an illness. Anybody can get it. Almost everyone can be helped if they speak out and seek help from the Mental Health Foundation and others. When they do, almost all discover to their great surprise, that they’re not alone.

Simon was astonished to discover how many people he knew had suffered some form of mental illness and the challenge had provided a vehicle for them to speak more openly about it.

“So in the end, it is really great to have raised a meaningful amount of money to help the Mental Health Foundation carry on its great work. What will be even better is if we have raised awareness that vulnerability is all round us, it’s probably in all of us. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and the more people who understand that, the better off we’ll be as a community,” he said.

For more information on the High 50 or to donate to the cause, visit http://www.fundraiseonline.co.nz/simonwickham/