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In the seven weeks between February 7 and March 28, 2015, 54-year-old Malcolm Law ran about 1,050 miles and 275,000 feet of vertical gain. In the process, he tagged 50 high peaks in his home country of New Zealand, and raised $514,000 dollars for a mental-health foundation.
That ambitious project is the subject of a new feature-length film, Fifty: The Movie. (The full film was released on Vimeo On Demand over the weekend, and will also show at film festivals throughout the year.)
A trailer for Fifty: The Movie
This wasn’t the first big trail-running venture Law, a self-described “Joe Blow” runner, has done for charity. “I’ve been running trails for some 20 years,” he says, “but only obsessed with long-distance stuff since 2009.” That year, he ran seven of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks—well-known backpacking trails—in seven days, for a total of 230 miles.
“That venture raised $85,000 for charity and set me on the trail to more fund-raising adventure runs,” he says.
Mental health is an especially personal cause for Law. His brother-in-law hanged himself in his garage, where Law found him, as he describes in the film.
“I wanted to do something unequivocally remarkable in order to get attention for the cause of mental health,” Law says. “I guess 50 just sounded like a suitably audacious number.”
This latest run—which Law dubbed the High Five-0 Challenge—was two years in the making. The logistics were nearly as daunting as the physical challenge. Law and his crew traveled around in three RVs and an SUV. The 50 peaks were all over the country, split between the North and South Islands. Law estimates they drove 6,000 miles over the seven weeks.
He averaged 5,500 vertical feet and 20-plus miles per day; his biggest climbing day was 10,000 feet, and the high point of the endeavor was Mount Ruapehu, a 9,250-foot volcano.
“There was a scattering of ‘urban-fringe’ and ‘front-country’ peaks, but most were pretty rugged backcountry peaks requiring travel over rough trail and off-trail scrambling,” he says.
Thirteen days in, Law almost called it quits. He had been battling a chest infection and a knee injury. Then he learned that a close friend had died in a helicopter crash. Days later, the two were supposed to run together.
“I was mentally and physically shattered,” Law says. “But ultimately his passing was also a rallying call, and gave me the much-needed motivation to carry on, as I knew that this is what he would have wanted me to do.”
Things got better in subsequent weeks. The weather cleared up, as did Law’s maladies, and he enjoyed the company of other runners. On March 28, as he approached the finish line after tagging his 50th peak, “a crowd of hundreds” created a human tunnel for him to run through.
Following the run, Law spent much of the year dealing with the resulting fatigue, and only recently has started to feel like he’s back to normal.
That hasn’t stopped him from planning his next big “charity adventure”: a trail run around the 1,060-mile perimeter of Wales.
“It’s only been done once that we know of, in a time of 40 days,” he says. “Our plan is to do it in 25.”