Eight students from Whangarei Boys' and Girls' High schools have won the gruelling Genesis Energy Hillary Challenge, which sees 12 top schools from around the country endure five days of extreme outdoor pursuits.
WBHS' Callum Harris coaches the team with Olivia McLeod from WGHS. He said students trained 20 hours a week in the lead-up to the event, culminating in a 30-hour training week at Tongariro National Park, the location which played host a week later.
"All the parents came down," Mr Harris said. "I've had to brief them that they [the competitors] are probably going to be bleeding, vomiting and crying when they come in, that's exactly what happens. There's boys with tampons up their noses to stop bleeding."
The event, which finished on Friday, is 15 years old and WBHS won the first year, but since then the Whangarei schools have been consistently just shy of the mark, often to arch rivals at New Plymouth Girls' and Boys'.
Teams were scored on their speed, skill and endurance during the series of challenges, which included a two-day 70km wilderness expedition through dense bush and a 50km multisport sprint on the final day.
During the two-day wilderness portion competitors carry up to 20kg of gear each.
Preparation for the event was so intense that it was the top teams' sole sport. Training included mountain biking, general fitness, rope skills, first aid and navigation for up to 20 hours during the school term.
Mr Harris said superior team work and respect for one another was what made the Whangarei team stand out.
"They train for 30 hours a week, sleep in the same rooms, they eat together, they know each other really really well ... They all really look after each other through extreme highs and extreme lows."
Most of the Whangarei team had worked towards the victory their whole time at school, he said. About 160 students do adventure racing across the two schools.