I started running when I was 36 years old. Not because I wanted to run, but because something I wanted to do meant I had to start running. I wanted to join the Army Reserves (back then known as the Territorials) and I was expected to pass a Required Fitness Level (RFL) test. 2.4 kilometres in under 12 minutes 20 seconds to be considered for enlistment. So I started training for short and fast running. It was hard and it hurt and before each run I told myself it’s only less than 15 minutes of my life and not to make it out to be more difficult than it really is. But the truth was, it was difficult and during the actual running, I spent the whole time forcing myself into not stopping and to keep going till the end. This became my approach to all my future running. I do not stop until I get to the finish of the planned distance for that day. Sometimes that distance is the same as the day before and if I am training for an event, I extend that distance with each run, but I do not stop. It wasn’t long before I was shaving time off with each RFL test. 12 years later they are still hard and they still hurt but now I’m telling myself it’s only less than 12 minutes of my life!
I progressed from 2.4 kilometres about five years later when my daughter and I applied to do a Leaps and Bounds Outward Bound course. A shared adventure for a parent/caregiver and their teenager, designed to be mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging. We had to ‘comfortably’ run three kilometres in under 25 minutes. This was achievable for both myself and my daughter. And I did comfortably run those 6am run sessions. But to my shock, on the last morning of our course we were told we were going to be running 12 kilometres along the Queen Charlotte Track! Gosh 12 kilometres! I was sure they couldn’t expect us do that, but before I knew it we were on the water taxi to the start point. During the nervous boat ride I thought about how I was going to tackle this feat. My strategy was to run as long as I could, then walk and run again if I could. I definitely expected to be walking at least half this track. But I ran the whole hilly 12 kilometres! I couldn’t believe it and I was on a high, I felt like a conqueror and I couldn’t be beat. What’s more I was introduced to a different kind of running and I loved the undulating terrain, and found it much more interesting than the flat, hard surfaced road running. I had to slow my pace to last the distance and I found it wasn’t too hard and it didn’t hurt. However my enjoyment for running hadn’t quite grown into a deliberate act yet and that was the beginning and the end of distance running for me for some time.
Another five years goes by, with no other running apart from the usual short and fast type for my Army RFL’s. Then one day a friend asks if I want to join her relay team for the 155 kilometres run around Lake Taupo. I accepted, and took on two legs. One short leg of about four kilometres with a three kilometre uphill section and the last leg that was about seven kilometres. I started training and like on the Queen Charlotte track I slowed my pace down just slightly so I could run these longer distances comfortably. Having something to work for and a reason to run made me committed to get out there and do regular running. Which in turn made me feel great. It was hard to explain but I just knew that running was making a difference to how I got through my day and making me feel alive. I preferred to get up and start the day with training, as I found on those days that I thought I would train at the end of the day or after work, often didn’t occur. This would leave me not feeling great. And I liked feeling great and I liked feeling strong, and for me that was coming from running. On the day of the lake relay, while the hill was hard work, I ran it without stopping, and the rest, it was fun. I wasn’t running for myself I was running for the team. What a great fun way to enjoy running. Running with friends and making more friends.
Not long after the Lake Taupo relay, while I was at another friends in Auckland, I find out her husband has been training for a marathon. He had only last year completed his first and only half marathon. It was during this conversation they suggested I do the half Marathon at the same venue. It was in Rotorua and it was the 50th anniversary of this marathon track. I laughed it off, as no way was I running 21 kilometres. But the seed had been planted and during my 4 hour drive back to New Plymouth thoughts of ‘shall I’ were already springing into mind. I thought well I have been running and I could just carry on training, I have time, it’s February and the run is not until May, and it’s my 46th birthday in May, what a great thing to do in my birthday month. As well I am always up for a challenge, so I phoned my friend and said I’m in! And I trained, and I trained well.
Obviously with this longer distance I had to be quite disciplined in my training and on these longer training runs I discover that many things transpire for me. I have a sense of empowerment because I’m doing something that not a lot of people can do. While running I never listen to music, I like to get lost in myself and my thoughts. My body is producing endorphins which helps me make positive decisions so I think a great deal. I think about the important things in my life, set goals and plan my next adventures. I enjoy crossing paths with other runners, there’s a moment of camaraderie when running past another runner and there is a moment of eye contact when both of us acknowledge to each other we are out here doing what is hard. Running is so much more than running.
Two months and two weeks later I am totally ready for my first half marathon. In the meantime my daughter, 19 years old, has become inspired and decides she is going to give the 10km a go, which I think is awesome. My son, 17 years old, decides he is definitely not going to join us on the run but will come as our support team. I was happy for his contribution and acknowledgement that Mum was challenging herself and he wanted to be there. I was so nervous at the start, even before we were all hustled up behind the start line. But once behind the line the atmosphere was exciting. When the start horn goes off we all make our way in a huddled slow moving mob out over the start line and onto the road, where now the runners could break away from each other and then we were running properly. I’m doing ok and I’m feeling pretty good. About at the 11 kilometre mark I realise I can actually run a little faster than what I had been and I pick up my pace. I’m still learning and running with all these other runners was different than what I had been used to. I liked running with all these other runners. I would choose someone ahead of me and aim to keep up with them. If I couldn’t manage it and they got too far ahead I would choose a new person. Running brought us all together and not just in the physical sense. The atmosphere of many people achieving great things and feeling good was evident and boosted by the supporting by-standers. I noticed all the different shapes and sizes of the runners and walkers. Anyone can do this if they put their mind to it. I finished with a fairly good time of 1 hour 55 minutes and I was really happy with my time as well as my place in my age bracket. As well I thought I deserved it, I had been dedicated in my training and focused on the day. Once over the finish line I can’t find anyone. I go back to the car and there is my son, my support person, asleep in the back seat, well I guess it was an early start. I laugh and wake him up and we head back to the crowds to look for my daughter and friends. We stop to watch the others and look out for my friend’s husband, as well the first marathoners are coming in. I watch these people in awe, as I couldn’t imagine doing another 21 kilometres after the 21 I had just completed. However, I still start thinking maybe I do want to complete a marathon in the future. That’s the thing, before running this half marathon I thought it would be the hardest run I would ever do but now that I have successfully completed it, and because I trained well and it wasn’t that hard, I wonder what else can I do if I put my mind to it. What could be next? After this we head back (and I hobbled) to the hotel for spas. So good! I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a spa so much as I did that one.
A chain reaction had begun and within the coming year I ran another half marathon in the Gold Coast, Australia while visiting my Mum. During a deployment with the Army to the Middle East, I ran another in Tel Aviv, Israel and yet another in Budapest, Hungary while on leave. It was exciting running in different countries as well as it kept me motivated. Not only this, but on deployment I completed two 30 kilometres forced pack marches. Never had a military style pack march taken me over 12 kilometres so I was pretty happy with myself to complete these and well within the given time frames. Out of the 5 females that completed these, I was the only female over 25 years of age. I was 46 by this time. Before running a half marathon I would of never even contemplated attempting this distance. I impressed and inspired others but more importantly I impressed and inspired myself.
Once back at home I continued to run so when my work was sponsoring the Mount to Surf here in New Plymouth I was the first to put my hand up.in March 2016. By now you can see how I progressed.
By now I am enjoying running, but as the days get shorter at times I find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning to go for a run, or train. This is usually due to it been cold and dark outside or I simply just do not feel like running. On these mornings I tell myself I will only go around the block today or to this particular point, and that will get me out of bed, but nearly always once out there doing it I run the full training plan distance. The difficulty is sometimes just getting started. But never do I regret getting out there and training, however I do regret if that warm bed wins the battle in my mind and I do not go out to train. Sticking to the training plan and completing it, no matter how easy or hard, gives me small personal victories. These wins and the discipline required to achieve them flow into other areas in my life. Running is a good outlet from my daily busyness, as well allows me the space to vent and release stress in a healthy way and not take it out on those closet to me, as by the end of the run I see everything in context again.
Last year I decided to try out trail running half marathons and completed three in Taupo over July, August & September 2016. While the off road tracks were more hard work I thought they were much for fun. They were also serving a purpose for something much bigger I was planning.
So now I’m 48 and I am resting on the couch after a climb to the summit of Mount Taranaki. It was a excellent day and Im feeling ambitious and invincible. I am on my laptop surfing the internet when I discovered, and decided I was doing, New Zealand’s very own long walk.
Te Araroa Trail. Cape Reinga to Bluff 3,000kms. Solo and unsupported. While I would be walking it and not running, it was still a monumental task. I was starting in mid- September with the hope to be finished by the end of January 2017. I asked for 5 months of work and spent the next 5 months researching, preparing and planning in my spare time. The logistic of planning a thru- hike is huge, as well I went for sponsorship to help with costs. While the outdoor was my playground for many of my activities, I had never done more than a day tramp before this and didn’t have any of my own gear. Obligations to my sponsors made for more work on my behalf but worth it. During this time of preparation for taking five months out of my life, and getting my personal and work life sorted, not much training got done. I wasn’t really worried as I figured the first couple of weeks were going to be training enough.
I began the trail on 12th September 2016 and completed it on the 23rd January 2017. 4 months and 11 days. The first two weeks were the hardest and my whole body hurt, it was in shock with its new daily routine of walking from dawn to dusk while carrying a heavy load. But after a couple of weeks I won the battle of mind over body and my body worked out what was expected from it each day and it accommodated accordingly and pretty much remained pain free for the rest of the walk, except for my feet, they had good and bad days. My pack was heavy and uncomfortable most of the time but especially at the beginning of a section where I had just resupplied for many days ahead. I was carrying everything I needed to live through all weather, in all terrains. The terrain ranged from beaches, forests, dense kiwi bush, parks, and roads and of course Mountains...loads of them! The track and terrain were often challenging and isolated. It was hard work for the most part but it was one of the most amazing and satisfying challenges I have set myself. Living on Te Araroa Trail was nomadic and simplistic. There were times of struggles and times I couldn’t wish to be in a more beautiful place, and having the experiences I was having. Living on the trail made me happy and sometimes it made me mad, it gave me energy and it made me tired, sometimes all on the same day. I miss the trail, I miss the people along the trail and the others I met walking the trail, but most of all I miss being on a mission! Every day I was on a mission and I loved that.
I am currently working on my next adventures. I am unlikely to walk such a long trail like Te Araroa again, but definitely a shorter version, but it will have to be just as challenging physically and mentally. Life is short and there are so many different adventures to be had, and as long as I am able, I will continue to push myself to complete or at least attempt things that I think are out of my limits, because…
I can. And You can. Anyone can.
I am a nearly 50 year old outdoor enthusiast, verging on adventurer, from New Plymouth, New Zealand, currently living in Perth, Western Australia. I have two adult children. My hobbies include mountain biking, roller blading and stand up paddle boarding as well as other random adventure type activities that arise.
I have been an active member of the New Zealand Army Reserve Force for 12 years. I have just started a new job in exploration with a mining company after being a Property Manager for six years. Happy to be in the outdoors again. I love living life to the fullest, giving everything I can a go and experiencing new things, even if those new things scare me. I hope to encourage other women that they can do anything that they put they minds to. You don’t need a reason, or need to explain yourself to anyone, you just have to want to do it. In your heart and in your mind. Silence the negative self-talk and the talk of others and see the opportunities in challenging yourself and do it now.
Life is about Choices. The Choices are yours. Choose YOUR life.