Once again, I have Jen to thank for today’s Running The World interview. She introduced me to Sheryll, a New Zealand running blogger and warned Sheryll I would be in touch. When I dropped her an email, Sheryll was more than happy to give me the low-down on running in beautiful New Zealand. And then she sent me some photos to use and I died a little inside and started googling flights to Aukland! I was intrigued to find out more about where running fits into this super-outdoorsy, extreme-sports nation and this is what I found out.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, I’m Sheryll, I’m a clothing designer/pattern-maker living in central Auckland with my husband and 14 year old son.
How did you get into running?
I started running a couple of years ago and it has totally enhanced my life. I’m particularly fond of off-road running and always have some event on my calendar that I am training for. I started with 5-10km events, then last year I ran my first half marathon, and I have run a couple of trail halves since. I’m gradually building my way up to a marathon – and I suppose then I will want to run an ultra!
How popular is running in New Zealand?
Running in NZ has been big ever since I can remember. Before the Kenyans came along, NZ had some of the greatest distance runners of the world due to the influence of the famous NZ coach Arthur Lydiard. I remember Arthur coming to our school and talking to our cross-country team, which first peaked my interest in exercise physiology as a career choice. I ended up studying radiography and ultrasound, before U-turning to a more creative career.
Is it growing in popularity?
I am sure the running scene in NZ has grown even since I started 2 years ago – the local Auckland Marathon has record entries (17,000), the number of event options keep growing so much that it is becoming hard to decide what to do, and even my husband has added to the numbers by taken up running again! Most cities in NZ have their local marathon/half/10km/5km event, and in Auckland it’s in early November (late Spring).
Who organises races in NZ? How much do they cost?
A local event company I frequent is Total Sport, they organise great events in stunning locations with an awesome vibe (example here) – and you will see a lot of their race reports on my blog! (Cat’s note: do check out that last link to a youtube video about a wonderful looking race).
There are plenty of other event organisers too, and if you want to search for a race in NZ the place to go is nzrunningcalendar.co.nz. This has listings of all the races around the country and relevant links. As a guide, race entry fees for events with chip timing are often around $50/10km, $100/half marathon, and $150/marathon, but you can pay a lot less. ($1NZD ~ $0.86 USD). The big city marathons are always popular. One thing that is less common here is a finisher’s medal – they are generally only given to runners completing a marathon or ultra.
How big is trail racing in NZ?
I think the biggest recent growth has been in trail and ultra running Many sell out quickly and have waiting lists, new races such as the Hillary Ultra Trail are coming on board all the time, and the Vibram Tarawera Ultra Marathon has recently become part of the Ultra Trail World Tour and consequently attracted a lot of international interest. We now have our own NZ Trail Runner magazine too, which I am excited about.
A personal favourite race has to be the Kepler Challenge, even if I have never run it – yet. This 60km ultra is based from my home town of Te Anau in Fiordland, and if you have ever read the story about the name of my blog, then Kepler IS those mountains. I plan to run it one day, and at the top of Mt Luxmore I will stop for a moment and look back towards Te Anau Primary School where I ran that little race. Swings and roundabouts 🙂
I think it is interesting to mention that although the term ‘trail running’ is used in New Zealand today, it is a relatively new to our dialect. Here we would normally use the word ‘track’ for anything that is not a vehicular road (like our tramping tracks the Milford Track or the Kepler Track), or ‘off-road running’ for anything, well – off road!
Tell us about the demographics of running in NZ.
In the events I enter, there is a relatively even balance of men/women. One thing that always strikes me is the wide age range – from kids to masters (me!) and even legends 60+. This is one of the great things about running – anyone can do it and be competitive, in their age group, gender, or with themselves. I hope to be one of those legends one day too!
At the beginning of the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
How does the weather in NZ affect the running community?
The weather in NZ is really similar to the UK, except Auckland and the North, which is bordering sub-tropical. Surrounded by sea, Auckland has humid summers with min/max of 17 – 24 C and winters of 8 – 15 C when most of our rainfall occurs. This makes perfect daytime winter running, but summer can be a bit too humid and warm during the daytime – well for this Southern Girl anyway.
Further south, summer in NZ is more variable, and winter has regular frosts with snow on the Southern Alps. The West Coast and Southern Alps also experience high rainfall and you really need to be prepared for four seasons in one day!
What about running gear, especially for women. Are NZ female runners well catered for?
Style-wise, Kiwi women love their capri tights, and running skirts are far less common, even though many of the top NZ female ultrarunners wear them. All the big international brands are available in NZ, but there are a couple of local brands worth a mention:
- Icebreaker – when it is wet, wool retains warmth unlike any other fibre, and I swear by merino wool for trail running in cool wet weather. I have a few t-shirts which are great for running in the rain, and I even have some underpants that keep my glutes cosy! I plan on buying some Rush 3/4 tights this winter as I’ve noticed my quads can get cold in polyester tights.
- Kori Kita started a small range of running skirts and tops last year, with unique NZ influenced prints. Although I don’t own any items yet, I hope to one day soon – I am eyeing up the the running skirt with capri length leggings underneath for winter – such a great idea!
What fuel do NZ runners use? And how do they hydrate on long runs? Is it vastly different to US/European runners?
As far as fuel goes, the common brands are GU, Clif, and Sport Beans. To be honest I’m not sure how popular they are, but I sometimes take a couple of GU gels during long races as I can stomach them well, but I also like to take some real food on trail runs – like homemade oaty cookies, fruit/nut balls – they are a great pick-me-up treat!
How safe do you feel as a female runner in NZ?
I have always felt safe running in NZ. My personal safety level is to never run alone in isolated areas, and I have no doubt you could do this 1000000 times and have no issue, but why take that risk when you can run locally or run with friends – much more fun!
What about social media? What role does it play in the NZ running community?
With communication the way it is today, I don’t think New Zealand is different to the rest of the world as far as trends go. There are several New Zealand running blogs out there and I link to the ones I’ve discovered on my blog sidebar. Most bloggers are totally uncommercialised and post less frequently, but when they do it is a usually an inspiring read about a recent event. Most events have a facebook group too where you can connect with other like-minded people.
Who are NZ’s running heroes?
NZ has a lot of running stars, but nowadays many are based overseas and are possibly more of a household name in Europe/US than New Zealand! Here are a few to follow:
- Anna Frost runs for Salomon and has won Transvulcania, Speedgoat 50k, and several European titles
- Ruby Muir has won the Kepler Challenge and Tarawera Ultra
- Jo Johansen is one to watch – she only started running off-road a year ago, and won this year’s Tarawera Ultra followed by the Hillary Ultra a couple of weeks later!
- Jonothan Wyatt is another Salomon/European based mountain runner
- Vajin Armstrong is a consistent place-getter who is currently 2nd in the Ultra Trail World Tour
- Kim Smith 3x Olympian, BAA Distance Medley 2 years running.
- Nick Willis 2x Olympian, 1500m silver medalist
If I came to New Zealand, where would you suggest I start if I wanted to tap into the running community there?
Definitely runningcalendar.co.nz – tells you everything that is going on in this country!
If I was going to do one race in New Zealand, what would you suggest?
That would be so hard to pick. For the road runner, I’d pick the Auckland Marathon or Half-Marathon – a scenic run round the bays and over the Harbour Bridge. For a trail run, the Tussock Traverse 13 or 26km is hard to beat, and if you are an ultra runner, you can’t go wrong with the Kepler Challenge, the Hillary Trail or the Tarawera Ultra. .
So what are the best and worst things about running in New Zealand?
One of the best things about running in New Zealand is that you are never far from an amazing place to run. Whether it is straight out your door or half an hours drive away, there will be some bush-clad mountains, sandy beaches, or coastal clifftops waiting for you with some spectacular scenery to enjoy. And within our National Parks you will find many of the world’s great walking ‘tracks’ – just waiting to be run!
Apart from some occasional rain and wind I can’t think of any real negatives. We are lucky to have a temperate climate so you can run outdoors year round, although the weather can change rapidly especially in the mountains so you have to be prepared for that. We are also lucky to have no dangerous wildlife like spiders, snakes or mountain lions to watch out for – thank goodness or I might have to stick to the roads. You also needn’t fear being considered a crazy running nerd in this adventure sports-mad nation!
Sheryll, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me!! You can read Sheryll’s blog Run to the Mountains HERE for drool-worthy tales of trail running in New Zealand.
You can read the other Running The World interviews HERE.