I recently headed to Tarawera Ultra Marathon to crew and pace my friend for his 100 mile race. I decided to take my camera along, to get a few behind the scenes shots as I was staying with Paul Stevens and Lesley Park who were both tackling the miler. I was hoping to get some images of Wez (Lesley) finishing her race, but she was too blemming fast, and was well and truly in before I arrived back from my pacing duties! I find the idea of running for a 100miles fascinating – how and why does something like this even come about? So I decided to ask Lesley all about it. In typical Wez style I got some very blunt and hilarious answers…..
Have you always been a runner? When did you start?
Yes, no, kinda? Got into running 5km in the mornings when I began teaching PE, and loved the vibe it gave me in the mornings. I started to get into half marathons in my mid 20’s and completed a few of them with my senior PE classes. Thought I would give Ironman a crack one year after volunteering for the event for so many years, so thought, oh well, should see if I can do a marathon before I commit to this and boom, Hello Christchurch marathon. I loved it and it kind of went from there. Post Ironman, I discovered a few running trails in Taupo where I used to Live and became hooked. I then pondered if I ran 50km a week before my wedding, I’d be ‘skinny as’. Did the 50km, ‘skinny as’ didn’t happen, but loved pushing further than a marathon. It then became a recipe of trail + distance + People + adventure = bloody awesome times.
I’d entered Tarawera as a team when this brilliant event first came on the scene. I discovered I was pregnant (happy days!), ran the first leg and supported my team (and the hunky husband Ryan who ran it as part of a 2 person team). This trail shit was seriously cool. What rad people, sweet trails and boy oh boy did it have a ‘mean as vibe’. None of this lycra shit, everyone was looking after everyone and the support along the trails was such a beautiful thing!
The hunky husband entered Tarawera again the following year when we moved to Papamoa. I had kept running through my pregnancy and stopped at 36 weeks when I resembled doing the ‘Ironman shuffle’. Post baby, our little Charlie was out every day in the buggy and I was hooked running with him in the buggy. Shit we covered some kilometres! Tarawera rolled around again, Charlie was 3 month old at the time, and Ryan finished a corker 100km. That was an epic day and I was so bloody proud of him. I recall pacing for him for the last 10km and he was slapping his ass telling me to keep up. Freak.
From then on, trails were all on like Donkey Kong after that. I was HOOKED! Enter an awesome bunch of people into my life that have become life long friends.
Why do you run, what is your motivation?
The ‘young me’ would say I run so I can drink and eat more and fit into tight jeans …. , the ‘today me’ does it for the love of the outdoors, for adventure, for the socialising, for my health, to be a role model for my kids, and to understand what the body and mind will do at a certain point/distance of a long run/event. My motivation for events now is now doing something that is fun, but also a little bit scary and savage. I’m a talker and so heck do I love to run and talk.
Combining running with travel has also been wicked! Great Wall of China and the New York marathons were epic events with good buddies. Also I think another reason why I run is the amount of problems that can be solved while running – you can gather your thoughts and reflect upon a bunch of stuff, good and bad, and feel like you have a solution at the end of that run. Its also such a brilliant way to catch up with mates, and to meet new RAD peeps. Going the distance became a new challenge, and it provided an avenue to explore different parts of our mighty NZ on foot. Running all of NZ’s great walks became the new challenge, while seeking events and adventures that make you go ‘Yeebloodyha’. 10 Ultras later and 20 ‘official’ marathons later, boom, it was time for something different.
100 miles is a crazy long way. Why did you decide to take on such a massive challenge?
I asked myself this a lot last year. During 2017 I ran 12 marathons in 12 months with my buddy Fran. Then in the January of 2018, I ran three of NZ’s great walks (Rakiura, Milford, Routeburn) with a bunch of crazy and hilarious people. Two of this gang were running the Tarawera Miler and encouraged me to do it with them. Their motivation was different from mine at that particular time. They were ready, they were hungry for it and I was not. I watched these two legends come down the finishing shoot in the pissing rain and the mud in Feb 2018 and I thought ‘F that, who would want to do a miler, it looks soul destroying’. But hell, I had so much respect for those Milers in that weather and doing that distance. I supported many runners that day and night and day again with some good friends and we kept shaking our heads thinking who in the heck would do this distance. Crazy bastards. 2 days later, I wanted in. I wondered – can I juggle this running gig with work and kids? Can I go beyond 100km? What would happen to me while running at night? Would a wallaby eat me? Would my VJJ really fall out ….
What was the training like and how did you balance this with your family/work commitments?
The training was epic. I never thought I’d say this, but I reflect back and the programme was so varied and fun. While most of my runs were solo, many were filled with training with a bunch of neat people. I made sure the programme became part of my routine while still having a life.
Squadrun was gold and Kerry and Ali were bloody supportive, and so were my circle of friends as well as the entire Squadrun family. I appreciated the support and lots of banter about ‘how long are you running today’ jokes from friends and family. My husband runs as well and was training for Old Ghost, so juggling long runs with two young kids was tricky, but manageable. I was lucky enough to have Fridays off, so where possible, if I was up to date with work, I would aim to do these on Fridays and back them up with Saturday at some stage. Ryan would run his long runs Saturdays and we always aim to get up at sparrows fart to not impact the family time. I think if you want to complete a goal, you get creative with time. If you have to run at 5am or at night, so be it. Get shit done.
So there I found myself, at 4am, on the start line, knowing I had ‘got shit done’ which in itself, was the biggest part of the journey and now I had 162km in front of me. In was also totally scared shitless and wondered many times have I bitten off more than I can chew?
Placing third in a race with Camille Herron on is just epic? How did you feel about that? Did you know on the course that a podium was a possibility?
I’m a 45 year old chick who works really hard to be average. I had a good day. I had great company, I had great support, everything was just bloody fab. The people at the aid stations said I was 2nd woman home and I really thought they were taking the piss because I have quite a few hilarious friends who constantly take the piss, and I really thought they were setting me up. It wasn’t until Okataina that I thought ‘hmmmm, is this for real?’. At Miller road I was overtaken and in 3rd place – when I think I lead 2nd place for over 145km and then got 3rd overall kind of makes me giggle because there is 7 hours difference between myself and Camille. Thats like a whole days work. It has me cracking up because Camille is all class – a world record holder for the 100 mile distance. And then there’s Wez, but Camille and I could be BFF’s because she chuggs beer during the final few kilometres. Respect. So yes, being a podium finisher was a great honour, but it is kind of hysterical with the time difference – but you know what? I’m gonna take it. I was proud of myself that day, so I’ll own this one!
When I saw you at Okataina Aid Station (at 120ks in), you still looked super strong. How mentally do you get through a race like this?
Less time on my feet was kind of my mantra for this event. I didn’t want to hang around at aid stations for long, and if I walked, it was ‘with a purpose’. Don’t let the bad shit knock you around for long was also a saying I had, it was good to see those phases pass. Seeing my crew and mates along the way was so uplifting. The key for me was getting from aid station to aid station successfully. Not thinking of the race as one big mother of a distance but rather small bites. Thinking of what I have done to get here to run on this day and this night – knowing the love and support from lots of good bastards kept me going. Getting to that final aid station at the Redwoods at 3.30am and seeing all the friends that drove over from home to run me in melted my heart. Such bloody good humans! The key is not to stop when you are tired, but stop when you are done.
Bit of love for my family, back running and enjoying it without any pressures of time or distance. Butttttttt, sharing the love an creating a free event in Papamoa to give back to our community. Running Heaphy mid year and the new Great Walk of NZ ‘The Paparoa’ when it opens in late September. Stage races interest me, one more road marathon maybe, getting over my fear of the 5 and 10km and a few of those evil races … maybe some adventure races, Oxfam 100km with 3 other great chicks ….. Berlin marathon …. UTA ….. More overseas adventures …. The list goes on and on and on!
Any other insights into tackling a miler that you think people would find interesting?
If your next goal is a miler, I was very surprised at the amount of hiking I had to do. So keep that in mind. The long hiked days in the programme were really worth it. Vary your food. Bloody hell, did I get sick of OSM bars, gels and sandwiches in a hurry….. Pick a pacer that knows you, Fran was the shizzer. Drink the wine, eat the chips and enjoy life. Don’t get too serious and keep shit real. Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen. Pick something that excites you and scares you and chase your dreams. PS – your VJJ does not fall out after a miler …..