People don’t just get up one morning and run an ultra-marathon – how did it all begin for you?
Well I sort of did actually. I wasn’t a talent runner at all in fact the only fun run I ever did I had to pull out at 5km with an asthma attack and lagging behind most of the 80 year-olds in the event.
But then I got into cycle trips around the world and trekking long distances, climbing mountains and kayaking with a young man that I was seeing – he was an extreme athlete who always made me push beyond my comfort zone and slowly I learnt I was capable of far more than I thought. I learnt as I went, succeeding and many times failing along the way. This culminated in a 250km expedition without any outside support (we carried all our own water, food and equipment through a military barred zone in the Libyan desert. We only had 2 litres of water a day and had to carry over 35kg on our backs.) This was really extreme [just a slight understatement] led to severe injuries and was on the absolute limits. The relationship also broke up in the middle of the desert, but I decided I wanted to continue with my adventures – albeit in a slightly more controlled environment.
What was your first event?
My very first big run was a 240km run across the Moroccan Sahara called Marathon des Sables a legendary race. It changed my life.
What has a lifetime of running taught you?
So so so many lessons I want to write a book on it. The adventures and the extreme situations I have fought through strengthen me when I face problems and challenges in my personal life and business. Things like team development, project management, marketing, overcoming obstacles, goal setting, action planning, discipline, courage, the ability to face fears and still keep going, to push harder than is required, to go beyond the call of duty, to search out mentors, to speak publicly, to have the courage to try new things, to accept that failures will happen but that it’s what you do next that counts, to never give up and that no matter how slow the progress, forward is forward. That is crucial to always be learning, developing, to be accountable, to be professional, to back yourself.
You probably have a diet of carrot sticks and water right? What’s your favourite food when you’re training?
Hell no. I love food. It’s why I started running right, so I could eat more! Nowadays though I try to eat unprocessed, natural foods with tons of vegetables and some fruit. Unprocessed grains and homemade foods that are overly processed. I also take a lot of supplements so I don’t get into any deficits which at times has taken its toll on me. I take the likes of omega 3, calcium, magnesium, elete electrolyte drops, iodine, iron, coenzyme q 10, lypospheric vitamin C, antioxidants, folic acid and selenium.
What does someone like you do to relax?
Unfortunately it’s a word I hardly ever get to experience. It’s not ideal but at this stage in life it’s necessary for me to work extremely hard, put in long hours and train. I have five companies and start a new business in February, am finishing a degree, planning a wedding in two months, writing another book, training for another charity run across the North Island for the Samuel Gibson memorial trust and caring full time for mum after her aneurysm.
I travel a lot doing speaking and consulting and try to get a wee bit of time making jewellery (I am a goldsmith). I have however learnt to de-stress on the go by using short bouts of time meditating and oscillating between intense intellectual work and intense physical activity and lower level physical work.
Whenever life threatens to overwhelm I pull my focus into the very next step required and I try to ask for help when necessary.
I push myself extremely hard and I hope that in future I might be able to allow myself more time to just enjoy myself but there are times in life when you just have to knuckle down and go go go.
You probably get labelled crazy every day. Do you have to be crazy to do what you do?
I do get called that all the time but I take it as a compliment. I take it to mean “wow I wish I could do that” or “I wish I had the courage to try.”
I don’t believe everyone has to push their bodies to this sort of extreme but I found that physical activity in nature, having a single focussed goal during a race clears my mind, quietens it down and I am at my most contented when I am physically exhausted and happy with the day’s work.
I don’t think it’s necessary to push to this sort of extreme but I do think it’s necessary for every human being to be connected to nature and to be physically active in nature in order to find mental and emotional balance.
I hear you are looking after your ageing mum – how do you find time for all the training, and do you have any tips for time poor people?
It’s extremely hard at the moment working more than full time and caring for mum full time but whenever I think I am hard done by I think of the alternative – of mum not being here, which helps me dig
deeper and go harder.
When mum woke up from her coma she was in a vegetative state and the medical professionals said she wouldn’t improve much if at all, and that we should put her in a rest home. I refused to believe any of that and spent months studying neuroscience, researching new possible therapies and took control of her rehabilitation and care along with my family. We have fought extremely hard to bring her back from the brink, the biggest breakthrough coming when I discovered hyperbaric oxygen therapy and jumped through a thousand hoops ignored to get her access to a chamber.
After 33 sessions she improved immensely and can now talk fluently, read, write, has her full memory and can walk a little. I treat mum’s rehabilitation like I treat the preparation for an ultra marathon and it’s the toughest race I have ever faced. But the never say die attitude has so far seen her achieve an amazing quality of life again and there is only more to come. After experiencing such success with mum I am now opening a clinic with another physiologist and will be offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy to people. There is usually a silver lining to every cloud.
How does your fiance, friends and family keep up? Or have they given up trying?
My fiance Haisley O’Leary is fitter and faster than I am. I have been coaching him now for three years and he is going from strength to strength and has already competed in a number of ultra marathons including the Grand to Grand 273km desert race across Utah and Arizona. He will be also be running with me and another business partner Neil Wagstaff, when we run 330km across the north Island for the Samuel Gibson Memorial trust in November.
How do you find people that are at a similar level to you to train with?
I don’t. I don’t like training with anyone else. It’s my time, time for me to reflect and meditate and I treasure that time.
Who would you most like to run a half marathon with?
My mum, in a good quality wheelchair. She has crewed for me throughout my whole career and will again being crewing for me on the next run.