Full of running, as always

16:00, Mar 25 2011
Bernie Portenski
ALL GO: It's not often that you would catch Bernie Portenski sitting down but she takes a moment between clients at her Miramar hairdressing salon.

It was a bit of a throwaway but perhaps a clue as to why, at 61, Bernie Portenski still laces up her running shoes at 5.30am every morning.

"With oldies running, you usually find the ones that are setting world records aren't the ones that have done really well when they were younger.

"The likes of Lorraine Moller, Allison Roe, Anne Audain and those others that did tremendously well, they come to 40 and they've done their dash," Portenski said yesterday.

She might be the proud holder of world records for the 60-64-year-old bracket at the marathon, half-marathon, 10,000, 5000 and 3000m metres these days but Portenski knows her name will never be mentioned in the same breath as those women.

But there was a time when she hoped it might be referred to in the next one.

That was in 1992 after she met the qualifying standard to represent New Zealand at the Barcelona Olympics.


"I did a 2hr 34min and there were four of us that qualified that year and only two of us went.

"One was Lorraine Moller, who won the bronze medal. I was the second fastest qualifier after her but they didn't take me," said Portenski, who now runs a hairdressing salon from the garage of her Miramar home.

"They took the next lady down, Marguerite Buist, which was really disappointing. There was a bit of an issue about my age – I was 42 – and it was only a year after I'd had my first child.

"What happened then was that the selectors starting dicking me round and said `that's not good enough, you have to run another marathon'.

"That was in March and the Olympics were in August and Marguerite told them to `go and get stuffed' and I went to Boston and did a 2:39 but that wasn't good enough for them.

"Maybe I had to go and do another qualifying time, I don't know. So when the Olympic marathon was on I nipped over to Surfers Paradise and did 2:37 and that would've got me about ninth in the Olympic marathon.

"Marguerite pulled out at about 10k [in Barcelona] after she went over there with an injury. Never mind, I'm not bitter and twisted over that. I just haven't forgotten."

Feeling that you belong, feeling that you're good enough. They're big things for any athlete.

And playing pop psychologist for a minute, you might surmise that all the records that Portenski has set since are her way of saying: "Hey, I'm not so bad after all."

PORTENSKI insists it's just a hobby, albeit one that, even now, compels her to push her body to breaking point in pursuit of records. Her most recent was the 3000m time of 11min 0.01sec she set at the unfamiliar territory of Newtown Park just over a month ago.

"Hell no, I'm not a track runner. I'm a road runner but the track's the only place where the records are true. They are world bests on the road, but they're world records on the track," said the veteran of 107 marathons and countless other road events.

"It took me four attempts for that 3000 and an injury, so it cost quite a lot. I had to train on the track and do 200m and 400m [intervals] and all those things that I don't usually do and that's probably what injured me."

The ligament problem in her right foot means Portenski's training has been restricted to the cross-trainer and bike, followed by a few lengths of Kilbirnie Pool. But she's far too competitive to allow that to stop her lining up in her 30th Rotorua marathon, on April 30.

"I'll start, don't worry about that," she laughed.

"I don't care if it takes me all day because there are two other ladies that have done it one more time than me and I can't let that become twice more."

Next summer's goal is the world 1500m record for her age group, which would really be pushing things to the limit. Eventually she'll be 65 and into the 65-69 bracket and on and on her wonderful obsession will go.

At A Glance

Name: Bernie Portenski

Age: 61

Occupation: Hairdresser

Obsession: Running

Holder of five world records for 60-64 age-group

3000m: 11.00.01, set at Newtown Park, Feb 19, 2011

5000m: 18.51.13, set at Newtown Park, Feb 21, 2010

10,000m: 39.04.25, set at Newtown Park, Feb 28, 2010

Half-marathon: 1hr 24min 56 sec, set in Christchurch, June 6, 2010

Marathon: 3hr 1min 30 sec, set on Gold Coast, July 3, 2010 -

The Dominion Post