Challenge of long-distance running

Off and running: One of Marlborough’s top long-distance runners, Ian Thomas won the second national title of his highly successful career last weekend.
Off and running: One of Marlborough’s top long-distance runners, Ian Thomas won the second national title of his highly successful career last weekend.

He can hardly believe it himself, but when Ian Thomas collected gold with the Tasman over-40s Masters team at the New Zealand Road Relay Running Championships in Nelson last weekend he and a team-mate broke a 24-year drought.

In what can only be described as a highly interesting coincidence, in 1988, Ian and Nelson's Graeme Taylor, a former Marlborough man, won the junior title at exactly the same event.

A popular physical education and social studies teacher at Marlborough Girls' College, Ian said it was certainly special to win his second national title, even if most of the team were robbed of catching the dramatic winning moment.

"That was the second time we have both won it. It's pretty special to do it after having won it as a junior and knowing they're not easy races to win. We missed the finish because our team vehicle broke down . . . We didn't see a thing until we got to the finish and they said ‘How does it feel to be a national champion?' "

While it was just Ian's second national title, it was far from his only notable achievement in a long-distance running career that has spanned three decades.

The same year he won the junior road relay crown with Taylor, Ian was fourth in the national road race champs. In the early 2000s, he won the 25km Three Peaks Race in Dunedin, while he also recorded a cracking time in the gruelling 60km Kepler Challenge.

More of a half-marathon specialist, he has a blistering fastest time of 1hr 9 min, set at Balclutha in 1999. It was around that time Ian reckons he was at his peak and the same year he finished fifth at the Shanghai International Marathon. Despite that performance, Ian has run only a handful of full marathons. He prefers the shorter distances for a couple of reasons.

"Marathons hurt and you have to have a pretty organised training programme. It's a big time commitment if your doing it properly and I tend to fit my training in around work and family."

Since he and wife Jenny arrived in Blenheim with their three young children from Dunedin at the start of 2007, Ian has established himself as one of Marlborough's top runners. Along with winning the Woodbourne half three times, he has won the St Clair half and been in the winning Molesworth run team on four occasions. In 2008, he was named Marlborough harrier of the year, and there have been numerous other victories and podium finishes in Marlborough and Tasman events.

Born and bred on the West Coast, Ian completed his first half marathon at 13. He chose running because it was a sport he could do by himself and his family was isolated living half an hour out of Greymouth. It took until his final years at high school before he really started to have success, but once he hit university in Dunedin things really ramped up.

"I was doing about 80 miles [130km] a week at uni. I tried doing the [Arthur] Lydiard 100 miles thing, but I just broke down so I found my limit at 80. I certainly don't have to do anything like that now because of all those miles I did back then."

Although he grew up in an isolated place, Ian certainly wasn't lacking in running mentors. His first coach was Dave McKenzie, who won the 1963 Boston marathon, while Eddie Grey, who placed third at the world cross-country champs, was also a Greymouth Harrier at that time. At university he was coached by Alistair McMurran, the same man who coached Dick Tayler to 10,000 gold at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games.

When he is not at work or out running, much of Ian's time is taken up with family and his active lifestyle certainly seems to have rubbed off on his kids. Jamie, 10 and Charlotte, 6 play football, while Charlotte and Emma, 8 are highland and ballet dancers. Outside of that, Ian likes to relax by playing guitar, which he started learning four years ago.

Although he admits he is not getting any younger, it appears there is still a few years left in Ian's running legs yet. He wants to keep going as long as his body allows and said the fact the Tasman Masters team has real potential to continue its success in the next few years is a real incentive to stay fit.

When his body finally says ‘no more' to running he'll get back into cycling and kayaking, which he did for a few years when injuries forced him to branch into multisport. For now, though, Ian is loving his running and is not planning on giving it away any time soon.

"I like doing well, but I think I'd miss running if I didn't have it. It's a good stress release and time-out.

"It's just the challenge. It's a good way to clear your head, there is nothing quite like being up in the Wither Hills with the view and it's just you charging along."



Name: Ian Thomas.

Nickname: Tommo.

Born:nf Greymouth, 1969.

Educated: Lake Brunner School, Greymouth High School, University of Otago, Christchurch College of Education.

Earliest sporting hero: Dave McKenzie (won Boston marathon 1963, wearing his Greymouth Harriers singlet).

Latest sporting hero: Mo Farah (5000m, 10,000m double at London Olympics).

Must-watch TV programme: Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Must-have food: Any or I get grumpy. A good curry always goes down well.

What’s hot on your MP3 player: Foo Fighters.

Favourite holiday spot: Wanaka, Queenstown.

Pet hates: People who don’t say hello back to you when out running, walking.

Fashion crime: My wife ensures I don’t commit too many.

Favourite sporting moment: All Blacks winning World Cup, Kiwis medalling at London Olympics, winning Three Peaks mountain race in Dunedin.

Worst sporting moment: Not being ready at the baton change for JK (John Kennedy) at this year’s Queen Charlotte relay, missing the start of the Buller marathon (bit of a theme here!)

In five years I’ll be: Still running (hopefully)



The Marlborough Express