Rod Gill, 70, set to complete 52 half marathons in 52 weeks

CHRISTINE CORNEGE/ FAIRFAX MEDIA NZ

70-year-old runner Rod Gill is on track to complete 52 half marathons in 52 weeks.

 Rod Gill is about complete 52 half marathons in 52 weeks at 70 years of age.

Taking up running just three years ago with a mate, Gill found he had "got the bug" and entered a few fun races, before things were suddenly sent to the extreme - when he set himself the outrageous task of 52 of the 21-kilometre hauls in 52 weeks.

"It was just a challenge more than anything," Gill said, ahead of his finale.

Hamilton 70-year-old Rod Gill is about to complete his goal of 52 half marathons in 52 weeks.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE/FAIRFAX NZ

Hamilton 70-year-old Rod Gill is about to complete his goal of 52 half marathons in 52 weeks.

"I didn't realise it was such a big ask."

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Gill has always played sport - a former A-grade tennis player in Auckland, then a B-grade squash player in Hamilton at age 50. Ironically, he'd done a couple of marathons in the 80s, though had never done the half distance, until embarking on this journey.

With a big wall calendar and wife Jean organising his itinerary, Gill set out on his quest, traversing the North Island, with 13 road races, and 39 trail runs making up his allotment. It hasn't been cheap either, with nearly $20,000 spent on entry fees, travel, accommodation and gear (he's been through six pairs of shoes).

Some months Gill would do six races, and he even included one full distance one which he admirably didn't count as two. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve were on his schedule, while four times he ran back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, to ensure he kept ahead of schedule.

"I've run in the snow, hail, thunder, lightning. Some of those trail runs are diabolical, you're up to your knees in mud," Gill said, recalling tough days in the likes of Colville and Woodville.

"It was hard at times, but it wasn't too bad, I enjoyed it, interesting, you meet a lot of people, get around the country.

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"It's more mental than anything, long distance running, especially.

"Once you've had a lot of runs you get used to it."

While trail runs would take him anywhere between three and four hours, Gill clocks remarkable pace, with his road events – his favourite being the Auckland half, across the harbour bridge – seeing him often go at 5min 20sec for his 1km splits, which even those in their 20s would be proud of. His personal best is a sprightly 1hr 52min.

Gill admitted he never thought he would do anything like this at his age.

"But it just shows you, you can do anything," he said.

"I was told I was stupid at the beginning."

That wasn't without reasoning, mind you, with Gill having arthritis in his groin, and told by a doctor he required a new hip.

"I could hardly get in and out of the car at times, and every time I did a long run I was in a lot of pain," he said. "But the more I kept running, it seemed to disappear.

"I've had no trouble with my arthritis since. It's been amazing."

There haven't even been any injuries to speak of during Gill's campaign, though the last month it's been discovered he has an iron deficiency.

"I've had a few short of breaths and dizziness, and they reckon it could be caused because I'm burnt out," he said. "So I'm having some tests when this is all over.

"I feel good and everything. They just give me an iron injection each week, to do the last couple."

In between all his runs, Gill still even goes to the gym every day.

"I just enjoy it. It's good being retired. You've got to do something," he said.

"It's a matter of use it or lose it.

"A lot of people give up too early, I reckon."

Just three years back Gill frequented the Hamilton Combined Services Club daily, and while his diet is nothing special now, beer being out of the equation, he is looking forward to his beloved fish and chips which he has gone a year without.

For his last effort on Saturday, Gill will finish with the familiar "parkrun" event - the timed 5km run, which is held in several countries each Saturday. He'll start about 6am and get three rounds done, before his Hamilton Road Runners club members will join in. Gill will also have his wife walking that final 5km stretch, with other family and friends on hand to help celebrate afterwards at the club - where he was named 2016 Runner of the Year.

"I might just walk and trot round and talk to people, take it easy," Gill said. "I've got nothing to prove really now, I've done all my best times I could."

But if you thought this would be the end of his running exploits, Gill has more age-group records in his sights. He wants to do more half marathons, 10km events, a prominent marathon in the United States, and the Coast to Coast.

 - Stuff

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