What made you start running?
Suzanne: I started running as part of my training to climb Mt Kilimanjaro back in 2008, with the intention of improving my overall fitness and having read that long distance runners tend to fare better at altitude. Having led a rather sedentary academic existence in the years spent studying for my Fellowship and cementing a place in my chosen profession, I felt the need to regain the fitness and competitive spirit that I held during my teenage years. When I returned from Africa I decided to continue running and signed up for my first marathon in Melbourne 2009. The race was the most difficult moment of my life to that point and it was more than 2 weeks before I could run again. By that time I had signed up for my second marathon.
Michael: I’d watched Suzanne run the Australian Outback Marathon in 2011 and decided that rather than just be a supporter taking photos I should earn my keep by competing in shorter fun runs. I also needed to improve my fitness after being embarrassingly out-climbed that year in the mountains of Bhutan by our car tour driver of all people. So I began regular training, ran a 10km race at the Big Five Marathon in 2012 and stepped up to half marathons the following year at the age of 68. We’ve been running as a father and daughter team since then.
When and why did you decided to you were going to run a half-marathon or marathon on all seven continents?
Suzanne: It was at the Rio Marathon in 2013 that I first became aware of the Seven Continents Club. Having already completed marathons on three of the continents, I set myself the task of completing all seven. The first thing I did when I returned home from that trip was to sign up for Seven Continents Club membership and waitlist for the Antarctica Marathon, which eventually became my seventh completed continent. In the meantime, dad had taken an interest in the half-marathon distance, so the next challenge was to run half marathons together on all the continents. Antarctica was always going to be the most challenging for dad, although he was far more concerned about overcoming sea-sickness than finishing the race. We finished at the Reykjavik half marathon in 2017 where I was only 3 seconds outside my PB.
Michael: When Suzanne had nearly completed a marathon on every continent I asked about her next challenge. Somehow it was decided Suzanne would take me around the world to run a half marathon on all continents while she’d use that opportunity to complete both full and half marathons on all continents, something we later discovered no other female had ever done.
Having achieved my half marathon goal I’m working on running a full marathon on every continent. Right now, with three continents to go, Antarctica is the next and greatest challenge on my list.
How do you stay motivated through all those miles?
Suzanne: I run because I enjoy it and I embrace the fact that I am able to run for hours at a time at my own pace. I don’t regard the kilometres ahead as a burden but rather I use my hours running as an opportunity to escape from the pressures and frustrations of life. I am able to switch off from my surrounds and use the time to problem solve or come up with new ideas, often arriving back home and wondering where the past three hours has gone. Agreeably, many would regard marathon running and training as onerous, but I remind myself that it is these challenging tasks that give an immediate sense of self-satisfaction and achievement whilst at the same time improving health and well-being in the long term.
Michael: Each race means the start of a new adventure. I look forward to travelling the world, running with my daughter, enjoying adventure marathons and great racing experiences, meeting new people, interacting with different cultures and taking extended tours after race day. It’s been easy to stay motivated by travelling and running that’s now taken me to some 55 countries.
How many marathons and/or half-marathons have you run?
Suzanne: I recently completed my 28thmarathon in Berlin. I cover a lot more mileage training than I do actually participating in races – last year I ran the equivalent distance from Melbourne to Perth, but only ran three marathons. At this point I am more focussed on quality rather than quantity, and in keeping with this goal, I achieved a PB at the NYC marathon last year. My current aim is to complete 50 marathons by the time I turn 50.
Michael: It hasn’t been the number of races I’ve run, but more the variety. My 10 half marathons have been mainly adventure marathons and include seven consecutive half marathons on all seven continents.
The time between my first full marathon in Adelaide during 1979 and my next “Medoc” full marathon in 2015 was 36 years. Thom Gilligan quipped at the time, “That’s a good recovery period”. To complete a seven continents full marathon goal will take me over 40 years.
What is your favorite race and why?
Suzanne: I ran the Marathon du Medoc for my 40th birthday and found it to be the most bizarre and amusing running experience. It was not difficult to return with dad for his 70th birthday, reliving the mayhem and madness, this time sharing the experience and having twice the fun. Running alongside dad at his pace was harder than I thought, too slow for me to run properly and too fast for me to walk. It also took a lot longer than I am used to running a marathon, so I kept myself entertained by photographing the passing talent. Specialising in rear-ends and being somewhat gender-biased, I collected snaps of a range of derrieres, though the Borat-style mankini would have to rate fairly high as the least-practical and most uncomfortable outfit in which to run a marathon. The race was just one day of the adventure, with a number of excursions to regional winemakers and other festivities making for a pretty tough week for the liver as well as the legs.
Michael: For my 70th birthday Suzanne took me to the Medoc “carnival” marathon in France where she ran with me for the full 42km. That was an unforgettable family experience and a lovely gift. Other races I’ve especially enjoyed for atmosphere, crowd support and scenery include Disney World, Reykjavik, Queenstown NZ and the World Masters in Perth where I ran a personal best time and earned an age group relay bronze medal with the Australian team. But in their own way each race has been enjoyable and has provided unique memories, even the incredibly tough Mount Everest Marathon because of its stunning scenery.
What race did you learn the most about yourself?
Suzanne: I ran my first Boston marathon in 2013. I had a foot injury in the lead up which reduced my training and meant that I altered my running technique during the race. Just after 37km, I suffered what I thought was a cramp but later realised was a hamstring tear and I hobbled like a wounded duck to the finish line. A stereotypical Texan dude of my dad’s vintage jogged alongside me during the last few painful kilometres, making conversation and distracting me from thoughts that I had blown a certain PB and devastation at the impending time on the sidelines recovering from injury. I didn’t learn his name but he was a seasoned veteran of Boston marathons and made sure I felt a sense of achievement as we crossed the finish line together. I was grateful for his company. In my hotel room shortly after, I heard the noises that I later learnt were explosions. Whilst watching the live footage on CNN, I could see from the window of my room the emergency vehicles and authorities going about their duties. It was difficult to comprehend the reality of what was taking place, and I had never felt so alone. I sought company in the lobby bar and was impressed by the camaraderie and support from runners and spectators alike – there were no strangers in the bar that evening. I flew back home the next day wearing my race shirt as I passed through the airport terminals. I was approached by a number of people, complete strangers, many of whom said they had previously run Boston, all of whom had words of encouragement and hoped that I would return. My lunch and drinks bills were taken care of by people who remained anonymous. I was overcome by the spirit and generosity of the American people, though my thoughts were with the victims who had suffered on a much greater scale than I had. The experience taught me three things. First, no matter how bad you think your situation is, there is always someone else who is worse off. Second, everything happens for a reason; had I not been injured during the race I may well have been back at the finish line, dressed and refreshed, at the time the explosions occurred. Third, the spirit of the American people and their generosity to strangers in times of need is really quite uplifting.
Michael: We ran the “Dopey Challenge” in Disney World which meant running 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon races over four consecutive days. My aim was just to finish so I was surprised to run an easy full marathon at an even pace after completing a half marathon the previous day, and amazed when Suzanne told me I’d won my age group in that marathon. It’s incredible what your body can achieve when your mind is in the right place.
What is your favorite part about running and traveling?
Suzanne: It is nice to meet up with like-minded people and share their experiences with a view to exploring future options. Discovering new places, experiencing different cultures and being reminded of what an amazing planet we live on, one that we should be taking better care of it. Travelling also offers a reward for the effort put in to training for a race and at times an obligatory enforced rest from running that I would not undertake if I was at home.
Michael: Marathons take us on adventures to unique places. We’ve watched Great Migration river crossings in Kenya, enjoyed close interactions with wild animals across Africa, trekked to Mount Everest, walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, learned the history of Easter Island, driven around scenic Iceland, walked on a mountain top glacier in New Zealand and explored spectacular Antarctica.
It doesn’t have to be a race, but what is your favorite place/city to run?
Suzanne: I have to say the Boston marathon for its history, the scenic course and the incredible crowd support. When I returned in 2015 for my second Boston marathon, it was really cold and rained steadily for the entire race yet despite the miserable conditions, spectators lined the course 4 to 5 rows deep and the enthusiasm was palpable. To any non-running spectators reading this, I cannot emphasise enough the positive effect the crowd can have on a distance runner. Whether it be the solitary clapping volunteer at the refreshment station in an off-road marathon, the wide-eyed children in the local villages along the course, or the signs stating “run like you stole something”, every slightly amusing, encouraging or quirky act is appreciated.
Michael: There’s no single favourite place and no rush to run in the same cities with so many other countries to visit. However our Antarctica Cruise was the experience of a lifetime so I’m looking forward to a return visit to “The Last Continent”. But after every new race adventure there’s still no place like home.
What word would your friends use to describe you?
Suzanne: Forthright. Predictable.
Michael: I’ve been told I’m “awesome” to be racing around the world at my age over long marathon and half marathon distances so I won’t argue with that.
What words of advice would you give to someone who is training for their first marathon or half-marathon?
Suzanne: Put together a training program and stick to it. There are plenty of training guides online depending on your abilities and expectations. You may need to make minor adjustments for illness/injury or life experiences, but stick to the basic program and most importantly, do not skip the weekly long run. On race day, have a race plan and stick to it. Those who are speeding past you at the start will be the same runners who are folded over stretching out their cramps at the 40km mark. Conversely, if you try to outsprint the genetically blessed runners in those first few kilometres, you will find yourself resting in the gutter towards the latter part of the race. Run your own race.
Michael: Enjoy your training. Discover tracks that are pleasant, comfortable, safe and relaxing. Gradually build up training distances with your main goal being to have a finisher’s medal placed around your neck. Find a training plan which suits your goals for your first race. If you can comfortably run 10km (6 miles) you can be confident you’ll finish a half marathon.