Tue, Apr 18, 2023 1:23 PM

Running brave


Tessa Jaine

A test for mind, body and soul, the annual Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon and Nutrient Rescue Vineyard 12km events attract hundreds of people to Marlborough each autumn. Paula Hulburt catches up with two entrants who have their sights set on the finish line, to discover why they were inspired to sign up.

Irene Anderson

Irene Anderson will mark four years since she suffered a stroke when she returns to the Saint Clair Half. Photo: Paula Hulburt

The pain in her left calf continued to niggle as Irene ran, disturbing the sun-baked dust as she clocked up the kilometres. The grape vines sought attention, dressed in their showy autumn best but Irene kept her focus. It was her ninth half marathon and the 22-year-old was, surprisingly, struggling.

Completing the 21.1km course, the normally healthy brunette was disappointed with her finishing time, taking almost double the time she’d hoped for. She put it down to her training and vowed to do better next time. Two days later, she was fighting for her life in intensive care.

A huge stroke left the keen runner partially paralysed as her brain swelled to dangerous proportions.

“I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk again,” Irene explains from her Blenheim home.

“My brain swelled and they had to take away a third of my skull.”

The Marlborough Lines electrical engineer had been in Blenheim just three months when she collapsed, with surgeons later revealing she was lucky to be alive.

To celebrate her remarkable recovery and to mark the upcoming anniversary of the day she almost died, Irene will be running again.

It is, she says, a day she has mixed feelings about.

“I’m a bit apprehensive but want to celebrate too. It will be good to claim that [the half marathon] back.”

After taking up running at 20 years old, Irene, who is originally from Methven had been seeing a physio for ongoing pain in her calf. It was cause by a blood clot, which entered her lungs and later her brain.

As she remembers the events of four years ago, Irene is pragmatic, almost humble about the mental and physical fortitude it took her to recover.

Her left hand still causes her some issues and she battles constant fatigue,” she says.

“I’d walked into work that day and I knew something was going on as was getting breathless. A friend took me home later and 20 minutes I collapsed.

“To start with I thought I’d just fainted but half my body wouldn’t work. I called my friend and thought I was talking but she hung up as I wasn’t saying anything.

“She was worried and came round. Friends knew straight away what had happened and called an ambulance.”

After a three week stay in Christchurch Hospital and then three weeks at Burwood Hospital for rehabilitation, Irene, now 26 years old, was well enough to be discharged.

With a bounce in her step and an enthusiastic smile, it is hard to imagine just how close Irene came to death. While the immediate hours after her stroke are hazy for her to recall, she does remember how pleased she was to see her parents at her bedside.

‘They actually beat me to Christchurch Hospital,” Irene smiles. ‘It wasn’t a phone call they ever want to get again.”

Within months of being discharged, the tenacious runner was back in her sneakers, determined to run again.

“Six months afterwards I did a 5km walk with my mum.

“Oh, and I always keep my phone handy, it’s always attached to me. I know what the consequences would have been if it hadn’t been near that day.”

Annie Thompson

Annie Thompson is looking forward to testing her fitness in May to mark her impressive 47kg weight loss. Photo: Paula Hulburt

Watching the woman as she approached the glass doors, Annie couldn’t help but grin.

She admired the pink summer dress as its hem bounced around to the spring in her step. At 47kg lighter, Annie barely recognised herself.

The end of April marks a year since she had gastric bypass surgery in Christchurch. The new Annie she catches glimpses of in shop windows and doors takes getting used to, she laughs.

“Every time I walk towards the double doors at work I think, whose are those stick legs as my legs have got really skinny.

“I didn’t think I felt bad before but I feel amazing. I have more energy and am proud that I’ve done it.”

The Marlborough Girls’ College receptionist struggled with her weight most of her adult life. While she was reasonably fit and led a fairly active lifestyle, her weight had become more of a burden, both mentally and physically.

She suffered with sleep apnoea and used a CPAP machine at night to help her breathing. Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes shortly before the second lockdown, Annie, 48, explains she struggled.

“I was trying to manage the super high and low lows. Then there were the moods and the hormones. It was quite awful.”

Winning a scholarship through work to Outward Bound was a turning point, Annie says. Delayed for 18 months as COVID-19 swept across the country, Annie knew she had to be fitter to get the most out of the opportunity.

But it was during a caravan holiday with her family that she became uncomfortable with her size.

“I found myself hiding from the camera. I never cared before, my body isn’t anyone else’s business but when we got home from camp I said to my husband that I thought I’d like to do weight loss surgery.”

With older children at home, Annie says she was very aware about passing on a negative body image to them. As her health gradually worsened, she knew she had to take positive action.

Her own mother had died at 59 years old from obesity related issues and her father died at 56 years old from cancer. Annie was determined to forge a different path.

“That was a driving force,” she explains. “I’m also acknowledging the privilege that I could do it.”

Once she had made her mind up, Annie says the process was relatively easy. Just six weeks later she had appointments with her surgeon, a psychologist and a dietician.

“My surgeon asked me what my goals were and I said to run again. I wanted to have a full, active part in my own life.

“I’m also acknowledging the financial privilege that we could afford to do it.”

Weighing 104kg at her heaviest, Annie says the change has been remarkable in so many ways. She no longer has diabetes or sleep apnoea and her cholesterol is lower than ever.

“I’m doing the 12km Saint Clair half run and have been easing into it, going on training runs with Ralphie my Jack Russell.”

But the best thing about her weight loss so far?

“Living a full and active life with my family, seeing them see me as a woman who participates in everything, gives everything a go.... and I will never get sick of people I haven’t seen for a while not recognising me, it's quite a buzz.” Annie laughs.

Top tips for race day:

-      Prepare the day before. Lay out your outfit, pack your bag and plan your route to the event.

-      Hydrate the night before, you’ll wake up feeling your best and will help to deter dehydration during the event.

-      Give yourself plenty of time. Wake up early enough to enjoy breakfast and get to the start line without stress.

-      Stick to your usual meals, don’t go surprising your digestive tract near to race day.

-      Chafing cream is your friend.

-      Pace yourself. It’s a half marathon, not a sprint.

-      Take in the stunning scenery, have fun, and enjoy it. Endorphins are even linked to improved stamina and performance.

-      Afterwards, do some stretches, take a stroll around and cool down.

-      Celebrate!

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