‘Anyone could do it,’ says Nicola after 144km run

Some people seem to have more capacity. They cut through swathes of work; set and achieve lofty goals. Our national technical director Nicola Hankinson is one of those people. She’s a hugely popular figure around Baker Tilly Staples Rodway and just last month ran 144km over 24 hours. 

Time to read: 4 mins

From left: Jane McAlpine, Nicola Hankinson and Gwenan Riley ran 144km around the Blue Lake in Rotorua.

Those who’ve attended an endurance sport event will know that such occasions carry their own thrumming heartbeat. 

There’s generally a central area with throngs of people, a festive atmosphere and a mood of nervous excitement as competitors reach the pointy end of months of preparation. Around the course, pockets of supporters encourage the focused but wearying athletes. This particular occasion was the Blue Lake 24 Hour Challenge trail run in Rotorua on 24-25 September. Its “one 6km loop of the lake each hour” format appealed to Nicola.

She and the two women she ran with, Gwenan Riley and Jane McAlpine, would become the first females in its history to last the full 24 hours. “It’s not about speed, which is what attracted me to it. You can go as fast or slow as you want,” says Nicola.

She’s the can-do type, but the Challenge was 80km more than her longest run of about 63km seven years ago.

In July this year, she’d pulled out of an ultra-marathon after roughly 13km with an erratic heartbeat, courtesy of COVID-19. However, she did manage a 50km run thereafter, and a couple of “test” runs that followed the format of the Challenge.

Then the big day arrived, with sunny weather and a growing collection of tents and vehicles on the edge of the picturesque Blue Lake. Despite its “24 Hour” name, the Challenge is wholly elastic. For some individuals, family and friends, that meant doing their first marathon or 100km run, or drink and run shenanigans.

Nicola and her fellow runners settled into unspoken routines once underway. The talk flowed – raw, real, amusing conversations between strangers. In time, the view of the lake was swallowed by darkness, then chill crept in, pinching cold flesh as the athletes ran along the beach to the relative warmth of the trees.    

Moreporks hooted and headtorches bobbed as everyone picked their way around the trail. The chatter ebbed, but there was a powerful feeling that every person was part of a vital whole. When blisters formed on Nicola’s feet, she barely noticed, simply changing shoes and donning an extra pair of socks for protection.

At dawn, she and her beaming friends stopped for a photo. “It was crazy that we were smiling so much that far through, but I think by that stage we were delirious. Also the sun had come up, so that made a big difference. We couldn’t see that well during the night,” she says.

Three laps later, it was over. Nicola had wanted to see which would falter first – her body or mind, but both were fine. “I didn’t think it was torture – you just keep going. It was heaps of fun. Everyone says ‘why?’. I would say ‘why not?’. I think anyone could do it, I honestly do.”

She and her friends had found ways to stay alert and enthused in the dark, such as turning on phone data periodically to receive encouraging messages. The injection of midnight marathon and 3am half-marathon runners had been interesting diversions, and throughout it all the trio received excellent support.

“One of our girlfriends, her husband went and got us some hot chips,” says Nicola. “We didn’t know we needed them, but they really perked us up. Another athlete made us two-minute noodles at 3am. He said, ‘the only thing that’s going to stop you from finishing is if you stop eating’. Cold two-minute noodles are disgusting, but they got us through. Sometimes you’ve got to have faith in the people around you to give you what you need when you need it.”

She also found plenty of parallels between work and a marathon event. You can do anything with the right support, she says, especially if those around you have “been there, done that”. They know what you need, give you confidence and hold you to account. “It’s also important to have a positive mindset and know what your goal is – picking the goal that really correlates with where you want to go.”   

Now she’s plotting her next adventures, confident in the knowledge of what she’s capable of after her first 144km run. “It has definitely lit the fire, for sure.”

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