Community spirit alive and well

World champion long distance runner Emma Timmis in Ashburton: “The main thing that was really beautiful about the whole journey was just the community spirit.’’


It’s not the usual thing a male reporter would ask a woman in an interview, but I couldn’t help myself.

I didn’t even care we were in full public view. I just had to have a closer look at Emma Timmis’ feet.

So I knelt down to check for the obvious signs – blisters, swelling, missing toenails, hobbit-like deformities that may have given her a genetic edge even. But nothing. Hardly a thing to be seen through her recovery jandals as we chatted in Ashburton.

Well, nothing visually obvious to suggest that Timmis last week somehow completed a scarcely believable length of New Zealand run in just 21 days, setting a new Guiness World Record and obliterating the previous mark by a whopping 14 days for running from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

The Kaiapoi-based artist, originally from England, clocked up a tick over 100km a day, beginning each day between 4.30am and 5.30am and finishing by about seven each night. To put it simply, she ran about two-and-a-half marathons each day for 21 days in a row, ending at the Stirling Point signpost in Bluff just before midnight last Friday.

For someone who struggles to run to the dairy, that really is mind boggling but, incredibly, Timmis does not feel achy and stiff.

She has what she calls a “hole’’ at the bottom of her right foot and a tendon or ligament issue on the same leg but that’s it, apart from some swelling.

Running on the camber and shoulder of roads contributed to her right leg injuries, but it’s that lack of achiness and stiffness that’s meant her incredible feat hasn’t really sunk in.

“I kind of don’t feel like I have done a lot of running,’’ she said in Ashburton in a stopover on her return home, but this time by campervan with partner Tristan Phipps.

“I just feel like someone who has been battered, that I have been in a fight or something because I’ve got specific injuries that hurt. I feel like I have been kicked around but I don’t feel achy. It is a really weird sensation.’’

The whole run had that weird feel to it because, well, it’s hardly a normal thing to do.

But at no stage did Timmis ever feel like she had lost control of her senses and was blindly running to break the record and meet her mental health fundraising obligations.

Her vast endurance running experience – she started when she was 12 – meant the 37-year-old knew what her body could handle.

It certainly wasn’t the first time the Derby-born athlete had challenged herself physically. In 2015, she and a friend roller-skated across the Netherlands.

A year earlier, she ran across Africa – the 3974km distance equivalent to 94 marathons – in just 89 days.

Before that, she became the first woman to run the 2400km Freedom Trail across South Africa in 2011.

Still, even with that background, she remained conscious of not running her body into the State Highway 1 bitumen.

“Obviously if I was pushing myself so much that I could have had long-term damage to my body, then I would have stopped,’’ she said.

“I am sure the whole of New Zealand would have understood that.

“But there was a huge amount of pressure, especially once people had donated to your charities and they showed they believed in you.’’

Hundreds have shown their support by donating to her mental health awareness causes, Youthline in New Zealand and Young Minds in the United Kingdom.

Mental health remained very close and personal to Timmis, who went through her own depression challenges for three years when she thought her running days were over because of a leg injury.

Timmis had a fundraising target of $21,000 and had already bettered that, with more proceeds to come through an auction of running gear and accessories.

But, right now, it was all about rest and seeking ratification that her mark of 20 days, 17 hours and 17 minutes had been accepted by Guinness World Records.

Timmis has to submit videos and photos of the run, GPS tracking details and receipts of things she bought on the trek to prove she was in towns and cities. And after that? More running maybe?

Cue laughter.

And lots of it.

“Ah, no running.

“Not just yet,’’ she said showing her common sense, if not her feet, was certainly in one piece.

– By Daryl Holden