Sandie Robinson was desperate to reclaim her life. Running felt like the most natural thing in the world.

The superbly fit retired lawyer had 15 marathons under her belt when she suffered a devastating blow, losing her 17-year-old son Kirby to cancer in 2002.

"It never gets easier. You just have to get on," Robinson says quietly.

"I had completed my first Ironman in 1995 when Kirby was 10. He always said he wanted to do an Ironman, so I did another one in 2009 - for him - then two more in 2010 and 2011."

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Robinson continued to run marathons, ticking off Paris and London in quick succession in 2011.

"I came home feeling really tired - and just didn't recover."

Sudden pain onset later that year sent Robinson for a health check where she received a shocking diagnosis: stage three bowel cancer.

"I thought 'How can this be? I've always been very fit, we eat healthy. My husband was an international rower so we are a very active, healthy family'."

A year of surgery and chemotherapy ensued and then Robinson returned to work. "Late 2013 I started to get really tired again: I was down to four days a week." A follow-up scan in 2014 revealed a large tumour and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, requiring surgery and chemotherapy.

"During the treatment I broke my leg. I had retired from my job, and by Christmas 2015 I was pretty lost. I decided I needed to change my attitude. On New Year's Day I saw a new event, the Explore Waiheke Half Marathon, and thought 'I have time to train now'."

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Robinson endures peripheral neuropathy - loss of sensation - in both feet as a side-effect of chemotherapy, but the 59-year-old has set a goal to run twelve half-marathons in twelve months. She can pull a tidy time out of the bag, running 2h 6m in Tauranga and 2h 12m in Huntly already this year, but insists time is secondary. "The goal now is to finish comfortably, knowing I can run again the next day or the next weekend."

Hamilton-based Robinson looks to local events to reduce exhaustion from travelling: the GEMX inaugural Explore Waiheke Half will be her third for the year, with a plan that she admits is "a bit tight, but includes Auckland and Taupo".

Despite grieving for her lost endurance, Robinson is optimistic about the future.

"I will never do an Ironman again - that is just beyond me. But while I can, I will keep running. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, so I want to do these things while I can."


Explore Waiheke Half Marathon
What: 21km, 10km, 2km Kids' Run
When: Saturday, May 7
Where: Alison Park, Waiheke Island
For more information: www.waihekehalfmarathon.co.nz