Auckland Marathon winner Nicole Goldsmid has replaced life in the pool for a burgeoning running career. Steve Landells charts the emergence of a special talent.
Modestly describing herself as "sucker for punishment" breakout distance runner and recently crowned Auckland Marathon winner Nicole Goldsmid has never been a woman to shy away from hard work.
A former international swimmer for New Zealand, Nicole thrived in the aerobically demanding 800m and 1500m freestyle, so it is perhaps not so much of a surprise that following her relatively recent conversion to running - the marathon has proved her number one event,
"To be honest, I'm not super-talented, I'm just a hard worker," she says modestly. "If you talked to any of my New Zealand coaches (in swimming) they knew me as someone who trained hard. As for running, it is just something I turn up and do. I certainly don't think of myself as a top runner."
Yet after her impressive victory in the Auckland Marathon last month - the last 19km of which was completed with an injured knee - it might be time to reassess her modest thinking.
Born and raised in Feilding, where she lives today, Nicole was encouraged by her parents to swim to not only gain water confidence but as a means to control her childhood asthma.
She went on to represent her country in the pool, although she was initially no superstar
and cringes at the memory of her first one-length race at her local swimming pool.
"I thought I was going well but halfway during the race they pulled me out on the pool," she recalls. "I remember running straight into the changing rooms and locking myself in the toilet because I was so upset I had been pulled out. I knew I could have got to the finish."
The quietly determined schoolgirl refused to let the experience scar her. She persisted with the sport and gradually improved. Boasting a fearsome work ethic, Nicole started to win local and regional galas and then started to make an impact on the national scene.
Aged just 13 she made the New Zealand swimming team and set 13 national age group records. She also competed at the 2007 Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney but she grew disillusioned by the demands of the sport and quit aged 16.
Yet Nicole was much more than a swimmer and during her schooldays also impressed as a cross country runner. She was good enough to excel as an inter-school champion in the Manawatu region and in 2002 won a bronze medal in the year 9 girls' event at the New Zealand Secondary Schools' Cross Country Championships in Blenheim.
"I'd competed for Feilding Moa Harriers and I had always loved running and done well at cross country," says Nicole, whose older brother Cameron is an international triathlete and was good enough to finish fourth as a runner at the 2014 New Zealand Road Championships "Back then, because I was so serious about my swimming, I only did the running for fitness," she comments.
After her competitive swimming career ended she continued running recreationally but four years after meeting Chris Sanson, the former ironman triathlete, who earlier this year won a silver medal at the New Zealand Marathon Championships, did she start running more seriously.
In 2013 she competed at and won the Manawatu Striders Half Marathon in 1:31. From that point on the Makino Swim Club coach was slowly sucked into the sport. Stepping up her training she returned to defend her title this time running 1:23 at the end of 2014 she made her marathon debut at the Great Forest Events in the Waitarere Forest, recording 3:03.
The next year she cracked sub-three hours for the first time in the marathon and also secured a hat-trick of Manawatu Striders half-marathon titles in a PB of 1:19.
So how does Nicole explain the improvement from 2013-15?
"I train hard but only really stepped up the training last year," says Nicole who runs on average between 100-120 per week and is self-coached. "My body is slowly adapting into that of runner. I had very weak ankles and knees because swimming was a non-weight bearing sport. Previously, I'd often roll my ankle on any uneven ground whereas now that never happens.
"Normally people don't make that switch (from swimming to running) and often swimmers are quite un-coordinated when running. I'm guess I'm lucky."
This year has been her best to date. She trimmed more than two minutes from her marathon best at the Manawatu Striders Marathon in May running 2:47:01 and her performance in Palmerston North encouraged her to raise the bar and take on a fresh challenge.
She was attracted to competing in the Auckland Marathon and it was recommended Nicole apply for an elite start. She was accepted and it set the Manawatu-based athlete on a different path.
"To be honest, I'd never seen myself as an elite athlete before," she says. "Even going down to the registration the day I thought I was going to be sick. I get very nervous before big races. Standing in the elite area before the race, I thought, holly crap, everyone else looks so good."
Yet fortunately for the rising distance running star as soon as the gun goes the nerves and tension dissipate. In full running mode she is relaxed and calm.
Taking the race by the scruff of the neck from the outset she powered through the first half of the race in 1:19 - coincidentally matching her half-marathon PB - and more than three minutes ahead of her nearest pursuer. However, at 23km a niggly knee injury, which had troubled her for the month leading into the race, resurfaced.
"Every time I twisted my knee it would pop out of place and wrench. It was agony. I was gutted when it happened. For the last 15km I started cramping and I just hoped I could hang on."
Thankfully for Nicole she managed to resist the pressure to win by a little under two minutes in 2:47:43 from the chasing Margie Atthow of Australia. After crossing the line her legs seized up and she collapsed. She was quickly whisked away for medical attention yet within 10 minutes or so Nicole was chatting happily to the media elated with her success.
"I was so thrilled to win the race because just two weeks earlier I didn't know if I would make it (because of the knee injury)," she says. "It was definitely quite surreal. I did not expect it."
Aged just 27 - still young in marathon terms - Nicole would appear to have a bright future. Bolstered by a new level of confidence next season she is considering a crack at the New Zealand Marathon Championships and is optimistic she has scope for further improvement.
"I'm in a good position in that I've had no coaching, no advice or physio or any such input, so I still think I can get better," she says.
Yet for Nicole the greatest thrill is simply to put on her shoes and run.
"I get a rush out of it pushing myself to the limit and working hard," she says. I just love getting up in the morning and going for a run."