A Finnish researcher wanting to start discussions around domestic violence is running from Bluff to Cape Reinga in an attempt to complete 50 ultramarathons in 50 days.

Starting on January 18, Emilia Lahti aims to run about 50km per day for a total of 2400km, a challenge she started training for more than two years ago.

Lahti is hoping to break a world record for the most consecutive ultramarathons run by a woman, but for her it's about more than that.

She is running a campaign to raise awareness and "consciousness" around domestic violence, seven years after finding herself in an abusive relationship.


"It's actually not about the run at all. The run is just this thing about how to shine a light on this issue.

Emilia Lahti is preparing to run the length of New Zealand to draw attention to her campaign for non-violence. Photo/Melissa Nightingale
Emilia Lahti is preparing to run the length of New Zealand to draw attention to her campaign for non-violence. Photo/Melissa Nightingale

"I was one of those people who never thought it would happen to me. I always used to say that if something like that happens you just pack up your bags and leave," she said.

But Lahti discovered the reality of an abusive relationship was quite different.

Now she is working to remove the stigma for people who have been abused. She plans to stop off in at least 15 towns and cities to hold awareness events as she makes her way up the country.

In the aftermath of her own trauma, Lahti quit her job and embarked on a PhD in applied psychology, focusing on "the human experience of overcoming extreme adversity".

"We have this Finnish word, 'sisu'. We've had this word for hundreds of years, it doesn't have a direct translation."

Lahti describes sisu as referring to inner power, like a second wind when a person feels like they are at the very end of their mental and physical strength.

"You could a little bit relate it to kia kaha," she said.


She founded a non-profit project called Sisu Not Silence, which aims to generate a cultural shift around how we look at domestic violence, and remove shame from those who have experienced it.

"From the very start I had this dream that I would want to create something that would allow people to not feel ashamed to tell these stories around abuse.

"The silence perpetuates the violence because we keep quiet. That's what I did in my relationship and now I'm like, I'm never going to be f***ing silenced again."

Lahti chose New Zealand to do the run, partly because it is her "spiritual home" and partly because it has the worst rate of family violence in the world.

Lahti does not know how the run will turn out, but has friend Mina Holder by her side to help her with everything arranging events to muscle care.

She wants to make sure she does the run in a "compassionate" way.

Given she is running to promote non-violence, she doesn't want to "violate" her body by harming or damaging it in the process.

"I also will not be doing it at any cost. If there's a moment where continuing would lead to such damage that I couldn't look myself in the mirror and say that I honoured myself, then I will not continue."

Lahti has reached more than two million people already while training for the ultramarathons, and receives emails every week from people affected by her message.

Some are people that have made the decision to leave their abusive relationship after hearing her story.

She has been working in with White Ribbon and the It's Not OK groups to organise events around New Zealand.

Lahti is aiming to finish her run in Auckland on March 8.