Lance Haniford has turned his life around in remarkable fashion in the past three years. The 63-year-old is one of 40 runners signed up for the 100-mile (160km) run in the Great Naseby water race this week in Central Otago. It is a long way from the man who battled alcohol issues for "most of his life". The retired farm-hand completed the Great Naseby run last year in 24h 51m to place 13th out of the 23 runners who completed the inaugural 100-mile race. He wants to beat that time next weekend.
How did you get into long-distance running?
I wasted most of my life sitting in a pub for 40 years, drinking my life away. When I turned 60 I knew things had to change. I had drunk the best years of my life away and I wanted to do something about it, something positive. At the age of 60 I did my first half marathon and that was a turning point. I then started getting into trail events and then ultras. Now I can't imagine my life without running. I love it because I know that I can do it.
What appeals about running 160km?
The challenge. Not many people can run that distance. There is an elite group of runners around New Zealand taking on the 100-mile runs and it is nice to be in that company. There are a lot of people who run 100km races now -- it is becoming a lot more popular - but to run 100 miles is another challenge altogether.
Is this a race you look forward to all year?
Yeah, there are only three 100-mile races all year in New Zealand [Northburn Ultra Mountain Race and the Taranaki Steelformers 100-mile run] and the Great Naseby is one of the ones we all look forward to. Jamie and Aileen [Sinclair] do a fantastic job running this event. They are just fantastic people. It is like a party atmosphere. Everyone supports everyone. The family atmosphere makes this event special, the camaraderie you share with your fellow runners. The lead guys go tearing past you but they are so encouraging and cheer you on. That makes a big difference. The location is awesome as well.
What is the hardest point of the 100-mile race?
It is all really tough. If you have never done a 100-mile race then the hardest part is after 100km. The next 60km is "no man's land". You don't know how fast to go, what it is supposed to feel like, and your body packs up. You can't eat any food. Everything tastes horrible. You can't get anything down and it becomes a battle. It is a long way to run. It is both mentally and physically challenging. The mental part is easier if you have done a few ultras but the physical side is always tough. It is going to hurt. It is nice and quiet running at night. But there are times where you are out there running and you might not see anyone for five hours at a time. It plays with your mind a bit.
After the battle what is it like to finally reach the finish line?
It is a fantastic feeling. It is hard to believe it is all over. All of the work and the pain are all worth it with the sense of achievement. You have completed something few people can do. You have been out there for a long time. When I finished the race last year I was out on my feet for almost 25 hours and I wasn't the slowest. There were a few who were out there for 38 hours. That is a huge commitment and a long time. It takes a lot of perseverance to keep going over that period. It is big cost for a buckle but it is worth it. [Every athlete who completes the 100-mile earns a buckle].
People reading this will say you guys are all a bit weird to take on something like this. What do you say to them?
They are probably right in some respects. It takes a certain sort of personality to push your body to the absolute limit. We are all happy-go-lucky people who like pushing the boundaries. The 100-mile race is the longest run in New Zealand so it is a good test and the bond you share with your fellow competitors when you finish 100 miles together is unreal.
How much have you trained for this?
I am running 100 miles a week at the moment as I need to look after my body. I run a lot on gravel roads because the Great Naseby is about 50 per cent gravel roads. I spend a lot of time running downhills as well to smash my quads. My workload isn't as much as many others in the race. There are quite a few guys who run 250km to 300km a week but 160km a week is enough for my legs.
You are 63, what is it like taking on a challenge like this at your age?
It is good fun. I am not there to just make up the numbers. I am there to run it as fast as I can. I am usually the oldest at all of the races that I run in so it's nice to have the age-group prize all sewn up. I run for fun and part of the enjoyment is pushing myself. It is a big part of my life.
What advice do you offer to newcomers to the 100-mile run and people who are struggling to get into fitness?
Get ready for a long day. It is going to hurt. And it is going to hurt for a while afterwards as well. But you will get the point where you enjoy the pain. If you're not hurting then you are not doing it right. For the people who aren't fit, get into it.
Stop making excuses, there are no good excuses. It doesn't have to be running but get into some sort of fitness and make it a regular routine so it becomes a habit. Getting fit has changed my life. It is never too late.
Where will the finish line be for you in your running career?
I am keen to keep going until I can't run any more. I am 63 but I took a long time to get into running so I feel like I have a few more years yet. I have talked to some of the best ultra-runners in New Zealand and they said many runners have some of their best years in the 60s. So I am keen to keep pushing myself.
The long run
Lance Haniford's running achievements since turning 60:
6 x 100km races
3 x 160km races
5 X 50 or 70km races
2 x 12-hour races
1 x 24-hour race
Great Naseby water race
When: Saturday August 30
Where: Naseby, Central Otago
Event Options: 50km, 60km (team), 80km, 100km and 160km.
For more information visit: greatnasebywaterrace.co.nz