All stories, over a certain length, take a similar form.

There are certain characters, horrible things happen to them - and your protagonist gets redemption.

Acclaimed American mythological thinker Joseph Campbell called it the arc of the hero, or hero's journey.

For a generation of New Zealand runners of both genders, Lorraine Moller was – and still is - that person.


Arguably our greatest female long-distance runner, her bronze in the 1992 Olympic marathon in Barcelona was our first podium in the event since Scottish-born Mike Ryan in Mexico City, 1968.

Her New Zealand female marathon record of 2h 28m 17s was bettered only by Papakura's Kimberley Smith, in New York, in 2011.

"I think my first international competition was [when I was] 16, so I never had that feeling that the rest of the world was much bigger or greater than me," the ex-runner says from her home in Boulder, Colorado.

"I was thrown in there and was ignorant enough to believe I belonged in that world."

She did, though. No Kiwi has had a medal in the Olympic marathon, and rarely approached the marathon marks set by her and Smith, since.

A self-described "empty nester" whose 18-year-old daughter Jasmine has just moved to Sydney, Australia, the 63-year-old's athletic attention has lately moved from the track and roadside to the pool.

Though still running now and then, Moller swims 2km of lengths a day at an outdoor saltwater nearby.

Writing is her new craft, and she is throwing herself at it. Attending a local writer's workshop several years ago, Moller's teacher tasked her with turning in 1000 words a day for every class you attend. The Putaruru-raised runner ended up with 80,000 before she was ready to go it alone.

Foreworded by Sir Peter Snell, her thoroughly candid 2007 memoir had already set a tone, she believes, dictated by the Roman gods.

"They are both governed by Mercury, the celestial runner," she says. "He's also the [Roman] god of communication and writing. My book was called On the Wings of Mercury and he's still alive and strong [in me]."

Long known as a deeper, almost spiritual thinker, Moller talks with a wisdom and sense of humour that is both disarming and immensely thoughtful.

"I find writing to be such a cathartic thing," Moller says.

"It's a way of getting things that are deep in the soul, you can bring it out and you can put it on to a page in someone else's story. It's a way of maybe organising our own inner reality."

The horrible thing that really shaped the start of her journey through life was being sent from her home on a Putaruru farm to a hospital in Auckland. She was a 3-year-old struggling with a urinary tract illness and no local hospitals were capable of caring for her.

It would mean weeks and weeks at a time, alone, far from her home and family, like younger sister Delwyn, who'd later become a Nasa engineer. She'd continue treatment, on and off, until she was 10.

"Those experiences in hospital were the wound that has driven my life," Moller says.

As a teen, she devoted herself to running, receiving coaching and mentoring from Arthur Lydiard, and Kiwi Olympic middle-distance medallists John Davies and Dick Quax.

Dick Quax and Lorraine Moller on the red carpet at the Halberg Awards in 2008. Photo / Photosport
Dick Quax and Lorraine Moller on the red carpet at the Halberg Awards in 2008. Photo / Photosport

All three have since died.

Aged only 18, Moller ran in the 800m in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, finishing fifth. While her shift to marathoning came in 1979, there would be, shockingly, no sanctioned marathons at international athletics meets for females until 1984.

In that time Moller snared bronzes in the 1500m and 3000m at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, before announcing herself to the world with victory in the 1984 Boston marathon.

Her time, 2h 29m 28s, was more than 10m faster than 2018 winner Desi Lenden, and made Moller a favourite in the first female Olympic marathon later that year.

She finished fifth in Los Angeles though – Hokitika's Mary O'Connor also competed – sparking another great spiritual challenge: How to turn fifth into a medal.

Moller says it was one of the toughest mental battles of her life.

"I had to break down mental blocks," she says. She immersed herself in Lydiard's stoic approach, pushing herself as far as she could go. Focus was absolute, only winning would matter.

The burden was too much in Seoul in 1988, when she finished 33rd, but after impressive victories in the Hokkaido Marathon in 1989 and 1991, Barcelona loomed as the moment where finally Moller's mind and body could be in perfect conversation to reach the podium.

Lorraine Moller after winning the 1984 Boston Marathon. Photo / Getty Images
Lorraine Moller after winning the 1984 Boston Marathon. Photo / Getty Images

There would be one last obstacle.

Only four days before the race itself, her ex-husband, American Olympian Ron Daws, died of a sudden heart attack.

Team management decided to keep the news from her to avoid disrupting her preparation but word slipped out the day before the race.

Though the two hadn't spoken for 10 years, Moller admits she was "disturbed" by Daws' death.

Digesting her grief – she resolved to run well to "honour" the connection she and her former husband once shared – and the race ahead, Moller channelled a dinner conversation she'd had with Lydiard in Boulder a month before the Olympics.

"'You are ready,' he was saying," Moller recalls. "'You have the experience and the endurance.'

"And then I started saying 'but, but, but.' He said, 'Don't be silly. Ninety per cent of athletes perform at below their best for big races. You're at your best; you're ready.'

"'If there are 100 in your race, you're only going to be up against 10.'

"He knew how to frame things that would work for his runners," she continues.

"Later on, I tried to work out where Arthur got that statistic from."

She pauses and laughs: "He probably just made it up."

Legendary athletics coach Arthur Lydiard was a mentor for Moller. Photo / Getty Images
Legendary athletics coach Arthur Lydiard was a mentor for Moller. Photo / Getty Images

The third oldest in the field, Moller was 37 when the starter's gun went off on August 1, 1992.

Yet she ran with a command, doggedness and grit that could have only ever been produced on a Waikato farm, an Auckland hospital ward or after a long season, deep in the Valley.

Moller claimed bronze, behind Russia's Valentina Yergorova and Japan's Yuko Amimori.

"The subconscious recounts all the things that you know you have [helped] and will help you," she says.

"If you say 'yes, but' the 'but' is where your dream is torn down. If you give a 'yes', nothing else, that's the hero's journey, you have returned the call."

Her time of 2h 33m 59s was nearly three minutes ahead of the fourth-placed finisher.

The following year, she was awarded an MBE for services to athletics and while she competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, her race, Moller's time as a runner, would soon wind down.

Moller's passion for physical activity has not, though.

She is authoring a manual for fellow Kiwi Olympic medallist Rod Dixon's KidsMarathon running and nutrition programme, which has been installed in schools across New Zealand and the United States. More than 40,000 children and teenagers are understood to be participating.

"Kids today are not getting the physical development early on, so we now have the first generation of kids that have a life expectancy that is less than their parents," Moller says.

"That, to me, is a big wake-up call. I believe we need to have a physical renaissance and make the body popular again, not just a pedestal for the iPhone.

"If you sit for an hour, your metabolism drops 90 per cent," she says.

"We're not meant to be sitting. We've got to get out of the box, got to get out into the sunlight and move around. Be active and use the body. That's where my next project is."

Lorraine Moller is now a writer and would consider moving back to New Zealand from the US. Photo / Getty Images
Lorraine Moller is now a writer and would consider moving back to New Zealand from the US. Photo / Getty Images

Moller continues to champion the Lydiard-style of teaching through the Lydiard Foundation, whose non-profit education foundation she helped found in 2006.

Despite massive modern technological advances in the approach to running, she believes the basic hard-work philosophy to running - and life - that Lydiard preached still holds true.

"[His] system is a holistic system that trains all the energy systems and puts them together using timing factors that enable one to peak on the day that counts.

"That's what it's all about; number one, you build the energy. Number two, you focus the energy.

"I know there's a lot of people that think it's old-fashioned and want the newest, greatest thing. There's certainly this electronic monitoring [now].

"It can be good training wheels, but it comes down to knowing yourself, and your own body, and being able to use it in a way that gets you where you want to go.

"It's about being able to sort the forest from the trees, which was one of Arthur's favourite expressions."

Boulder is still home for now, but Moller – the only runner to complete each of the 20th century's female Olympic marathons – says she is open to a move back home to New Zealand or to be near her daughter in Sydney.

She is amicably separated from her husband Harlan and says she intends to do more "writing around running, training and racing as a transformational process".

Moller's first novel is nearly finished now, too.

A "time-travel historical fantasy", the story weaves a modern-day relationship between a mother and daughter, a Gypsy Holocaust survivor and a connection, through time, to 16th century Italy.

She's on the lookout for a publisher, in the US or New Zealand.

"I started to think," Moller says, when asked about the importance of the protagonist's second act, "well, maybe someone up there is writing my story and I'd better get to the redemption part."

Why not? She has the experience, and the endurance. She's ready. And, hey, aren't only 10 per cent of the field ever at their best anyway?

Only a hero in the arc knows why.