ENDURANCE ATHLETE LISA TAMATI
Sporty since childhood, Lisa Tamati has tried her hand at everything from gymnastics to water polo, but it was running that captured her sense of adventure. She’s since clocked up more than 2000km in ultra-marathon races throughout the world, as well as a good 65,000km worth of pounding the pavements for training and running events at home. These days, she’s added coach, motivational speaker and jewellery maker to her impressive CV, and she credits running with teaching her some life lessons for success.
“Running can be hard and painful, but then again, we never just stick to things in life that are easy, do we? We do things that are a challenge so we can find out more about who we are,” she says. “Running isn’t about winning, it’s about developing a whole lot of mental skills.”
Taking it to extremes
Few runners can say they’ve raced in the desert, but Lisa has always enjoyed testing her limits. After hearing about an event that involved a 250km traverse of the Sahara Desert in a week, she calculated the distance required per day and decided to go for it. After the thrill of finishing her first race, she was quickly hooked, and went on to complete ultra-marathon events in countries including Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Jordan, with each race covering more than 100km. Every event is tough, but some have felt like a battle for survival.
“Some of the countries I’ve run through aren’t exactly safe for women,” says Lisa, 48. “I remember running through Niger and in the middle of this massive flat desert, there were these trucks coming past with 200 men piled on top. Here I am running along alone, faced with all these men looking at me, and I’m thinking ‘oh god, there could be some trouble here.’”
Thankfully, she finished the event without any problems, but it wasn’t the first time she feared for her safety in the desert. In another race, she came down with severe food poisoning within an hour of leaving the start line.
“I just kept passing out and getting back up on my feet. Then you have the issue of running out of toilet paper! But in that situation, you have to be driven. You’ve put in thousands of miles of training and a lot of effort and money, so you don’t want to just give up.”
While some events have been “spectacular failures”, letting go of negative experiences has become one of her mantras. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and you have to learn not to beat yourself up too much,” says the down-to-earth athlete. “You have to keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and finding new ways of doing things. Those lessons are valuable in everything we do.”
With her preference for running alone, Lisa, who is also an author, has had plenty of time to think and reflect while hitting the trails. And when times are tough, she’s learned to adopt a positive mindset to get her through.
“While motivations change, you have to have a passionate idea of why you’re doing something, so you can draw on those thoughts when you’re in dire need of a boost. Looking back at everything I’ve learned, key aspects are things like developing strategies to overcome obstacles, and adopting an attitude of never giving up. Those are all things that I translate now into my [jewellery] business, and my personal life and relationships.”
It’s a steely determination that’s not only carried her through endurance races, but helped her overcome personal challenges, too. After her mum suffered a devastating brain injury early last year, Lisa became her full-time carer, health advocate and emotional supporter.
She’s candid about the toll it’s taken on her own wellbeing, but as she juggles demands at home around running a business and keeping her other ventures afloat, she’s long let go of the pressure to strive for perfection.
“I’m often on the computer until 11pm, which I know wreaks havoc with my body,” she says. “It’s not ideal at all but at the moment it’s something that just has to be done. I do notice I don’t function as well with less sleep, but most of us have that combination of work pressures and family stuff that we have to work around. It’s about trying to balance the ‘bad’ with the good stuff.”
Nothing comes ‘naturally’
Out on the running track, she might make it look easy, but sports-mad Lisa insists that she’s not naturally gifted when it comes to tackling marathons. Following a test to measure her athletic skills, she was told she’s technically below average for endurance ability.
“I have no running talent whatsoever!” She laughs. “I’ve had asthma my whole life, and my lung capacity is really small.
“I could never go very fast, but I found I could go long distance. I always found that my asthma was better in hot and dry climates, so I ended up sort of specialising in running in the desert!”
She knows all about the hard slog of building up running ability, and passes her immense knowledge on to the range of beginner and experienced athletes she coaches.
“I teach people to avoid all the things I used to do wrong in my early days,” she says. “One thing I always tell people is that doing massive amounts of mileage isn’t necessary. Training too much is a common mistake a lot of athletes make, and it leads to adrenal fatigue and injuries. I can read my body now so that I know the difference between when I’m just being lazy or when I need a break, but it’s taken a long time to get there.”
With a lot of her own running goals now ticked off, Lisa is looking forward to trying her hand at other types of fitness, and working on building flexibility and strength. “As I get older, it’s more important for me to retain muscle, coordination and balance,” she says. “I want to see how fit I can be as I age
– I want to be ripped and athletic at 70!”
‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and you have to learn not to beat yourself up too much’