Doc­tor Feel-good THE SCI­EN­TIST WHO CAN’T STOP RUN­NING

CHRIS­TINE IS SET TO GO THE DIS­TANCE IN A DE­CA­MAN!

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - WEEKLYPEOPLE - Ciara Pratt

What in the world would drive some­one to run, cy­cle and bike more than 2200 kilo­me­tres prac­ti­cally non­stop?

It’s a ques­tion Dr Chris­tine Coul­drey gets asked reg­u­larly. But no, she’s not run­ning from any­thing and is afraid that she doesn’t have a straight an­swer for any­one as to why she takes on such gru­elling chal­lenges ei­ther.

Her lat­est is the New Or­leans De­ca­man. The name it­self gives a clue about its in­ten­sity, but for those of us not in the world of en­durance ath­leti­cism, the de­ca­man is 10 times the length of a typ­i­cal iron­man race.

Chris­tine (44) is swim­ming nearly 39km, bik­ing just over 1800km and run­ning 422km in her long­est – “and hard­est” − race yet. She be­gan on November 6 and has a dead­line to fin­ish by November 19. De­spite at­tempt­ing this, if we go back to where it all be­gan, Chris­tine says many would be sur­prised to know that sport didn’t come nat­u­rally for her.

“Let’s just say I was the world’s least sporty per­son at school,” she re­veals. “My phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers at pri­mary and high school were al­ways telling my par­ents that I should stick to aca­demics and mu­sic rather than sport. That’s how use­less I was at all sports!”

So she went to univer­sity at the age of 16 to be­gin a ca­reer in sci­ence and one day − in the mid­dle of a Christchurch win­ter − Chris­tine jumped on a bike.

“I had this un­easy, not con­tent, feel­ing and I got my old bike out and rode 10km and it made me feel re­ally good. So the next time I felt re­ally lonely or not good I got my bike out and rode it. That’s where it all started,” she says.

“By my third year of univer­sity, one of my friends signed me up for the tini­est, short-dis­tance sprint triathlon. I did that and I loved it! I was like, ‘Oh my God, for the first time in my life I can ac­tu­ally com­pete in a sport!’”

While Chris­tine is the first to ad­mit she wasn’t nat­u­rally tal­ented, she says that didn’t bother her be­cause what mat­tered was the fact that she could com­pete in spite of her abil­ity level.

“Un­like a lot of peo­ple who want to see how fast they can go, even from my first race I’ve al­ways wanted to see if I could do the next longer dis­tance. That’s what mo­ti­vates me.”

From the early 1990s on­wards − through­out sev­eral over­seas moves and a chal­leng­ing PhD in molec­u­lar re­pro­duc­tive bi­ol­ogy at Cam­bridge Univer­sity − Chris­tine kept push­ing her lim­its, even­tu­ally com­pet­ing in her first iron­man event in 2000.

“Com­ing across the fin­ish line of that I just felt like a to­tal rock star,” she grins.

“For some­body who’s not at all sporty and who worked re­ally hard to be able to do it, that was just an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment.”

Since then, the Raglan woman be­lieves she is the only Kiwi to have com­pleted race lengths equiv­a­lent to a dou­ble, triple and quin­tu­ple iron­man, while also hold­ing the women’s record for cycling eight times around Lake Taupo.

All of this is on top of work­ing as a molec­u­lar bi­ol­o­gist in the Kiwi dairy in­dus­try, where she analy­ses scores of data so that New Zealand can breed the best bulls, and help­ing her part­ner Mi­chol with his bee­keep­ing busi­ness.

How does she do it? For one thing, hav­ing an un­der­stand­ing and sup­port­ive part­ner and workplace goes a long way.

“I do a lot of train­ing. I train 20 hours or more a week, even when I’m not train­ing for any­thing,” she says. “Just be­cause that’s what I do, that’s what keeps me happy and keeps me dis­ci­plined. But train­ing for this race I’ve been do­ing 30 to 35 hours a week on top of work.”

To get that prepa­ra­tion done, Chris­tine says you need to learn “men­tal tough­ness” be­cause there are days when much of it is not fun.

“If you’re out all day, every day, it takes a lot of mo­ti­va­tion, self-dis­ci­pline and men­tal tough­ness just to do that. I’m quite lucky be­cause peo­ple I work with will some­times ride a few hours with me. But a lot of it you have to do on your own. You have to be pretty happy and con­tent with your own com­pany.”

Chris­tine ad­mits she’s “quite ter­ri­fied” about the chal­lenge she’s un­der­tak­ing but has a pretty good track record, hav­ing only ever not fin­ished one race in her life. And like a true sucker for pun­ish­ment, she’s al­ready think­ing about the next hurdle – 20 times the length of an iron­man race – in Mex­ico!

“It’s the self-con­fi­dence that comes easy to me with th­ese races,” she says.

“I like to en­cour­age other peo­ple who don’t feel like they can do sport, or who feel like they can’t ex­er­cise. I don’t see my­self as in­spi­ra­tional, but I do see my­self be­ing a good in­flu­ence on peo­ple who can see that any­body can get out there and be fit and healthy.”

Chris­tine is taking chal­leng­ing her­self to a whole new level by com­pet­ing in the NewOr­leans De­ca­man.The molec­u­lar bi­ol­o­gist has been train­ing for 30-35 hours a week, on top of work, for the event.

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