Adventures Of A Long-Distance Runner

Words by Carys Matthews

Anna McNuff is chatty, excitable and enthusiastic – about pretty much everything. She is also equally happy in her own company, which is fortunate as she’s currently running 2,000 miles across New Zealand unsupported.

On 12 January 2015, 30-year-old Anna, who lives in London, set off on a solo voyage from Bluff on the South Island of New Zealand. Her aim was to run the equivalent of 80 marathons, across the entire length of the country.

Carrying all her supplies on her back, Anna will run for five months and is aiming to cover between 15 and 20 miles a day, depending on the terrain, towards the finish line in New Zealand’s most northerly point in Cape Reigna.

I’ve had people ask in amazement how I run so much each day, but honestly it’s not that hard...

Her journey on foot follows the scenic and dramatic Te Araroa trail, which opened in 2011, and will take her across mountains and rivers, through forests, along volcanic peaks and through the historic gold-mining heart of NZ.

No stranger to epic adventure challenges, the former Great Britain rower (she retired at the tender age of 23) cycled 11,000 miles unsupported through every state in the US in 2013, raising a hefty £11,000 for charity in the process.

A big part of Anna’s adventure is to inspire children to get outdoors and have adventures of their own. As she runs, Anna is popping into schools on route to share her story and give kids a different kind of life lesson.

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When Cooler spoke to Anna over Skype, she was just finishing off a highly competitive game of Rumikub with two 70-year-olds in Queenstown (she didn’t win), where she was staying for a couple of days to recharge her batteries.

“I smashed the first bit a little hard and ran 11-days straight", she says. “I wanted to do a live dial-in for an adventure night in London, so needed to be somewhere with reception".

For the majority of the challenge, Anna is sleeping wild. She carries with her a small, lightweight one-man tent (weighing just 85g), or making use of the numerous trail huts on route.

It was in the Lower Wairaki hut in the South Island, that Anna describes her favourite moment of the trip so far – a memorable evening sat round the campfire, chatting and singing Johnny Cash songs with two friendly trampers – Ron – a retired 65-year-old nomad from Canada and Clinton, a Kiwi enjoying a weekend tramp.

“It’s these moments that make it all worthwhile", grins Anna into a slightly fuzzy Skype camera.

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With a pack-weight of 7.5kgs - before water and food - Anna is running with two changes of clothes, her trusty tent, sleeping bag, mat, maps and a couple of luxury items such as her camera, GoPro, iPhone, Macbook Air and Kindle.

Anna says, “I had to carry about five days worth of food and water on the last stint, as I wasn’t going to go through anywhere, so my pack got quite heavy".

When I ask her if she is really planning on running the whole way, Anna laughs, but says she is determined in her goal. “I know I could walk further in a day if I set off at sunrise, but that’s not the challenge. I want to see how my body will react to running, so that’s the experiment."

I know I could walk further in a day if I set off at sunrise, but that’s not the challenge. I want to see how my body will react to running...

Amazingly, Anna only decided to do the challenge last September. She trained by running between 60 to 80 miles a week - getting up in the early hours to run before work and often running several miles home from work. “I think because I have a background in sport, I knew my body would cope", says Anna.

“Some mountains have been tough, but I’m making my own rules and making sure I go up it as hard and fast as I can."

When not tackling endurance challenges, Anna works 9-5pm in a busy marketing job in London and lives frugally to fund her adventures, admitting that while she loves London, she thrives on the thrill of adventure and relishes getting away into the wild on her own.

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“There’s something so wonderfully free about running that it’s almost childlike", says Anna. “I’ve had people ask in amazement how I run so much each day, but in all honesty it’s not that hard.

“All I have to think about is food and water and switch my mind off and just run, which is a dream life if you ask me.

"Also, as I’m on my own there’s no pressure, so I can run for an hour and stop if I feel like it. The other day for example, I had to take a detour to a lake to collect water and discovered these amazing glacial lakes and was there for two hours and had a little swim, which meant I had to run later into the evening, but at the end of the day I can run by my own rules."

Sounds like a pretty dreamy life to us too.

Follow Anna McNuff on Twitter or Facebook – and use #AnnaRuNZ

Where’s Anna right now? You can follow her progress using this live tracker below...