Above: Katie Kemp winning the 2015 NZ Marathon title at the ASB Auckland Marathon. Photo by Simon Watts / Getty Images.
Recently minted New Zealand Marathon champion Katie Kemp slashed more than seven minutes from her lifetime best for the 42.2km distance in Auckland earlier this month. Steve Landells chats to the 39-year-old Wellington Scottish athlete about how her success is a family affair.
Katie Kemp half-jokingly refers to running as her “selfish, independent hobby.”
Yet if the Wellington-based mum-of-three’s passion for running is a touch indulgent her triumph in the ASB Auckland Marathon earlier this month helped give a little back to her family not least because it helped trim the cost of her mortgage repayments for the next couple of years – more of which later.
Her triumph in the nation’s premier marathon was perhaps not such a shock, but the nature of her dominance was. She won the race in an impressive 2:42:35 – the third fastest time by a Kiwi woman for the distance this year – her margin of victory just two seconds shy of ten minutes from second placed Kelly Parlane.
Just two months from celebrating her 40th birthday Katie is finally realising the talent her genetics suggested she always possessed.
Born on a dairy farm in the Taieri Plains, Katie has running in her blood. Her father Robert Urquhart was a former 2:49 marathoner (he ran the time aged just 16!), an ex-President of Athletics Otago and is a life-member at Athletics Taieri.
Katie competed at New Zealand Secondary School Cross Country Championships as a youngster and while never a stand out performer she clearly she had a natural running ability.
Post-school she quit the sport to complete a degree in Physical Education and Commerce at Otago University and it was only after relocating back to Wellington – home city of husband, Jimmy – after a three-year period working overseas she decided to return to the sport aged 26.
“I returned from London entered the 2002 Wellington Half-Marathon and got a placing,” she says. “It was then the Wellington Scottish club contacted me and Matt Dravitzki was picked to coach me.”
Katie emerged quickly on to the national scene securing the 2004 National 10km Road title and also clocked a swift 1:14 half-marathon in Christchurch.
Yet her development was bedevilled by injury as four stress fractures prompted a doctor to comment that she should perhaps pursue another sport.
Frustrated with her health issues she heeded the medic’s warning and took up triathlon, earning a podium finish in her age-group at the 2007 Tauranga Half-Ironman.
“It was a hard decision to turn my back on athletics,” she says reflectively. “I think it was probably fate and swimming and cycling did fill a void.”
Apart from the occasional run she then took five years out of sport as she gave birth to her three daughters now aged seven (Lucy), five (Abbey) and four (Phoebe).
“I was a very busy mum not really doing any running but then when my youngest was about one-and-a-half I started running by pushing my youngest in a buggy around the Bays (in Wellington),” she explains. “It was then I started to get back into it and I decided to give the (2013) Wellington Marathon a go.”
In what was her debut marathon - although ineligible for the New Zealand Marathon Championship on at the time because she was not a club member - she defied her lack of experience and lengthy period away from the sport to win the race in 2:53:38.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was absolutely stunned,” she admits.
She next targeted the 50th anniversary race of the Rotorua Marathon in 2014 and reunited with Dravitzki - himself a former 2:13 marathoner and former Rotorua Marathon champion.
A more structured training plan was formed and their coach-athlete relationship has thrived.
“Matt's an incredible role model because as a former 2:13 athlete I know any training he gives me he has tried and tested himself,” adds Katie. “He is very matter-of-fact and he says once you are on the start-line there are no excuses. I like the fact he doesn't talk around anything and he is calm and considered.”
In Rotorua she made further progress by chipping more than three-and-a-half minutes from her marathon PB to place third in 2:49:55.
Training to the watch rather than by kilometres, she cites running the 35km Makara loop north of Wellington fortnightly during peak marathon training time as helping her build up her crucial endurance base.
“It is a renowned loop for marathon training, a lonely old road. An undulating 35km loop with no taxis!” she quips.
She was all set to target the Christchurch Marathon in May when four weeks out from the event she tore a hamstring. This derailed her ambitions to run a fast time in the Garden City and the road to recover demanded patience. She ran a 1:18:53 time to place second in the Wellington Half-Marathon in July but following her exertions the injury took some time to settle down.
Yet since taking up yoga in early August the injury has finally healed, which has allowed her to put in a quality three months of training ahead of the Auckland Marathon.
“Yoga is quite functional in that it really supplements my training through stretching and strengthening,” she insists. “Since I've started doing yoga, I think it has really helped.”
At the same time her youngest daughter started to attend kindergarten three times a week and this also allowed Katie to improve the quality of her sessions. For three days a week rather than Katie having to rise at 530am for training she has the luxury of starting her morning runs after the kindy drop off.
“To go for a run three times a week at a later time has been a lot easier on the body and it makes a difference to go training with some food in your stomach,” she explains. “I have more energy. Those early mornings can be hard on the body and to only have to do them once or twice a week is manageable.”
Approaching the Auckland Marathon – which doubled as the New Zealand Marathon Championship - she knew she was in shape to run a target time of around 2:45. Yet even she exceeded expectations to obliterate her previous marathon PB by more than seven minutes to take an emphatic victory.
Allowing the fast-starting masters marvel Sally Gibbs take the early pace, Kemp assumed control of the race at the Auckland Harbour Bridge and did not relinquish her advantage for the remainder of the race.
Rounding the turn at St Heliers holding a significant advantage she was confident of victory.
“I was feeling strong, I was with a good bunch of blokes I knew could work off and I thought, I'm pretty sure I could keep up this pace,” she recalls.
“It was absolutely my career highlight and to win that national title felt pretty good.”
Katie also says she has an additional motivation. As one of ten people in the ASB Run Down Your Rate initiative she knew every minute counted to push down her mortgage rate. Running 2:42 enabled the Kemps to secure a two-year fixed mortgage rate of 2.42 per cent on their four-bedroom home in Khandallah.
“It definitely makes a difference to us,” she says of secure the fantastic mortgage deal. “I couldn’t believe it when I first heard ASB were running the initiative and I said to my husband, ‘yes, I'll enter that.’ It is a cool competition but what was really good is ASB also selected a family to pay the same mortgage rate. I met that family - whose third child needs a liver transplant – after the race, which was great. It is like the gift that keeps on giving.”
The Wellington Scottish athlete plans to next target the Wellington Half-Marathon in February before having a crack at high-quality Gold Coast Marathon next July in an effort to further trim her PB.
Yet she accepts that at the age of 39 and as a mum-of-three none of this would be possible without the support of husband, Jimmy.
“He's been amazing,” she adds. “He'll be the one up on a Saturday morning making the kids breakfast. He really embraces my running and that makes a big difference. He'll help with the extra school drop off, so I can get the extra hour recovery and he will put up with me going to bed at 8.30 or 9pm.”
So why does she love running so much?
“It completely frees my mind and helps me switch off,” she says. “When I am out running in the fresh air I can solve any problem. It is like a form of medication.”