Above: Katrina Anderson competing at the 2018 Australian Championships on the Gold Coast. Image by Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images.
Katrina Anderson emerged from nowhere to smash two seconds from her PB and finish fourth in the 800m at last month’s Australian Championships. The Australian-based South Aucklander chats to Steve Landells about her injury-riddled journey to her breakthrough performance.
For any young runner making their way in the sport they could do worse than read Katrina Anderson’s story. Showing a healthy dose of resilience and fortitude throughout her career she has survived a whole raft of injuries and setbacks – some of which have been inflicted by horses – to finally earn a huge breakthrough in Gold Coast last month by hacking more than two seconds from her lifetime best to run 2:03:22.
“When I saw the time that I had run, I threw my arms up in the air like I had won the race,” she recalls. “I felt a whole range of emotions from disbelief to happiness, relief and satisfaction. I then started crying in a training partner’s (Abbey de La Motte) arm.”
Growing up an active child on a horse and beef cattle farm in Hunua in South Auckland, Katrina started out at the Papakura Athletic & Harrier Club and quickly established a reputation as a gifted 200m and 400m sprinter in the Counties Manukau.
Later attending Papakura High School before transferring to Howick College she came under the coaching guidance of Joe Hunter only to suffered several injury setbacks aged 13 and 14 which put the brakes on her early career development.
Undeterred she returned and in 2008 landed the New Zealand Secondary Schools senior girls’ 400m title in Hamilton as a 16-year-old and also finished a highly respectable fourth in the one-lap final at the Pacific Schools Games in Canberra.
Yet if Katrina felt this would usher in a sustained period of success this would, unfortunately, not be the case as the keen equestrian rider injured an ankle after she was thrown from a horse and also crunched her foot after it was caught on a towbar when sat in the back of her father’s ute.
Once again she shrugged of the disappointment to win a scholarship to attend Long Island University – Brooklyn Collegiate in New York, which came as a big culture shock for the South Auckland farm girl.
“It was big and busy all the time,” says Katrina, who regular ran across both the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge as part of her training. “The first year I found it quite difficult but after I went back for the second year I really enjoyed the experience. Over time I found the quieter spots. The city becomes smaller the more you live there.”
Marred by a ligament injury in her foot for much of a freshman year she competed more frequently in her second year but seeing no improvement as her 400m sprinter she opted to move up to the 800m in her junior year.
Insistent she was better suited to the longer distance she adapted quickly to the different training demands and enjoyed a pivotal moment when running 2:09.96 at an indoor meet in Boston in 2014.
“It was a really good feeling to PB again and I knew I had more improvement in me,” explains Katrina, who studied biology during her time at Long Island College.
Yet if she assumed this would unlock the gate to more success she was mistaken after she was kicked in the shin by a horse in another equine accident on a trip back to New Zealand in late-2014.
Doctors initially dismissed the need for an x-ray but with the pain persisting and requiring painkillers to complete runs some three months later a scan discovered she had fractured her tibia.
Sidelined for a further 12 weeks she describes the recovery process as slow. She barely got the opportunity to compete again for her university before graduating and returning home to New Zealand in mid-2015 richer for her four years living and training in the US.
“I probably lost at least one-third of my athletics career at Long Island due to injury,” she admits. “But I had a lot of good experiences in America and I got to see a lot of the country travelling to meets, which is something I enjoy.”
On her return to New Zealand she hooked up with a new coach, Richard Kee, out of the Papakura AC. Intending to compete in just a couple of races in 2016 she impressed at the Porritt Classic to win and run a PB by more than a second in 2:07:51. Resisting the desire to test herself further that season she called a premature end to her campaign happy in the knowledge her career was once again heading in the right direction.
Training with a younger group of male athletes she emerged in 2017 with a terrific opening performance in Hastings. Running to a new level she wiped more than a second-and-a-half from her PB to run 2:05.91. However, yet again frustration was to follow. As the season progressed her performance levels declined as finished a distant sixth in the 800m at the New Zealand Championships.
Self-coached at this point in her career, the Kiwi flew to Seattle to train with New Zealand Olympic 800m runner Angie Petty and her coach Danny Mackey. Yet once again the curse of injury struck as she picked up a knee injury early in her stint in North West America.
She returned from injury to enjoy a lengthy period racing in Europe winning an 800m race at Dublin’s Morton Games and revelled in the experience.
“It was really cool, I learned from a lot of other athletes and it was also eye-opening how big the sport is in Europe,” she explains.
During her training trip to Seattle she has met Australian 800m athlete Abbey de la Motte who encouraged Katrina to join her training group in Melbourne. Coached by Peter Fortune, former coach to 2000 Olympic 400m champion Cathy Freeman, the Kiwi decided in October to head west across the Tasman Sea and take on a new challenge.
“I felt if I didn’t do it now, it would never happen,” says Katrina who celebrates her 26th birthday later this month. “To follow my dreams I had to go.”
Responding positively to Fortune’s low-key style and with a training group who have quickly become great friends, Katrina is thriving under a more “consistent” training regime. Drawing inspiration from training in a strong group of athletes has proved another factor in her recent improvement as has working with Melbourne University-based strength and conditioning coach Tony Sephton.
“In the gym there is now a purpose to what I do,” explains Katrina, who is working with a strength and conditioning coach for the first time in her career. “Rather than just lifting weights I’m carry out work specific to my needs.”
The recipe has worked. In her adopted home city of Melbourne in January she blitzed to a confidence-boosting PB of 2:05:23 and then at the Australian Championships on Gold Coast after advancing to the final she sought a 2:04 clocking.
Wisely running conservatively for the first lap – which she completed in 61secs – two from the back she launched her attack for home with 300m to go and although “slowing” in the final 30m she held out to record an impressive 2:03:22 – and climbed to ninth on the all-time New Zealand lists.
Katrina intends to next compete at the Sir Graeme Douglas International Track Challenge on March 25 in her home city of Auckland, where she will be looking to finish her season with a flourish.
Katrina will then start a Masters research degree in race horse injuries at Melbourne University something which she says is ironic “given all the injuries they’ve given me” but she fully intends to continue focusing on her training.
Following this domestic campaign she plans another European campaign, and beyond that?
“I’d love to make the Toyko Olympics,” she comments.
Yet after all the knockbacks and all the injuries why has she doggedly persisted with the sport?
“I guess I’m almost scared to give up having put so much into the sport,” she says. “I never want to look back and wonder. There is something about running that I love.”