Annemarie Gallagher lines up for her third successive Rotorua Marathon on May 4 boasting a long-standing affinity to the historic race. Steve Landells discovers the background to the mum-of-three’s passion for the race around the lake.
Running burns deep within the soul of Annemarie Gallagher and it is the iconic Rotorua Marathon which holds a special place in her heart.
Immersed in the event since the 1980s, through the accomplishments of her mother and father - Rex and Joyce Carpenter – who between them completed eight Rotorua Marathons – the race has long-held a “bucket list” appeal for the mum-of-three.
Raised in Whakatane, Annemarie fascination for the race was first sparked during those childhood days.
“In my mind watching mum and dad compete at the Rotorua Marathon, made it the marathon,” she explains. “It was the race mum and talked most about. I recall when my uncle decided to run it in sand shoes, having done no training and collapsed on the Haumarana Road – there is a lot of family history associated with the event.”
Annemarie, a trained nurse, and her husband, Mike, lived in Hamilton but it was only after relocating seven years ago to open a motel, did thoughts crystallise of formerly running the historic 42.2km event.
Intending to complete the race by the time she was 40, she started training, completed a half-marathon and was on track to compete in the 2013 Rotorua Marathon only for her world to turn upside down after her second eldest child, Joshua, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Describing watching her child suffer as “hell on earth,” Annemarie, understandably, put on hold her marathon plans and spent a year living in Starship to support her sick son, who underwent surgery, six weeks of radiation treatment and four months of intensive chemotherapy.
Thankfully, after a long and intense battle slowly Joshua improved and today her now ten-year-old, Joshua is six years in remission.
Spending lengthy periods in hospital with her son fighting for his life, however, gave the Rotorua mum-of-three plenty of time for reflection and it acted as a spur to her achieving her future goals.
“Experiencing a child with a brain tumour makes you suddenly aware of how short life is, and from that point on I decided to lead my best life, which is something I still do today,” she explains.
Setting the Rotorua Marathon as the long-term goal, she nonetheless faced a long battle to achieve her ambitions. Describing herself as the “lowest priority” during her son’s cancer fight, she had piled on 30kg to tip the scales at 90kg making her initial goals modest.
After successfully managing to run 20 minutes non-stop on the treadmill, Annemarie - who owns two motels and a tourism business with her husband – next moved on to running 3km on the roads.
Later joining Lake City AC In she completed her maiden half marathon in 2016 – the Podium Rotorua Half Marathon – a key moment which gave her the confidence to tackle the 2017 Rotorua Marathon, a challenge she was to overcome.
“My one goal was to run every step of the way and I was absolutely thrilled to achieve that,” says Annemarie, who completed her first marathon around the iconic lake in 4:59:51. “It was a major life experience for me, made even more special because my parents were watching.
“I had ran over 1900km in training and to have completed a major bucket list goal, I was so happy.”
Last year an IT Band issue prevented Annemarie from achieving her target time of four-and-a-half hours but completing her second Rotorua Marathon proved another uplifting experience as mum, Joyce, 76, also walked the marathon distance.
Today running on average approximately 50km a week through the many forests of the Rotorua region – which she describes as her “church” - has offered so many positives for the mum to Daniel, 13, Joshua and Georgia, 9.
“Running has changed my whole life,” explains Annemarie who completed her first ultramarathon – the Tarawera 50 earlier this year. “For me, running is a great stress reliever and it has kept me incredibly fit and young. I’m now aged 47, but I belong in the top five to ten per cent of people in my age-group for fitness, which is a great feeling.”
Besides fulfilling her personal running goals, Annemarie took on the role as Lake City AC marathon convenor in 2017 – a role she has embraced with typical enthusiasm.
“Nothing gives me a greater thrill than seeing people better themselves through the joy of running,” she explains. “I work with people who are super-fast, and although I’m certainly not super-fast I make up for it by being super-enthusiastic.”
Working with various groups of athletes of all standards, she is particularly passionate about developing novice runners but despite her coaching commitments she will once again be on the start line at the Rotorua Marathon on May 4 this year as a support to Robyn Skelton, who hopes to complete her 25th Rotorua Marathon.
She will also, of course, be keeping a close eye on the 50 plus Lake City AC members, who are committed to running either the 10km, half-marathon or marathon races.
Yet whatever happens on Saturday her passion for the Rotorua Marathon cannot be disputed.
“It is the one place in the world where you can run the full marathon distance around a lake,” she explains. “I love its beauty and tradition. It is the pinnacle of New Zealand marathon running and it holds a very special place in my heart.”