Tanya Bottomley never imagined life could be this good. The 38-year-old Nelson local lives a stone’s throw from beautiful beaches, rivers, and mountains. A customs officer and ultramarathon runner, Tanya hopes to become the first woman to complete the Thir Southern Seasons Miler Challenge – running four 100 mile (161km) races across New Zealand’s stunning South Island in under a year. She’s kicking goals left, right, and centre. But it’s been a rough road to get here.

12 years ago, Tanya was in an abusive relationship and in the grip of depression. She felt isolated, couldn’t look people in the eye, and was desperate to kick a ten-year smoking habit. Keen to help her beat her addiction, Tanya’s sister suggested she do the Auckland Marathon. It seemed crazy. Tanya wasn’t a runner and the race was just three months away, in winter no less. But she needed the distraction and so, she visited the place where all good marathon training begins: the library.

Tanya devoured books that promised to have her marathon-ready in months, and, although she didn’t complete the full marathon, she quickly became hooked on running. ‘Running was a way to escape. It was my safe place; a place in my life where I had control and could just go out and be me,’ she explains. When she left her controlling relationship five years ago, she discovered a love of long-distance trail running. ‘Trail running just makes me happy on a deep, soul level. I love being out in nature, in something bigger than myself – being in the moment and not having to worry or think about anything.’ Her interest in ultra-trails led her to the Thir Southern Seasons Miler Challenge, where she’s made it her goal to run all four 100 mile races.

Tanya completed the first of these races, the Old Forest Hanmer 100, in May: the second fastest female at just under 26 hours. It’s a long race, but she explains, ‘a lot of the time you’re not thinking, you’re just in the zone. You’re just there – breathing, moving, putting one foot in front of the other. Time goes pretty quick. It didn’t feel like 26 hours!’ She was stoked with her result, having been dead last for the first 40km. Despite the exhaustion, her final lap was her fastest, proof that such challenges are often a case of mind over matter. ‘If I had to keep going, I could have pushed it but as soon as I stopped and gave my body permission to stop it was like “Nope! We’re done! You are going to shuffle for the next two days!”’ Tanya only had two power naps during the race, but they gave her enough energy to push through – along with the piping hot coffee and hash browns she gulped down at 100km. It took a month for her to fully recover after the race.

While Tanya views these races as physical challenges first and foremost, she’s also using the opportunity to break down the shame and stigma associated with domestic violence. It might’ve been easier to gloss over her past, but she’s made a point of being open about it ‘to show people in that situation that you can get out and that life can be amazing.’ She explains, ‘I didn’t want to be like, all of a sudden, “Oh, look at me doing all these runs and look at my perfect life!” My life hasn’t been perfect, it’s been so far from perfect that it’s only just starting to get good and I’m 38. It’s taken me a bloody long time but I’m here!’ Thanks to supportive friendships, financial independence, physical fitness, and a lot of hard work, she’s a completely different woman. ‘I’m happy now and that’s massive. I was so unhappy for such a long time,’ she says.

Tanya’s next race is The Great Naseby Water Race, in August. In the lead up, she’s focusing on keeping fit, avoiding injury, and eating well. A couple of hash browns should ensure that she glides over the finish line and onto her next challenge.

You can follow Tanya’s progress on her Facebook page – Run Like Tanya. 

Words by Amy O’Toole

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