Our People: Running through life

Lisa Brignull running with her dog Stella on Mt Peasant Rd. PHOTO: Martin Hunter

Sumner running club stalwart Lisa Brignull’s third placing at the Christchurch Marathon secured her a personal best time of 3hr 4min and the Canterbury Marathon championship masters women’s title. The Boulder Bay Classic organiser tells Sarla Donovan how she came to New Zealand and why at the age of 44 she’s running faster than ever.

What was it like to grow up in Johannesburg?

Very different to the way of life over here. We lived in a residential area but you always knew that on the outskirts you couldn’t venture too far without danger being in your face. I’m very fortunate to live here but on the odd occasion I have been back to South Africa I would never really want to go back again to live.

Did you ever experience a dangerous situation?

When I was growing up it was always somebody else’s family but in more recent years, my own family have been attacked and it’s just a horrible situation. I have no real regrets leaving although it was never something I had envisioned doing, living on the other side of the planet. The biggest thing I miss is my family because I have no South African family here at all. But my family were originally from Italy so I’ve got them scattered around the world. So I do miss my family and I miss the sunshine but we get to have good days here too, it’s not all bad.

Why did you leave and when?

I left in 1997 to go and do an OE in London as you do and I ended up getting a nice job as a travel agent. I got to travel heaps and I just loved the atmosphere and got to run marathons all over Europe so I stayed. A few years before that I had met my now-husband on a Kontiki trip in Australia. When he told me he came from an island called New Zealand which is in the middle of nowhere I immediately ruled it out; I said that’s ridiculous, I’d never go over there. We had this relationship going for quite some time and I just put it in the back of my head that it would never happen and then eventually he lured me over here to see what life was about and I just loved it – and I couldn’t put it off anymore, that I really liked this guy! So I ended up coming to NZ and I’ve never looked back.

So you shifted straight to Christchurch in 2004?

Yes it was really fortunate because I came over for about four weeks my first time and there was a running race called the Crater Rim. It was one of the first weekends I was here and everybody was so friendly I thought I was in running heaven. I said to Lee I just love this place, why don’t we stay here? We got married in Fiji and all my new running friends came to the wedding too.

Which of the big marathons have you done?

I did London six times, Hamburg, Rome, Paris. I went over to New York which was pretty cool. I did the Malta Marathon, the Lanzarote, one in Brussels…so many I can’t remember! Quite a few in London itself like the Big Ben to Brighton ultra marathon. We did the Great Wall of China Marathon after I shifted to NZ.

Best race of all time?

The Comrades Marathon in South Africa. I have only completed two comrades (so far!) but they have honestly been life changers for me. There is something special about running 90km with a bunch of like-minded people from around the globe. They call it the ‘world’s best ultra’ and I agree!

You ran a personal best at the Christchurch marathon this year. How do you train?

I have a 17km circuit that I run three to four times a week from home over to Sumner and up Evans Pass back home. It has an elevation gain of 430m and this includes a 6km climb. My Strava app (a running and cycling app) tells me that I have run this 530 times now and all my friends who run it call it ‘Lisa’s loop.’ On the other days of the week I run a 10km circuit after I’ve completed a session at the F45 gym in Ferrymead. I am totally addicted to this ‘functional training’ and it compliments my running immensely. I believe that a combination of this ‘training smarter’ has helped me achieve PB’s at the age of 44. I only wish I had started earlier!

You also teach cycle safety for the city council – you must be worn out at the end of the day!

I’m usually in bed and asleep by nine o’clock but my alarm goes off at 5.05am and I get at least two hours of exercise in before I have to put on my next cap, being mum or off to work. But I enjoy it, I’m definitely not an office worker any more those days are behind me; sitting at a desk just makes me grumpy. Having an active job and an active life is what I really enjoy.

What does your family think about your passion for running?

My kids have grown up knowing that mum trains and works hard to do what she does. I’ve had both my hammies re-attached so it hasn’t all been easy going but they definitely think that I’m better off if I’ve been for a run; they know I’m going to be in a good mood. If I can’t get out for some reason I feel it. I suppose you could call it a bit of an addiction but everyone knows that’s what I like to do. My husband is very supportive, I couldn’t do it without him he’s amazing. And the children Cara (11 years old) and Christopher (8 years old) have come to so many events where they encourage me along the route. My son’s really good at passing the water or a gel!

I guess you don’t have much time for hobbies?

Not really! I’m hopeless in the kitchen, Cara is a much better cook than me. I’ve got a gorgeous dog she’s a collie cross huntaway and she runs with me in the morning. She’s my other love, we do a lot together. Keeping the housework up to scratch, clothes washed and ironed, that’s my other hobby!

What’s still on the Lisa Brignell bucket list?

I would love to do the Boston Marathon one day that’s one of the big one. And I’d love to do something really out there, like the Antarctic Marathon or something ridiculous like that. I might have to wait until the children have grown a bit more as it’ll be really expensive. My running friends say ‘Lisa, you need to go under three hours and we’ll call it a day.’ It’s only few seconds per kilometre but every second counts. I’d love to do it though. I think quietly in the back of my mind, that will be my goal for the Capetown Marathon in September – all going well. It is supposed to be a fast course but they do get big numbers.