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Fitness

Life on the run! Dom Harvey and mum Sue can't be beat

At 71, the star’s marathoner mum is hard to keep up with. Luckily, he’s pretty quick too

By Fleur Guthrie
There are some runners who only compete against themselves, quietly chipping away to beat their own personal best times. And then there's Dom Harvey's mum Sue.
The gregarious 71-year-old recently ran the Boston Marathon and became the first New Zealand woman in her age group to receive the Six Star Medal. (This was introduced in 2016 to honour runners who complete all six major marathons.)
And she's also the first to admit she can't help but compare her 42-kilometre race times to those of strangers.
Completing the six major marathons was an emotional moment for Sue.
"Mum saw someone at a Starbucks wearing a Boston medal and bowled up to them to say, 'Congratulations! How long did it take you?'" recalls Kiwi radio veteran Dom, laughing. "Another time, we were at a memorial for the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks, paying our respects at a mosque near us in Auckland. After we'd had a minute's silence and everyone was sort of reflecting, Mum sidled up to [reality TV star] Art Green and whispered, 'I beat you in the New York marathon!'"
"I did do that," she admits, with a mock grimace. "Well, my mouth goes quicker than my legs! I'm just very competitive. I come from a big family of 14 kids – we're all like that."
When the running-mad pair chats to the Weekly at Dom's inner-city apartment, Sue is beating herself up a bit over her respectable Boston race time of four hours and 53 minutes.
"It was my hardest and slowest race out of all of six," she reflects. "I ran for 30km and then walked a lot. I feel like my mind is willing but my body is letting me down now I'm in my seventies.
"I was terrified I might die before I got to do this sixth major marathon. What's the point of doing five when there are six in the world? It felt like the journey wasn't completed. So I was very emotional to finally receive it.
"And I wanted Dom to come to this one with me because it was him who re-started my running journey, when he and [former wife] Jay-Jay gave me a ticket for the 2015 Chicago marathon."
For Dom, 50 – who is also one of 71 Kiwis to earn the Six Star Medal – he is nothing but proud of his "amazing" mum.
"She did remarkably well and it was fabulous to be there to watch her," he tells. "I did initially believe I was going to be running alongside her, but Mum broke the news to me that she had only entered me as a supporter."
Adds Sue, "I had been stewing for days about how I was going to tell him that. I met him for coffee and said 'I feel beside myself'. I even emailed the Boston Athletic Association to see if I could get a late entry for him.
Sue admits she usually doesn't like running with son Dom. "He's too chirpy and bright!"
"But Dom's been injured anyway and he would have really annoyed me because he's too chirpy and bright to run with. Thankfully, he's very tolerant of me though."
As the tight-knit duo bounce off each other throughout the interview, Dom jokes that tolerance was somewhat helped by "medicinal aids".
"On our first day there, we were walking down the street and saw a cannabis dispensary, because it's legal over there. I got myself some gummies and popped one every time Mum said something inappropriate," he grins.
"I didn't partake but I took a video of the store and put it up on Facebook," says Sue, who still works part-time as a nanny to two pre-schoolers. "Because it was such a sterile place, but my daughter told me it wasn't good for my social media footprint. I replied, 'Well, I don't think I'm going to be applying for a job anytime soon!'"
This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, where domestic terrorists detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
What followed was a national effort to track down the two young men who carried out the attack – brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
New Netflix docuseries American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing recounts the harrowing days after the incident on April 15, 2013 and what radicalised the brothers to carry it out.
Dom watched this documentary on the plane flying to the US and quickly researched a prominent figure in the programme, Billy Evans, 64, to invite him on his popular weekly podcast Runners Only!
"Billy is a former Boston police commissioner, who has run 60 marathons," explains Dom. "About an hour after completing the Boston Marathon in 2013, he was called back to the finish line to witness one of the most traumatic days of his career.
Dom and former Boston police commissioner Billy
"I saw that he now heads up public safety at Boston University and his email address was online, so I flicked him a message and he quickly responded. It's amazing that he would give his time to be interviewed because he doesn't know me from a bar of soap.
"We discussed his experience running the 2023 Boston Marathon – and yes, Mum did privately ask his race time! – and how running has been crucial for his mental health throughout his career in law enforcement."
Shares Sue, "Dom said I could go and watch the recording of their podcast, so I went down and halfway through, I cried listening to Billy. You could tell it still really hurts him 10 years later.
"Billy spoke of getting therapy after the Boston bombing and how his therapist told him to keep running, to help run out his grief."
It's a sentiment that resonates with Sue too. When her marriage to Dom's father broke down 28 years ago, she says it was running that saved her.
"A broken marriage wasn't easy," she reflects. "I was quite lost in myself, but running kept me sane, gave me confidence and was very therapeutic. I've loved it for the people I've met and that sense of empowerment has been with me my whole life.
"Obviously not everyone can run, but I believe you've got to find some way to keep your body moving."
Sue's running journey began as a young mum-of-four living in Palmerston North, when she saw her husband competing in the Rotorua Marathon and had Fomo (fear of missing out).
Sue (front row, third from left) with Palmerston North jogging group "Elite Fleet" in the '80s.
"I told him I wanted to do that marathon one day. He replied, 'You? Run a marathon?' But he said I could get a new pair of shoes instead of my canvas Bata Bullets if I could run for
six miles [10km].
"Well, that was like throwing the gauntlet to me! I achieved those six miles within a week. I ended up doing the Rotorua marathon an hour faster than him and thought, 'Maybe I am quite good at this.'"
It also inspired her young son. When Sue entered an 18-kilometre run from Feilding to Palmerston North, little eight-year-old Dom nagged her all the way to the start line to let him run it too.
"He kept saying, 'I'm going to do it!' and I kept telling him, 'No, you're not, you're too young.' So my husband dropped me off at the start line and I get about a kilometre into the race and next minute, this little fella in pyjamas, running barefoot, is passing me. It was Dom."
Dom's love of running started as a youngster.
He quips, "I'd like to point out that I'm not as competitively driven. I just want to beat myself and do the best I can. I'm not worried about strangers, whereas Mum likes to beat people younger than herself that she's never going to see again!"
Fit, humorous and refreshingly honest, Sue doesn't know what her next goal is. She's already ticked off completing an 80-kilometre ultra-marathon and is keen to run the London Marathon with her 27-year-old granddaughter, who has started training. ("She only runs with family members she knows she can beat!" laughs Dom.)
"I'd love to be the oldest woman to run a marathon," says Sue. "The oldest women who ran in the Boston Marathon was 86, so that inspires me.
"I think my aim is to just not 'let the old lady in'. I don't know if there's an old woman knocking on the door, but she's not coming in!"

Quickfire with Dom and Sue

Were there any hiccups before the big race?
Dom: Well, Mum wanted to try on some of the Boston Marathon merchandise at the registration event. With queues for dressing rooms, she decided to just strip off her top down to her bra before a man working in security ran over shouting, "Ma'am! Ma'am! You can't do that here!"
Sue, when you ran the Chicago marathon, you rewarded yourself with a tattoo of a runner on your wrist. Are you getting another one?
Yes! I'm either going to get three blue lines (there's always three blue lines on the road for a marathon) or perhaps a nice delicate one with six little stars.
Who's coming up on your podcast, Dom?
While I was in America, I also interviewed Ryan Hall, a retired American long-distance runner who holds the US record in the half marathon. He is also the only American to run a sub 2:05 marathon.

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