Real Life

How hitting rock bottom turned Tanya Bottomley into an ultra-marathon runner

'Things often look bigger and scarier than they are'

At 26, Tanya Bottomley was a heavy smoker who was stuck in a terrible relationship and dragging herself out of bed each day. One morning, her sister rang. She had seen an advert for a local marathon and thought Tanya should give it a go.

“I told her she was crazy,” Tanya tells. “I’d never run, let alone a marathon! But I figured I was at rock bottom, so I might as well try!”

Now 41, the Wānaka mum-of-two is a competitive ultra-marathoner who recently was the first woman to traverse the South Island from coast to coast, following the circle of latitude that is 45 degrees south of the Earth’s equator.

Dropped off by helicopter into remote Fiordland, Tanya embarked on an epic 600 kilometre journey, where she ran, hiked, paddled and cycled from Caswell Sound to the beaches of Oamaru. She had no track to follow and multiple mountain ranges and lakes to cross.

Tanya achieved some real highs on her South Island coast-to-coast adventure.

“I printed out topographic maps covering the 45th Parallel from the west to the east coast. Then I lined my hallway with them and started to plot the course I was going to take,” explains Tanya. “The biggest mental challenge of the 45th Parallel Traverse was the unknown. But from a distance, things often look bigger and scarier than they are. It was a hugely powerful life lesson.”

Joined by new partner Ben, a videographer, the trip lasted 26 days and the pair is making a film out of it to inspire other women to dream big and do things that scare them.

Her future challenge is to trek across Chile and Argentina to complete a traverse across the entire landmass of the 45th Parallel around the globe.

In the meantime, the sports mindset coach will be taking on local adventures while raising money and awareness for services that empower women.

“I want to help women who are struggling to overcome trauma or experiencing difficulty in life to discover they are stronger than they know,” says Tanya, hopeful that for some, running will give them the confidence she found too.

“Before I left my difficult relationship, running that first marathon hurt like hell and was the hardest thing I’d ever done physically. But I started to feel some confidence and mastery. I also had an escape from my life and a goal to work towards.

“What might start as running power pole to power pole, then 5km and 10km to a marathon encourages the thought of, ‘Just what else am I capable of?'”

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