In 2009 Alex ran down the entire East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand – that’s 2300 km or 57 back to back marathons. No one really knew about it. Alex likes it that way. The quiet achiever.
Alex Asher is such genuine guy with a powerful story, following bold dreams and goals, to guide people to better health and happiness. He’s also very unlike any high performing athlete / runner I’ve met to date. He’s seriously genuine and wears his heart ‘on sleeve’ with an understated view of his own achievements. No show pony here.
In a culture where every footstep needs to be documented and glorified, Alex simply loves to run and meet people on his travels. How refreshing. Alex’s ability to run far I’m sure is powered by passion – this man LOVES to run.
I’ve been waiting to feature what Alex has to say on all things running, life and what’s coming next for sometime but his latest adventure has been a bit hush hush until now. Let’s find out more!
Hey Alex, can you tell us about your latest long distance endeavour in January and why are you running such a long way?
On the 2nd of January, I’ll start from Wellington to run up the entire west coast to Cape Reinga 1100km, over a marathon a day. It’ll be an incredible adventure, running the coastline and even swimming parts like the Manukau and Kaipara. And it’s an exciting way to raise awareness for ‘Sustainable Coastlines‘, the charity I now chair, and our new approach to empower local communities clean up their waterways.
So you are raising awareness about sustainable coastlines as part of the run. What’s your connection to the coast? Why do you love it so much? What is the issues faced by NZ’s coastlines?
Every holiday growing up was spent by a beach, lake or river. In New Zealand we’re so privileged to be able to access clean, swimmable water in less than 3 hours from just about anywhere. One thing that sparked me into action was travelling and seeing how many countries had spoiled their rivers, lakes and coastlines with plastic and pollution.
I plan on living for at least another 50 years and I don’t want to be telling my grandkids about how you “used” to be able to swim at that beach, you “used” to be able to collect scallops from that spot and you “used” to be able to do bombs in that river. In short, I don’t want to see NZ to go down the same tragic path that so many other countries have of trashing the commons.
Every river and stream eventually leads to the coast, so one of the most important challenges for NZ is to clean up our waterways. We know that smart riparian tree planting (planting trees on our river banks) helps prevents excess nutrients from fertilizers entering our water, reduces the temperature of the water to support river life and importantly limits erosion (increases water temperature, wastes productive land and reduces water quality).
Sustainable Coastlines helps local communities work more effectively to replant waterways, improve water quality and ensure those communities have the skills, tools and resources to create a long-term solution. One of our partners, Pūniu River Care, is an incredible success story – creating local jobs, growing over 40,000 trees a year and replanting waterways. This model could be rolled out nationwide. I’m raising money to make this happen.
How long have you been a runner? Do you take part in events? What’s your favourite type of running and place to turn over the legs.
I started getting into running at University when we started exploring the Waitakere’s each weekend. I enjoy trail-running events but to be honest, there’s so many places to explore – I don’t have time to wait for events :) My happy place is still, blasting around the muddy trails out west but love how you can travel, explore and expand your perspective through running.
What facet of running do you enjoy most? Be that races of any distance, training, engagement with community, solo runs. What stands out as the best experiences for you and why?
Running is about mindset for me. I’ve always found running to be the best metaphor for life so I use it to push myself, connect with friends and learn more about myself. I love getting in nature and reaching outside my comfort zone so my favourite running experience is still the Cape to Strait run down the East Coast that I completed 6 years ago. It felt pure, raw and empowering running so far, each day, in a new stunning part of New Zealand for a cause bigger than myself.
You spoke about the people you meet on your runs and that it’s an opportunity to educate, chat and motivate people to care more about their coastlines. What sort of people do you meet? Do you have any good stories to share?
While I often run alone, I do meet great people along the journey. Something amazing happened just last week out running. I hosted an event called the Sunset Run at Okahu Bay. Anyway, I make sure that everyone finishes safely so I ran back to pick up the last 3 in the pack. I found them just on their way back and they told me what had held them up… Orcas! There were apparently killer whales, just off the coast. Knowing they were in view of the finish line, I went to check out the story for myself and sure enough…less than 200m out from the coast were 3 orcas playing around. I’d never seen orcas in the wild before so imagine how excited I was when I saw them heading closer to the shore….In fact, they were heading towards the long jetty out from corner of Kelly Tarltons. I ran out on the jetty and one dove underneath just 50m away x Holy! Amazing creatures. Those the experiences that running provides…
How’s the training going for this challenge? What sort of week do you have when it comes to preparing yourself for such a long run over mutilple days?
Training for the Strait to Cape has been a real challenge but I’m currently in a great space. I started my training with the same approach I had with my first adventure down the East Coast, “If I can run 5km, 6 days a week…then maybe I can do more?”. That was a good way to start but possibly over-trained too early leading to an ankle injury that caused me all sorts of problems for almost 2 months. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it back but with acupuncture, a little coaching from an old friend James Keugler, and a lot of running on Muriwai beach, I’m close to where I need to be.
Currently, I’m running 25km, four days a week with gym, hiking, yoga and swimming balancing it out. I think key has been to mix up the terrain, keeping off roads when I can, be disciplined with my recover routine, eating well and being persistent.
I love your minimal style overall when it comes to your adventures mate, and you spoke of a simple support system for this challenge. Can you share with us your plans for support?
When you can back yourself and avoid busy roads, the biggest problem for a an adventure is logistics. I’m assuming that the Strait to Cape will take 5 weeks so I’ve asked a bunch of friends and family to help me out. All they need to do is meet me at the end of each day, ideally with a plate of hot food and the tent up :)
Back in 2009? You ran the equivalent of 57 marathons back to back in 63 days down the entire East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand – that’s 2300 km? Can you please tell us more about this event and how its different to your endeavour in January?
I didn’t have any idea how far and fast I’d be able to run the East Coast (Cape Reinga to Cook Strait) when I started in December 2010 Even after a bad shin injury, it took 63 days. I ran 6 days a week and improved my range from 35km a day at the start to 70km near the end.
The Strait to Cape is different for a number of reasons. It’s a shorter distance, 1100km, up the West Coast but the terrain, weather and especially swimming the harbours is much more extreme. It’s already been a harder challenge because this time, I’m still trying to do a full week of work on top of 30 hours of training a week. When I get cracking, I’m going to be running a more rugged coastlines, often very remote from other people and you never know how many wild storms I might encounter. Swimming the Manukau is pretty scary but the Kaipara is terrifying… It’s 8km at the mouth, impossible for me to complete at slack tide, so I’ll need to break it into 2 days…and did I mention I’m scared of sharks? ;)
What have you learnt from 2009 and applied to the training, organising and planning of this next adventure?
The most important thing I learned from the Cape to Strait was that I could do anything if I put in the training, worked hard and had a motivation bigger than my own. It’s the same approach now and the only thing that makes it easier, is confidence and experience.
What sort of things to you think about when running such long distances? Do you find peace and insights during ling runs? What advice and wisdom can you share with us about running life and it’s culture?
If I’m running familiar routes in the city, I’m often enjoying listening to podcasts. If I’m running in nature, I don’t need to listen to anything. The track keeps me engaged. If I’m running a relatively smooth off-trail like Muriwai beach, I let the thoughts come and go. Running, just like life, is a choice. You make it hard, boring, easy, varied or exciting depending on how you choose to run.
One thing I’d like to add is if you’ve got a girl-friend or boy-friend, go running together (ideally at the slower person’s comfortable pace). It’s not always the “best” training time but it is quality couple time.
Do you experience the often talked about Runner’s High? if so, can you describe it? What circumstances are you most likely to achieve this?
The runners’ high… Like so many things, I’ve found you can improve your odds of it finding you, but you can’t just turn it on. I feel it most often when I’m running alone on an undulating track out in the bush, in nature or out exploring. For me, it feels like an overwhelming sense of appreciation and being in the moment.
What advice can you give to people who want to follow their dreams and to do what they love?
Confidence is usually the biggest barrier…and it’s an illusion. I’ve often fell into the trap of thinking I need to gather “proof” that I can do something before doing it rather than just starting and building the proof as I go. If I can do x, then maybe I can do x + 1…
Do you have a certain philosophy regarding running and the concept of community engagement and advocacy? Can running benefit the wider community in more ways than increased fitness? What if everyone ran?
I don’t see running as mainly exercise for the body. It’s for the mind. Running builds a stronger mindset, makes people more resilient and more connected with nature and other people. The physical effects are a bonus.
Your top three tips to achieving happiness or balance in life?
1. Prioritise and do the important stuff first – including, running, family time and learning.
2. I’ve found a thoughtful question is more valuable than a thoughtful answer. Where can you ask more questions in your life?
3. I believe we’re happiest when we’re contributing or helping others. Do what you can, when you can.
What’s your spirit animal and why?
I used to be called “Leono” when I was on exchange in Chile by my friends so maybe I’ll take that as a cue that my spirit animal is a lion. I tend to be quietly confident, ambitious and care about my family.
Where can we find you online and find out more about you and your adventures Alex?
Please like my facebook page to follow my adventure this summer. I’ll need the support and would love the opportunity to help Sustainable Coastlines help more local communities. Check it out here https://www.facebook.com/straittocape