Inspiring Runners 010: Dawn Tuffery.

Dawn is no stranger to technical trails in her Vibram's. Image captured at #runfest 2016 by Paul Petch.

Dawn is no stranger to technical trails in her Vibram’s. Image captured at #runfest 2016 by Paul Petch.

It’s fitting that the first time I sit down in front of the keyboard after a self-imposed three week writing ban I find Dawn’s interview, as I’m always at tad surly coming back from a break. That said, my mood lifted instantly, as meeting Dawn at this year’s Runfest was a solid gold highlight, the memory of which has been re-engaging and energising.

At said ‘fest, I was present at her excellent presentation “An A-Z of Trail Running”. The day after I had the pleasure of hooning up hill and down dale with Dawn at a trail running workshop, hitting a gnarly descent over and over again then turning to cheer the other runners on.  Finally, I think you really get the true measure of someone’s quality by drinking tired beers in the sun at the airport whilst waiting for your respective flights home. Happily, I can report that Dawn’s  quality is of the highest. Dawn is a two time New Zealand Athletic 100 kilometre champion, charged into third place at the 2014 Tarawera Ultramarathon, and has won the Ultra-Trail Des Cagous in French Polynesia.

Where do you call home?
Hamilton, New Zealand

What is your current occupation?
Producing videos with Nimbus Media, plus writing, cartooning, and street theatre as side gigs.

How long have you been a runner?
About 11 years, after realizing I was better at simple forward motion than kicking a football. I wasn’t an athletic child or teenager but always liked having adventures in wild places.

Dawn has a book! "Reasons to love running" and features her illustrations guaranteed to make you laugh.

Dawn has a book! “Reasons to love running” and features her illustrations guaranteed to make you laugh.

You are known for running in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. How long have you been using them and what was your experience transitioning to barefoot running? In what way do you find the ‘Fives benefit your running?
I had a nice spontaneous introduction to Fives, by winning a competition that included a Tarawera entry and some Spyridons. I tend to be the one at a club cross country running barefoot (it multiplies the fun) so it was novel to get that same feel without the dangers of glass, gravel or prickles interfering. In retrospect, I transitioned a bit too fast, despite knowing otherwise, but it still worked out okay. Ideally the transition would be very gradual. It goes against some recommendations, but my feet (and Achilles) apparently respond well to flexibility and width. Also I never lose toenails in them. What I would like to see for clay-type running is a romance between Fives and Icebugs or Inov8s, where the offspring is fully flexible but with killer grip.

It sounds a bit weighty given the activity, but I feel like running helps me to make the most out of life.

Could you give us a small insight into your usual running or training routine? Are you a structured program type of person, or do you run more by feel?
It’s a bit of both, but I like a structured program sometimes to keep me focused when I have a goal event (it’s been a while). I aim to run 4 or 5 days a week, including a longer weekend run, and ideally with some yoga or aquajogging in the mix. Weekly mileage is erratic – anything from 30k maintenance when busy to 100k at a peak.

Where are your favourite places to run and why?
Forests, mountains and views. Locally, I like Te Aroha and the Kaimais, and also the meditative simplicity of running along the tideline on Waihi beach. Hamilton river path is nice in the mornings and Taitua Arboretum makes a good mid-week city bolthole.

What facet of running do you enjoy most? What stands out as the best experiences for you and why?
Rolling downhill on an absorbing rooty forest trail is pretty great. Top in a general sense would be the way running calms my mind and takes me places. My top three experiences would be the 2010 100k champs (first ultra, first win, big euphoria), the ‘Cyclone’ Tarawera (back after injury and happy to be there, podium-ed in a strong field) and then maybe the 2014 Ultra Trail Des Cagous (big adventure, first overseas ultra, longest duration I’ve ever run). It’s hard to choose though. Hopefully they continue to get surpassed.

Running is a shortcut to exhilaration and adventure within a contemporary existence.

Your illustrations are fantastic. Do you think of vignettes when you run, or do you find that you focus wholly on the moment when you are running? 
I do mentally compose cartoons when I run, trying out different options, and then they’re ready to go when I get back. It depends on the run though. I love the runs where you hit that flow, wholly focused on negotiating the terrain, and then realise an hour has passed.

How has motherhood affected your running and training? 
Time, or the lack thereof, is the prevailing effect in terms of running. Running becomes less spontaneous and events may be sparser and planned well ahead by necessity. However, the times I do run and race feel more precious. It also is invaluable for maintaining balance. Trivia: my best period of fitness and running so far has been while breastfeeding a two-year-old.

Dawn and GPR Editor Matt talking shop on some of Wellingtons finest at #runfest 2016. Photo by Paul Petch.

Dawn and GPR Editor Matt talking shop on some of Wellingtons finest at #runfest 2016. Photo by Paul Petch.

How is running important to you and your life and its direction?
It sounds a bit weighty given the activity, but I feel like running helps me to make the most out of life. The balance aspect is huge, enabling sanity in other facets of life like work and parenting. It leads to connections, space, confidence, extremes of experience, and opportunities. Running is a shortcut to exhilaration and adventure within a contemporary existence. The high ratio of awesome people is nice too. I like to think I would find another way to access those things if necessary, but right now running is the most direct and interesting route.

My life’s direction is still evolving but a lot of what I find satisfying so far involves adding a lightness to someone’s day in a small way – by stilt walking, drawing cartoons, making a video, cooking, listening, face painting, writing an article, or just sharing a wild grin and some banter during a run.

What advice can you give to people who want to follow their dreams and to do what they love?
Make the goal or project a priority and do a bit of it every day.

Where to from here? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ?
Good question! Let’s say fit and fulfilled, and successfully co-parenting a happy 10 year old. I’d love to experience some of the big runs and races on my list along the way. Illustrated children’s books have been on the radar since I was 6 without yet happening, so let’s say I’ve finally knocked out a couple of them within that time. Maybe I’ll have a pumping cartoon/animation/writing empire, allowing for regular sabbaticals and exploration.

In a more elusive sense, I have that niggly human urge to be more and give more, while believing that I’m already enough. We’ll see how it pans out.

View Dawn’s first book “Reasons to love running” here:

Matt Rayment

Matt Rayment

Family man, runner & editor with GOOD PEOPLE RUN.
Matt Rayment

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