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Hitting targets

Michelle Knight traces her 10-year journey across two very different sporting codes

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A few months ago, social media blew up with the #10yearchallenge, where everyone posted funny pictures of themselves with one from 10 years ago to show how much they’d changed.

Most of the photos of me back then seem to have been taken in Purikura machines (don’t ask), but I managed to find a couple from my old sport of choice. Most people think I’m joking when I mention that I spent my late teens representing New Zealand as a targetshooter, but I swear that this is me at the Sydney International Shooting Centre at the 2009 Oceania Games!

target shooting

I pretty much learned to walk on a rifle range. Dad being an avid hunter, he taught me to shoot when I was quite young, and I ended up competing all the way through high school and beyond in smallbore and air rifle disciplines. It’s like running in many ways really - you have those days where everything feels wrong but you somehow end up doing well, you train and train and train for that 1% improvement, you face that frustrating dilemma of ‘would I rather perform averagely and win than hit a PB and still lose?’, and of course that bond that you share with the clubmates you spend more than half your week with. Not as good on the cardio front though...

Despite the fact that the black and white double canvas jacket and pants I wore back then are a far cry from the shiny yellow Scottish singlet I don these days, you’re supposed to be completely different in your teens to your late twenties; it just happens. The far more interesting change for me has been a much shorter time frame - namely the 15 months since I joined Scottish.

I lost a lot of weight in 2017 (like I said, not great cardio), so the 10km race at Round the Bays in 2018 was a goal I set myself to keep active and get the last few kilos off. I hated running though. I ‘ran’ (AKA wheezily shuffled) the 6.5km the year before, but running was still not an enjoyable thing. I told myself I just had to get through 10km on the day, and I never had to look at a treadmill ever again.

Despite not looking forward to the race, I still wanted to make it through in under an hour. Making it home in 57:27 was unreal, and I finally understood what people meant when they talked about ‘runner’s high’; all of a sudden, I felt like I could do anything and nothing could possibly stop me. I went home and immediately signed up for the Queenstown half marathon. It was far enough away for it to not be too real or scary, but I knew I’d probably need help to train over winter when I didn’t want to go outside for anything, let alone a run.

With nothing to lose except $160 in club fees, I emailed the address on the little yellow flyer someone handed me at the finish line, and I haven’t looked back. I started that Sunday in February having never run 10km, and now I’m counting down to my fourth half marathon, I’ve signed up for a second crack at the 23km adventure trail at Tarawera Ultra Marathon, I’ve run the National Road Relays and the toughest cross country race in New Zealand, and have met so many awesome and inspiring people along the way.

I don’t pretend to have transformed into an astoundingly amazing unbeatable runner since joining the club. Unlike shooting, winning isn’t the thing that motivates me to run; I mean, I had the privilege of claiming the wooden spoon in the Senior Women's race at the Vosseler Shield this year. With shooting, I expected to at least medal because I knew I was capable of it. With running, I run for the cardio and companionship, which is why you will generally see me running at the back of the pack but with a smile on my face as the incredibly fast and supportive Scottish folk (who have long finished their race) cheer the also-rans like me on.

It was my turn to hand out flyers at Round the Bays this year, and I met so many people who said they weren’t fast enough for our club. If I can be the poster child for anything, let it be the fact that you’re never too slow for a running club. As it was pointed out after my last-place finish at the Vosseler, I was ‘miles ahead of the scaredy-cats who stayed home’. I’ve taken six minutes off my 10km time since joining the club, and I’m confident I’ll crack the 50 minute mark this year. Sure, some people run their warm up at faster splits than that, but the girl who lined up for Round the Bays less than 18 months ago never dreamed of running ever again, let alone as fast as she can now.

That girl never dreamed of spending Sunday mornings battling up hills at XTERRA, or braving the drizzle in July for a Tuesday night speed session, or donning a pacing bib to help other people reach their goal of running 5km in 30 minutes over the summer. That girl has now run on Christmas Day, met Katherine Switzer, run 24km up the Remutaka Rail Trail to raise money for charity, gone to Park Run ‘for fun’ while on holiday...that girl is a runner now.

And it doesn’t matter how fast, because it’s still faster than all the people who never bothered getting off the couch. All that matters is pulling on that yellow Scottish singlet, knowing that even if I come last, I’m just as much a rampant lion as everyone else.

Michelle Knight

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