Running man: how to change your life in a million hard steps
Overweight and lacking ambition Dwight Grieve wanted more, he wanted to do something his young family would be proud of.
So he changed his life.
Eyeing up his 30s, Grieve was living in Wallacetown, near Invercargill, and working as a painter and decorator. But it wasn’t enough.
He decided to join the police and he decided to take up running. Both decisions have been monumental, life-changing - uncovering a purpose which means that even at the end of a long shift and with a couple of hours of paperwork still ahead of him, the Te Anau-based policeman is brimming with energy and happy to talk about how far he has come.
In September Grieve will don the black singlet of New Zealand for the first time when he represents New Zealand at the world mountain running championships in Andorra, nestled somewhere between Spain and France.
This will mark the culmination of a dream for the father-of-two, who set his sights on representing New Zealand at open level - not masters - despite only taking up running at 30.
To put it into context, the now 40-year-old will be almost twice as old as his New Zealand teammates in Andorra.
“I’ve never had tonnes of natural ability. I was a very average second division rugby player. But when I was turning 30 I had a life change, I was overweight and I really didn’t have any ambition. I decided to do a bucket list marathon. I just wanted to do something that my family would be proud of,” Grieve says over a long black on a wet Fiordland afternoon.
Grieve found that he loved running, and he loved the companionship the sport provided even more. One eventful Routeburn track jaunt with Gary Kirkman, where Gary would stop and talk to every other tramper stands out. Friendships were formed through harriers running in Invercargill and continued to be forged when he landed a highway patrol role in Te Anau. The stars were aligned.
With arguably the world’s most beautiful training ground on his doorstep, and a job he revelled in, Grieve hasn’t looked back.
With the bucket list marathon ticked off, Grieve started to look for other challenges. He wanted to be one of the best runners in Southland, then the fastest runner in Southland, the fastest 40-year-old in New Zealand, and to earn himself that coveted black singlet at senior open level.
He did well in his first Kepler Challenge, finishing 25th overall in a little over six hours for the 60km mountain run.
He finished runner-up at the New Zealand 24 hour championships - an almost indescribably gruelling event, both mentally and physically, which involves running as many laps of an athletics track as you can in one day. Grieve completed nearly 185km, that’s 460-odd laps.
Again, the stars are aligned. Te Anau is blessed to have an extremely active and affable athletics club and Grieve himself has played a significant role in making it one of the best-regarded little clubs in the country, famous for its ‘Moose Call’ and the Sandfly morph suit.
Amongst the members is coach Shaun Cantwell, an athletics mind as deep and richly-developed as the bush clad Murchison mountains which frame the Te Anau skyline.
“About four years ago I asked Shaun how I could go fast. It’s been a process of small, continual improvement and you’ve got to really want it,” Grieve says.
The recipe is based on Lydiard theories of training - good technique, training smart and building towards goals and specific events. Plenty of focus on recovery.
And Grieve loves the work. He runs every day, he has too. He’s blessed to have a family who support and encourage the long hours of dedication required to achieve the goals he has set for himself.
Spare a thought for wife Lee, daugher Paige and son Hunter.
Family holidays will be planned around running, with Dad often leaving a couple of hours early by foot and picked up somewhere along the road. Finishing a shift at 1am, Grieve will don a headlamp and get a long, dark run in before starting work again in the afternoon.
When on call and required to be available at 15 minutes notice, Grieve will park his car in a central location and then do repeated quarter hour runs out and back in different directions for hours on end.
Not blessed with natural ability, he has no shortage of stubborness and an ability to test his own threshold for pain. The course in Andorra is only 12km long, but it goes straight up, with a vertical gain of 1050m.
He runs between 90km and 120km a week, and with running shoes designed to do between 500km and 600km he has a wardrobe full of new and half used shoes. Combining training and racing shoes, cross country and track spikes he has more than nine pairs on the go at any one time, and the search for continual improvement means there will be another three or four pairs which he has trialled and tossed.
Equipment aside, getting to Andorra will cost about $6000 and that has meant doing something Grieve finds eminently more painful than any hilly training run - asking for help.
“I hate asking and I’ll do anything to repay the favour, whether that means passing on advice or helping with training. I’ve always had such great support from my family, locals, friends and other runners.”
Running has helped Grieve understand that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. He used to loathe public speaking, but nothing phases him anymore. He will celebrate his New Zealand selection with a fern tattoo over his heart immediately after competing in Andorra.
“You just have to give things a go,” he says. True that.