By Aiden McLaughlin
What did you do over the weekend? Maybe you watched or played some sport? Perhaps you spent some time with family and friends? I dare say a lot of you were still trying to get your body clocks back in order after a few late nights/early mornings watching the cricket last week. Over in California, New Zealand runner Ruth Croft made her 100-mile race debut in the Western States Endurance Run. She was the second female to finish and ninth overall; her time of 17 hrs 33 mins and 48 seconds was the sixth fastest by a woman in the 40+ year history of the event, which is considered to be one of the most iconic and competitive ultramarathons in the world.
To put this achievement into context, this race (at 160.934km) was almost 59 kms further than she had ran competitively before, following her victory at the 102km 2021 Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua four and a half months ago. On that occasion, Croft was the first female runner to claim the outright title and set a new women’s course record of 9hrs 21 mins and 3 seconds.
Now 32, Croft was born in the small town of Stillwater near Greymouth – a connection with the outdoors began as a youngster during family hiking trips. After attending Rangi Ruru Girls High School in Christchurch as a boarder, Croft represented New Zealand in the 3,000 metre steeplechase at the 2006 World U20 Championships in Beijing before going to the U20 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh two years later; by this stage she had also competed at the 2005 and 2007 World Mountain Running Championships, finishing sixth in Wellington and fifth in Ovrinnaz , Switzerland, respectively.
Four years training and studying at the University of Portland in the USA followed, before Croft relocated to Taiwan in 2011, where she initially worked as an English teacher. While there, she signed up for a 50km race as part of the North Face 100km Challenge and to her surprise, ended up winning. Speaking to Athletics New Zealand in 2019, Croft said:
‘I fell out of love with running during my time in the US but fell back in love with it thanks to trail running (in Taiwan). I enjoyed being part of a smaller community again, a little like in New Zealand, and on top of this I was competing in some pretty remarkable places.’
Croft was based in Taiwan for six years, racing competitively in Asia and Europe during that time, before she moved back to New Zealand in 2017, settling in Wanaka, which provides easy access to many trails that have helped her training regime. The nature of international competition does however mean that she spends a lot of her time overseas, competing in Asia, Europe and the United States, something only possible because of sponsorship deals with the likes of Garmin and Scott Running.
2018 saw Croft win The Golden Trail World Series, made up of six races in countries such as Spain, France, Switzerland and South Africa. She finished third in the Series in 2019, a year that also saw her finish second at the World Trail Championship in Portugal (over 44.2km).
In February last year, Croft won the Old Ghost Ultra outright, beating the male and female runners over the 85km course on the West Coast between Seddonville and Lyell, in a time of 7 hrs, 31 mins and 8 seconds. It was a time that beat the women’s course record by 8 minutes and was the fastest overall that year by almost 16 minutes.
Old Ghost Ultra, followed by the Tarawera Ultramarathon and now Western States are showing Croft’s undoubted abilities to step up in distance significantly, but that’s not to say it’s something that she will continue with. After Western States Croft was asked if the race would be her only hundred mile race, to which she responded:
‘Possibly. At this moment. Maybe if you ask me in a week it may be different, but yeah, I’m pretty firm on not doing too many 100 milers.’
In the immediate future, Croft is heading to Costa Rica for a non-running holiday. After that she will head back to Europe and choose races as appropriate.
‘I’m kind of aware that this has probably taken a massive toll…I thought if I went straight to Europe (instead of Costa Rica) I’d probably be tempted by the mountains to just do way too much running too soon.’
In due course she’ll make her way back to New Zealand where she continues to live with relative anonymity. Is Croft the most successful New Zealand sportsperson at the moment that many people have never heard of? Almost certainly, but it won’t bother her one bit.
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