Ross Steele hopes to complete his 100th marathon on Saturday by fittingly returning to the Rotorua Marathon – the iconic race where he made his 42.2km debut.
It was some 25 years ago when the Tauranga-based real estate business owner began his marathon journey by competing in the 1992 edition of the historic Rotorua Marathon. Since then Ross has competed in 42 different marathons including at least one on all seven continents, but no race has held quite the enduring appeal of Rotorua, where he will be making his 24th appearance in what he hopes will be his century of completed marathon races this weekend (May 6).
“So many people have ticked their bucket list over the years,” explains Ross. “The Rotorua Marathon is an iconic part of a runner’s journey. To me, it has worked out really well that this will be my 100th.
“The 42.195km distance fits perfectly around the lake and it has been a staple for more than 50 years. The race has always been varied and I’ve run it in all conditions. There are a few hills on the back of the course, but I don’t like to use the word hill. I simply call them a flat slope! I just love that lake and they are always a few wags around the course who put up a sign saying, ‘take is a short cut across the lake’.”
Ross started running “aged 32 or 33” in an effort to reduce his rapidly expanding “spare tyre” around his waist and he initially found the challenge of running 3km non-stop beyond him.
However, he slowly become addicted to the challenge and fitness-boost he received from running and made that marathon debut at the 1992 Rotorua Marathon - because the race was “on my doorstep” and “the iconic nature of the race.” That day Ross ran 3:18 – which still remains his Rotorua PB – with his absolute PB set later that year with a 3:17 clocking when running the Auckland Marathon.
Ross reached 50 marathons in 2011 before deciding to accelerate his ambition to reach the century mark.
“I had looked at others in the 100-club and I thought, unless I pull my finger out I will never reach a 100,” he explains. “So, at that point I thought I would compete in 12 or 13 a year to reach that target.”
Among the marathons he has completed down the years include the New York Marathon. the Mt Kilimanjaro Marathon, the Great Wall Marathon in China and even the Antarctica Marathon, and although an arthritic hip has slowed his bid in more recent times, the Rotorua Marathon has comfortably remained his most prolific of the marathons he has contested over the past quarter-of-a-century.
Since making his Rotorua debut he has only missed completing the 1999 edition, which was cancelled ten minutes before the start because of rain, and the 2004 race because he was overseas competing in the London Marathon.
So what advice would the fun-loving Ross, who plans to run his 100th marathon complete in an orange tutu, pass on to any prospective runners taking on the challenge of the 2017 Rotorua Marathon?
“Just have fun, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow runners,” he adds. “I like to thank all the guys on the aid stations because they have given up there day to help out. I like to shout encouragement at those in the latter stages of the marathon to help them along.”
But for Ross personally, what does he hope to achieve on Saturday as he aims to be part of an exclusive marathon club?
“I’m just going out to have fun,” he insists. “I’m now aged 60 with an arthritic hip. It really doesn’t worry me what time I run.”