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Anne Audain — January, 2017
Anne Audain is a native of New Zealand who competed for over two decades highlighted by a Commonwealth Games Gold Medal at 3,000 meters in 1982 and a Silver Medal at 10,000 meters in 1986. She broke the World Record for 5,000 meters in 1982. Anne qualified to compete in six Olympics from 1972 to 1992. Her 23 total medals at New Zealand Championships included 13 Gold Medals, four Silver and six Bronze. Anne competed in five World Cross Country Championships, finishing in the top ten three times while helping New Zealand to a team Silver Medal in 1975 and Bronze Medal in 1977. She was the 1980s winningest road racer, male or female with 75 victories, top three finishes in 90% of her races and a top ten ranking for ten straight years. Anne’s major road race victories included Bloomsday Eight-Mile (7 times), Virginia Ten-Mile (6 times), Cleveland Revco 10k (6 times), Cascade Run-Off 15k (3 times), NYC Pepsi Challenge 10k (twice) and once each at the Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile, NYC L’eggs 10k, Peachtree 10k, Freedom Run Eight-Mile, Bonne Bell 10k and Maple Leaf Half Marathon. In 1982 she competed in 13 major U.S. road races and was undefeated while setting 13 course records. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 1995, as a Masters runner she was undefeated in 1996 and won three United States championships at 5k, 10k and 12k. In 1993 Anne founded the Idaho Women's Fitness Celebration 5K. Major distinctions include being awarded the MBE for services to athletics by Queen Elizabeth in 1995 and induction into the Running USA Hall of Champions (2008), the New Zealand Sports HOF (2009) and RRCA Distance Running HOF (2014). Anne was adopted as an infant and succeeded in life and running despite major foot deformities that weren’t corrected until surgery at age thirteen. Her autobiography, ‘Uncommon Heart,’ was published in 2000 and a documentary film, ‘Anne Audain: Running Her Way’ premiered in 2009. She currently resides in Evansville, Indiana with her husband, Chuck, and two black cats.
GCR:When we look back over the big picture in your life and to forty-five years ago when you started running, could you have imagined how being a runner would end up shaping your entire life from that point onward and what has competitive running and being part of the running community meant to you?
AAOh my goodness - what a big question to start off with. Forty-six years ago I had both of my feet reconstructed from a birth deformity which I had. It stopped me from being very active and if I was, I was always in a great deal of pain. I went through a year of rehab in New Zealand and that’s where my accent’s from. New Zealand was really big in terms of having track and field clubs in every community. That was huge. I just wanted to be like all of the other neighborhood kids and, when I learned to walk correctly, I found that running was actually more comfortable than the walking motion. So I joined a track club and it changed my life. My parents were very apprehensive and thought I was crazy. But it took me on a journey where my whole life and my whole platform the last forty-five years have all been based on the fact that I started running. Who truly would have thought that? I’ve lived in the United States now for thirty-six years and I never, ever would have thought that would have happened. It’s really fascinating how suddenly something happens in your lie that’s pretty traumatic at the time and then takes you on this whole wonderful journey that you never would have dreamed.
GCR:That is quite amazing and another big picture item deals with something we hear in running and racing and that I’ve also heard in my 44 years in the sport. We often hear words to the effect that records may be broken, but that championships are forever. What does it mean to you, almost thirty-five years later, to be 1982 Commonwealth Games 3,000 meter champion and that lives on with you for the rest of your life?
AAI became the first New Zealand woman to win a track Gold Medal and I’m still the only New Zealand woman to have a track Gold Medal. So every year the New Zealand media and sports federation review my race and say, ‘Here she is again!’ I laugh and think of how I was young back then. That moment had a lot of meaning to it mainly because I had quit the sport in 1980 for a lot of reasons. One was the boycott of the 1980 Olympics which destroyed a lot of athletes’ careers. But I had also left my first coach, Gordon Pirie, for a lot of reason and I didn’t think I would ever run again. But in 1980 I started up with my new coach, John Davies, and he was the one who said I could do this.
GCR:Didn’t Coach Davies really have to work to finally convince you to run in the 1982 Commonwealth Games?
AAI remember fighting him the whole way about this race. I had come to the States, I had taken a stance for professionalism in distance running, I was winning every road race I entered in the United States in 1982 and I did not want to go back to Australia and run track. As far as I was concerned, I was done. These Games were going to be in Brisbane, Australia and John kept saying to me, ‘You can be the first New Zealand woman to win a Gold. You can win a Gold. You can do it for the country. You can do it for the sport. You can do it for your parents.’ He kept persevering and I kept saying, ‘no.’ As I said, I was winning every road race here. He said, ‘If I can prove to you in your training that you can come off of that road season and you can come down here and race this 3,000 meters, then you’ve got to say ‘yes.’
GCR:Can you tell us about the overall concept of that training plan that did work so wonderfully?
AAHe wrote out a thirteen week program for me that incorporated me still racing on the American circuit. As I sit here talking to you, I have that hand written program in a frame on my wall. It was day by day including the road races, but going back on to the track and doing a lot of speed work. For the last two days he had on the day of the race, ‘win Gold Medal,’ and the day after the race it said, ‘polish Gold Medal.’ There was no pressure there! The headline of the program says, ‘This is a Gold Medal schedule.’ I think when I look back on it, when I said ‘yes’ to follow the program I wasn’t going to do it and go all of the way back to Australia to try for anything else but a Gold Medal. But, as we all know in this sport, everyone else in the race wants that Gold Medal too. I look at this and he had so much faith in me that I could do it. We did it as a team and I followed his program.
GCR:What was the race strategy that Coach Davies and you had for the race?
AAI flew all of the way down to Australia and, on the day of the race, John Davies said to me, ‘Annie, I know you like to lead all of the way, but it’s really, really windy out there and you’re only ranked ninth on time. Just follow everybody and leave it to the last sprint.’ I get out there and it was my nature to be out in front. It happened for a number of reasons. I drew lane one at the starting line and that put me on the inside which is a dangerous spot to be. We took off and I got out in the front and I remembered the promise I had mad to him and I thought, ‘Uh oh. He commentating this race. He’s probably having heart failure.’ But in the end it was what my nature was and it was how I like to race to keep myself out of trouble. I also wanted to give it my all and if I got beaten I got beaten, but I wasn’t going to follow anybody else. And I win. Everything that led up to that and you go across that line and you achieve it and you think, ‘Lord, I did it. I absolutely did it.’
GCR:I went back and looked at the race tape a couple of times and after pulling the runners back from the start line and regrouping, you did go right out to the start. I found the last lap to be riveting as Wendy Smith tried the whole last lap to pass you, made big move with 200 meters to go and got side-by-side, but you held her off around the turn and then blew her away on the last home stretch. Could you take us through how you were feeling and what you were thinking during that last lap?
AAFirst of all, when you are leading a race you are the person in control. So I could hear her breathing and she couldn’t hear me. It was very windy on the back straight and I knew that every time we went down that back straight she was breathing more heavily than I was. I could also look up on the big screens at either end of the stadium and I could see her face. I would look every now and then on that back straight and I knew that I was still in control. I was hoping that I was saving enough that when she made her move I could hold her off. And who knows? She could have made a move and I wouldn’t have been able to adjust. But I was paying attention to her breathing and I really felt that I was running easier than her. But she couldn’t tell because she couldn’t hear me from behind. I was just waiting. I knew it was going to happen and I was just waiting for her. And as soon as she did it I thought, ‘Okay, no way!’
GCR:The picture of you crossing the finish line with your head thrown back and arms raised in triumph is an iconic photo that is also on the cover of your autobiographical book, ‘Uncommon Heart.’ What was it like to be in that moment when you crossed the line and are the emotions still vividly in your mind today?
AAI think at that point it was thirteen years since my feet were fixed, I was twenty-six years old and I had gone through an awful lot in those thirteen years. At that point it was absolute relief that I had finally got to where I believed I could. For my family and everything they had been through it was a big deal. I was twenty-five years old when I came to the United States to run on the road race circuit and my parents didn’t want me to come. I didn’t need to come here because New Zealand is a great country, but to get better in some respects as a runner you have to leave New Zealand. But it was a huge risk and I had made that choice. To this day I say that if I hadn’t made that choice to come to the U.S. I wouldn’t be who I am. I could only have done so much out of New Zealand and John Davies could have trained me to do that race, but by coming to the United States I gained so much confidence by being here and racing the road circuit. It actually gave me the confidence that I could lead that race and take fifteen seconds off my PR in winning. I look at the journey to that point and it wasn’t just one month or one year. It was thirteen years.
GCR:In addition to that Gold Medal performance 1982 was a magical year, a perfect season where you won all fifteen races broke the 5,000m World Record on the track and in 13 races had 13 wins and 13 course records. You had outstanding success both before and afterward, but why did everything come together so amazingly well and so consistently in 1982?
AAI’ve always said that if I hadn’t joined up with John Davies and got him to be my coach that wouldn’t have happened. Obviously, I’ve got some talent and that is the reason John picked me up out of the dumps in 1980 and took me on when I was in the worst shape of my life and overweight. I was down and depressed and he took me on as a challenge which he mentioned many times. He instilled that confidence in me. Much of it also had to do with the Lydiard training method and how so many of us were trained. It’s a concept of patience and certainly having a very good game plan. I think that John and I were a great team in terms of how we planned our year. We would sit down each January and decide the races I was going to do. I can say throughout that entire time on the U.S. circuit I never went to a race just because I was going to get paid money to do so. Whatever plan that John and I had at the beginning of the year, we stuck to it so that I stayed healthy and in that year those were the races that I chose to run. The only one that got added was the Commonwealth Games 3,000 meters which he were on me for many months for me to say ‘yes’ to running.
GCR:It wasn’t just that one year, but that whole period of the 1980s where you raced at the front of the pack, and I can relate because I finished up my Master’s degree and was racing at the same time in many of the same races. You were the 1980s winningest road racer, male or female, with 75 victories, top three finishes in 90% of your races and a top ten ranking for ten straight years. How important was it then and fulfilling when you look back to have such a consistent record? How significant was it that everyone knew ‘When Anne Audain shows up, I have a race on my hands today?’
AAActually, that’s a quote from Lisa Rainsberger, who used to be Lisa Weidenbach. I remember her saying that ‘We all knew that when Anne Audain showed up we had a real battle on our hands. Lisa is a great friend to this day. The two gals that I came out of my running days with great friendship are Kim Jones and Lisa Rainsberger. We competed hard against each other and then we’d go out and have a beer.
GCR:It’s been over thirty-five years since you and others openly accepted prize money at the 1981 Cascade Runoff 15k and were briefly banned from the sport before being reinstated and ushering in the era of professional running. How tough was it to make this decision and are you proud to have been one of the trailblazers who set the stage for all that followed?
AAI’m very proud. But there are so many of the young athletes nowadays who don’t even know that even happened, but how much that day changed our sport, it changed track and field, it changed the Olympic Games and it changed professional sports being allowed in the Olympic Games. The group of us who did that on that day not only changed our lives, but we changed a lot of other sports peoples’ lives. For me the decision wasn’t hard. I had travelled in Europe as part of New Zealand teams on the European track circuit and I had watched my fellow Kiwi men get paid under the table and it was quite a lot of money. The women didn’t have any chance of earning any money at all. We were lucky to cover our expenses in terms of travel and food. I just thought that if any time I had the chance to be like them, whether it was over the table or under the table, I was going to take it. But women at that point didn’t get the opportunities that men had. When it happened, the best thing that our sport did was to actually make the prize money equal for the men and women of that day in 1981. It was an easy decision for me, but Phil Knight, from Nike, was putting up the prize money and he was pretty much guaranteeing that Nike would stand behind the situation and fight for it to work out and take care of the athletes who made the decision. And I trusted him to do that. I didn’t really know him at all, but I trusted what he said and I trusted Nike in terms of what their goal was.
GCR:It ended up working out well for you, but did you think you had a shot to win and how did it affect your ability to enter races in the next few months since you were now a professional runner?
AAWhen I made the decision I did not think I was going to win. I had only been in the United States for a few months and I thought that if I finished fifth or sixth I would end up with a little more money to stay here a bit longer as I had run out of money. I ended up winning. And that day changed my life as, not only did I win the race and ten thousand dollars, but I got banned and the immigration department was after me as I was only here on a Visitor’s Visa. So, accepting the money was totally illegal. My parents wanted me to come home as they thought I had just messed up my life and made a huge mistake. But really the race directors in the United States didn’t recognize the ban and allowed me to race the rest of the year and I continued to do that. I didn’t go back to New Zealand until the end of the year when Immigration told me to leave and to not come back until I had the right Visas. The New Zealand media was on our side and then it was the New Zealand Athletics federation that was going to make our lives tough. Not only did I win, but Lorraine Moller and Allison Roe were second and third.
GCR:There is an interesting commonality amongst several New Zealand racers. Along with fellow Kiwis, including Lorraine Moller and Rod Dixon, you had quite a racing range from 800 meters to marathon. Why do you and others from New Zealand seem to have this aptitude for a wide range in racing distances more than distance runners from other countries?
AAI think it’s because our system in New Zealand is predominantly track clubs in communities instead of a school administered sports system. When we start off in those track clubs we don’t run 5,000 and 10,000 meters all of the time. You go to the track club on your track night and for the track club in my community it was on Wednesday night. Runners went there and ran 200 meters and 400 meters and gradually women were able to run a bit further. It would have been the same for Rod in terms of the men, as we didn’t have long races on our track nights. We weren’t asked to run 5,000 or 10,000 meters like in U.S. colleges or 5,000 meters like in U.S. high school cross country. We started at shorter distances and the longest distance in the Olympic Games for women when Lorraine Moller and I stared was only 800 meters. We didn’t know anything different. We didn’t know we could run longer distances. For men there were the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, but the system in New Zealand was dominated by track meets where the longest race was 1,500 meters and occasionally a 5,000 meters. We all started at a young age running short distances which was really our reality. For Lorraine and I, and I think she would agree, it wasn’t until the United States opened up the road racing that any of us ever thought we could run the distances that we ended up doing.
GCR:When I interviewed your friend and country woman, Lorraine Moller, she talked about running barefoot when she started out and how she still like running barefoot, feeling the grass beneath her feet and that it makes her feel one with the earth. Do you like running barefoot and do you have the same connection?
AAAbsolutely. I hate shoes. When I started to run and I needed to start wearing shoes, they told me that to keep my feet healthy and strong I should run in the nearest thing possible to bare feet. So, for my entire running career I raced and trained in racing flats. I still prefer to be barefoot. When I lived in Boise, Idaho, I lived on a golf course and I would run barefoot on the golf course. When I started in New Zealand, and Lorraine would say the same thing, all of our racing tracks were grass. So, I ran barefoot a lot. The only time I put on shoes was at the main track in Auckland City which was a cinder track. Other than that I ran barefoot for a long time.
GCR:You qualified for and ran in several Olympic Games. Though you never made the podium due to different circumstances like being young in the 1970s, missing 1980 due to the boycott and then competing in the marathon though it wasn’t your best event, how exciting was it to compete for New Zealand on the Olympic stage and what are your takeaways from your early Olympic experiences?
AAIn the end I qualified for six Olympics. In 1972 I qualified for the 1,500 meters and they did choose me. But I was only 16 years old and they withdrew me with just three weeks to go. They told my parents I was too young and that was reasonable. I understood the decision. I was a pretty shy kid and with the terrorist tragedy of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, it was probably a great thing that I never went. Then it came to 196 when I was a new school teacher and I was only twenty years old. I went to Montreal in the 800 and 1,500 meters as New Zealand champion. I was told by the school administrators that I had a choice to make – I could go to the Olympics and lose my job or I could stay in New Zealand and keep teaching. I thought, ‘I’m going to the Olympics. This could be one and done. It could be my only chance to go and I could always get a teaching job.’ So that was a no-brainer decision. That was just so exciting to go. I young and the whole country thinks I’m so talented that I’m going to come back with a medal because I was getting so much attention for my times. Of course, at the Games in Montreal I finished last in my heat of the 800 meters and only eighth in the heat of the 1,500 meters despite breaking a New Zealand record. So that was a reality check. But the whole experience was amazing. But I came down to earth and realized there is a whole big world out there. Even though I was New Zealand champion, each country sent their champions to the Olympic Games. That was a wakeup call that I was great down in New Zealand, but there was a lot of work to do if I’m going to make the world stage. Then in 1980 was the boycott.
GCR:What was your thought process in selection of your event for the 1984 Olympics since you could have competed at 3,000 meters or in the inaugural Olympic women’s marathon?
AAIn 1984 I had a hard choice because I had just won that 3,000 meter Gold in the Commonwealth Games two years before and they were adding the 3,000 meters to the games in Los Angeles along with the marathon. I had never wanted to run marathons and hated the thought. I just didn’t even want to bother with the training. It was not a distance I was interested in. If there was ever a time when someone asked me if I made a bad decision or if John and I made a bad decision, we could both look back and said maybe I should have given one more try on the track instead of trying the marathon. Now in hindsight when I look back there was the Mary Decker and Zola Budd debacle and I probably would have been right there in the middle of it because I like to run from the front too. There might have been just a real big mess.
GCR:You might have taken it out stronger and strung the race out and the collision possibly may not have happened. Have you ever considered that?
AAI don’t know. Oh boy, I could have been right in that big, big mess. But back to 1984 – I started in the marathon and I think I got to about 22 miles and I was delirious. I had problems with the heat and ended up in the hospital with an IV in me. They tell me I got to 22 miles and I was in sixth place, but I couldn’t tell you if that was accurate or not. I can tell you I ended up in a hospital. So the frustration was at that point I had had the World Record at 5,000 meters and had been ranked number two in the world in the 10,000 meters. That would have been my year to have any chance in the 5k and 10k and they passed me by.
GCR:You did qualify for two more Olympics in 1988 and 1992, but didn’t run in Barcelona. Was it tough in those years as you were past your peak and on the down side of your running career?
AAI ran the inaugural 10,000 meters in 1988 and I ended up eleventh in the final. When it came to Barcelona in 1992, I had qualified in the 10,000 meters and the marathon. But my feelings were, ‘Nah, I’m done.’ The Olympics just weren’t doing it for me. It probably sounds extremely in gracious. Everybody wants to go to the Olympics so why would I not go? I retired instead. That’s what put me into retirement. I just couldn’t think of going to the 1992 Olympics. I just thought I was done.
GCR:You had such a long career though with great success. Switching gears to one of the big things in your life - You were adopted and your father said you smiled at him and were specially chosen. Years later you found your birth parents and found out your young, unmarried birth mother had prayed for you every day since she gave you up for adoption. How special did your adoptive parents make you feel and how heart-warming was it to find out over thirty years later the love and care of your birth parents?
AAIt’s actually quite an amazing story and is almost a whole another book in and of itself. As the years go by now I have known my birth family for such a long time. Each time I go back to New Zealand I make a point of seeing the entire birth family. My dad told that story and it ended up not being completely true, but it was a great story of a father telling an adopted daughter why she was so special and how he had particularly chosen me because I was the only one who smiled at him. He had really wanted a boy, but chose a girl. Mum and dad had a child, my sister, Katie, three and a half years later. The reason I was adopted is mum struggled so hard to have children. There were lots of tragedies trying to have children that were stillborn and babies that lasted a few months. It was a very sad situation. But Katie survived and they ended up with an adopted daughter and a natural daughter. But Katie was two and a half months premature in 1959 and both mum and she almost died together. They really struggled to survive – both of them. As I went forward in life as was dad who took me under his wings and mum took Katie under her wings. Dad really raised me I jokingly say as a boy. He was so into sport that he taught me about sport. He took me to cricket matches. He took me to rugby matches. He loved horse racing to the point where I had scrap books on race horses through my younger years. Through that I think I learned about how horses trained and how they ran. I couldn’t play sports, or if I tried I was in a terrible amount of pain. So I look at how dad just taught me so much about sport. We’d sit and listen on the radio to Muhammad Ali’s fights and we’d listen to the Kentucky Derby. So I was raised as a little girl who really couldn’t participate in sports to have a great knowledge and enjoyment of sports. When I got the chance to do what I did, poor dad was always a nervous wreck every time I raced. I just credit him because I had such a tremendous understanding of what being a sports person was all about, what competition was about and what training was all about. So I was really blessed to have him as a dad.
GCR:When and why did you decide to try to find your birth parents and how did that play out?
AAIt was dad who persuaded me or encouraged me to find my birth history. He at least brought home the documents. At this point I was in the United States and it was 1986. New Zealand had opened up the birth records for mothers and adoptees so that they could go looking for one another and that the documentation was opened up. If you didn’t want to be found on either side you could veto everything for ten years. And so dad brought home the paperwork and I went looking. Dad supported me though he said he knew my mother wouldn’t want me to do it. He said that he thought I should. At that point I thought there’s got to be a woman somewhere that needs to know that everything turned out great for me because at this point I had the Gold medal and the World Record. I just thought someone needs to know that she did the right thing and that I’ve had a great life. I only thought I was going looking for a birth mother. I went through the process that you were allowed to do. I got an original birth certificate that to me these days is hard for me to fathom. I have a birth certificate from being adopted and then I have this other birth certificate which says I was born to an 18 year old mother, father unknown – that’s what is says, and that my name was Eileen Maria Butler. At that point I looked at that and thought, ‘Oh my goodness, at one point in time I had a completely different identity.’ So there are two birth certificates in my life. Then I tried to find her and went through a process which led me to find she had gotten married. I went through the voter rolls and they helped me with the whole process to find them. Now that I think again, my birth certificate didn’t say ‘father unknown,’ it said ‘father European.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but I found that in those days it meant that he had come from Europe. When I finally found them and, as you know from my book, it is a long story, but I found her mother, my birth grandmother. She denied she had a daughter in the first phone call, but finally came around to saying she had a daughter and she married a Dutchman and then she told me the town in which her daughter lived. When she said about the Dutch man I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder if she married my father?’ Sure enough, she did.
GCR:So you were looking for your birth mother to let her know you were okay and you found out a whole lot more?
AAOne year after giving birth to me my birth parents got married in a big double Catholic wedding with her sister. When I found them, the only family members who knew I existed were my birth mother, my father and her mother. Only three people knew there had been a baby. Not her brothers and sisters. None of her children, of which there were six – four brothers and two sisters whom I got. Nobody knew. So she had to sit the kids down. To this day they tell the story from the other side. One of my brothers-in-law told me they were sat down and told there was something that had to be shared and he said, ‘Uh oh! There are skeletons in the closet.’ They were told I existed and then the double whammy of the whole situation was who I was. They all knew me as the athlete and the runner and the Gold Medalist. Now they were being told I was their sister.
GCR:Wasn’t there a story I read about in ‘Uncommon Heart’ where one of your brothers from your birth family had a bar and had a poster of you on the wall?
AAYes, one of my brothers managed a bar in the town where some of them were living. There was a poster of that iconic shot that you talked about. The New Zealand sports team was sponsored by a beer company in New Zealand. And that Beer Company chose twelve iconic New Zealand sporting photographs, put them in these beautiful frames and put them in all of their pubs around New Zealand. So he was managing one of these pubs and had my picture up on the wall. The he started telling all of his patrons that was his sister.
GCR:Let’s talk a bit more about how you dealt with being born with deformed feet which affected your walking until your reconstructive surgery at age thirteen. Were you picked on as a child, did the surgery cause a huge decrease in your foot pain, and how surprising was it when you started running that you were so talented?
AAThere was nothing to indicate my running potential. Fortunately I had a chance to interview the doctor when he was in his eighties. I had seen him occasionally through the years because he had become a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon. Often when he gave presentations he should what had happened to me, what he had done and my success. To this day there is no name for what was wrong with my feet. I just had huge bone spurs that were bunions magnified. Then my tendons wouldn’t operate my big toes. So I shuffled around on my heels. I certainly could get around, but I couldn’t find any shoes to wear that fit those bone spurs. I would never get up on the front part of my feet because it was too painful to do so. The reason they waited until I was thirteen was so my bones were strong enough to do the reconstructive surgery and to heal properly. When I left the hospital they didn’t promise anything magical. He said years later in the interview, ‘We would have done the surgery if she was going to be the biggest couch potato. We didn’t know she was going to be an athlete. We just had to do it to help her mobility.’ So when I left the hospital the whole goal was to teach me the heel to toe motion of walking which I never had. I didn’t leave the hospital with crutches or a wheelchair. They created these black leather boots that attached to the bottom of the plaster casts. Today I say that there is where these fancy boots worn after surgery came from and that I had the first one. They were made of black leather and they laced up. On the bottom of the boot was a wooden rocker like a rocking horse. Their whole goal was as my feet were healing under the plaster casts that the rocker was forcing me forward. It was an ingenious idea that gave me a wonderful running style. But the pain that I went through being on those feet after I had so much surgery and the stiches were still in my feet. It caused me a great deal of pain. But the idea was genius as when the casts came off I ran better than I walked. It was amazing. To this day when my husband and I go for a walk at night he just goes, ‘for heaven’s sake Annie, you look awful when you are walking.’ And I do. I fall back into some of the old motion. The memory is still there. But if you set ne running I’ve got perfect style.
GCR:Speaking of getting you in motion to run, there are two coaches, Gordon Pirie, who shaped your first decade of running, and John Davies, who coached you for the remainder of your competitive career as you really flourished, molded you as a runner and affected you as a person. What are the main takeaways you have from these two men who moved you forward and helped you learn things you liked and didn’t like as you progressed as a runner and as a person?
AAGordon was a unique character. I would call him a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ in terms of a personality. You never knew from one day to the next in training who was going to turn up. And he never had a plan. It was whimsical. You would turn up and never know what you were going to be doing that day. If he was having a bad day then maybe we would go for a long walk or run and not really do a workout. The other side of what I learned from Gordon, as well as John, is they were both into hill repeats, hill training and training on sand. So there was a lot of consistency in those factors. The other thing Gordon did with me is that, as I said, I was a very shy kid and an introvert and he made me mad and very competitive. His way of ridicule and using me against some of his other athletes and the whole dynamics of how he coached and how he played one athlete off of the other caused me to somehow react, for want of a better word, positively. I basically thought I would prove that I could win and I would prove everything he was knocking me for. In that respect I reacted the right way and he turned me into a fiercely competitive runner and a front runner. He would play me against my competitors and ridicule them to the point that I had to win or I would look like a fool. The psychology he used destroyed a lot of athletes. Some were mentally destroyed because of the way he treated them. Fortunately I just fought back. With that respect I credit him with making me very, very tough. It got to the point though where he destroyed me and I quit for many reasons. I just quit. I had had enough. Had I not joined forces with John Davies I wouldn’t have become who I am. What John brought was so calm. He was such a gentleman and so respectful. He had a plan and we would sit down and talk about it. He was the absolute opposite of Gordon and was who I needed in my life at that time.
GCR:That must have given you much more joy in your running.
AAYes, absolutely. His statement to me was that all he had to do through his training of me was to prove to me how good I was and then I had to go out and race and I could do it the way I wanted to do it. It was joyful. Apart from when my father died, the day John died was the most traumatic death. He was just like that second father I needed at the time. I was twenty-five years old, had been through a rough time with Gordon. When he died way too young from melanoma at the age of sixty-four it devastated me. I look across at the training program in the frame on my wall and it brings tears to my eyes. That man just gave me the chance that I needed to get to the top.
GCR:When you look back at your training program under both of your coaches, I know that Gordon’s regimen wasn’t as structured as John’s plan. But in addition to the hill running and sand trails, what were some of your key workouts when you were building your base or fine-tuning or races that stand out in your mind?
AAAs I said, Gordon never had a plan so one day he might turn up and say, ‘we’re going to run ten miles and the next day we might do twenty times 100 meters hard sprints. It was very, very difficult to stay healthy even though I did as there was no consistency. I truly think that when I was coached by Gordon I ran on natural ability. I don’t think he ever got me to the point that I was at my best. I was just running on sheer ability. And remember that I was only racing as far as 1,500 meters. It wasn’t until I joined up with John that he told me he thought my talent was in the longer distances which happened to coincide with the longer distances being available here in the United States on the road racing circuit. So, in all fairness to Gordon, he was only training me or 1,500 meters or maybe a couple of miles of cross country racing. John got the challenge to take me to another level in terms of distances where he truly believed and, it turned out to be correct, that my talents were. John got the chance to take me into a whole different era as well as having the pan to make it work.
GCR:John had the chance to coach you and take you to run the 10,000 meters at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. You again led the entire way, this time ahead of the talented Liz McColgan, who somewhat surprisingly caught and passed you with 600 meters to go and beat you by seven seconds. How good was this race for you as you did run a personal best time even though you weren’t able to respond to her challenge?
AANow that we are so many years removed from that race, I was actually very sick, to be honest. By running that race I made myself even sicker for almost two months with borderline pneumonia. Someone may say now that I never should have started if I was going to have an excuse, but this many years later I can say that. And I don’t say it very often. But I was very sick and I look at that Silver Medal as being as good as my Gold Medal.
GCR:The proof is in the pudding when you look back at how good Liz McColgan became as she broke the World Record for 10k on the roads with the first sub-31 minute time and won the New York City Marathon. It wasn’t like you were beaten by somebody who was a flash in the pan or wasn’t extremely talented.
AAAbsolutely and Liz and I are friends and connected on Facebook now. Her daughter looks just like her and is racing so well. Anyway, Liz and I communicate a great deal and the story we tell is that she was only twenty years old and I was thirty. She was the only Scottish Gold Medalist either in track and field or possibly in all pf the sports in those Commonwealth Games. The next day I was walking around downtown Edinburgh and all of these Scottish people were coming up to me and thanking me for letting their gal get the Gold Medal. In their respect I never said anything to the media at the time, but the hard race kind of dragged the sickness down into my lungs for a couple of months. I did run my best time but I didn’t have that last bit. It’s like the energy just went out of me when I tried to respond to Liz’s move. But I truly made myself sick by running that race. I look at that and I easily could have not started and that’s why I’m so proud that I did, I did what I did and I raced the race that I wanted to race and it was the exact statement I always said: I’ll give it my best shot and if I get beaten by a better person on that day, that’s fine as long as I cross the line knowing I gave it my best shot. I did and that’s why I look at that Silver as proudly as the Gold Medal.
GCR:What I’d like to do is to go through some of the major road races you ran and touch on a few that you won multiple times to get your take on what comes back as your strongest memories. First let’s look at Bloomsday where you won seven times and does something stand out - maybe a day with great competition or a better than expected performance?
AABloomsday is a great story in the first year I raced it which was in 1981. I was very new to the United States and I was trying to find places to stay. At this point I was in Eugene, Oregon staying with a group including Dick Quax, and his girlfriend. They agreed I could stay there a little while. Dick Quax was the former World Record holder in the 5,000 meters and he was working for Nike at the time and he said that he could probably get me into the Bloomsday race in Spokane, Washington and I was okay with that. So I called up Don Kardong, who is the founder and still race director of Bloomsday, and he said he had used up his budget. He told me that I could get a train ticket and after he saw how I performed he might reimburse me for the ticket. So I caught a train tom Bloomsday and they took us out on a course tour. They were saying this was one of the hilliest road races in the country. Don Kardong and I both remember my commenting that these aren’t hills – if you come from New Zealand these aren’t hills.
GCR:As the underdog, what did you do to make the best of your opportunity to challenge for the win?
AAThe favorite for the race was out of Portland, Oregon. I just got out there and ran like I always did which was out toward the front with confidence and just going for it. I wasn’t usually competing against anybody but was competing against myself. Peter Thompson, her boyfriend and coach, was given permission to ride a bicycle on the course with the lead woman who of course they both thought was going to be her. Peter ended up having to ride his bicycle next to me when she was behind me. So she’s behind me and he’s next to me while trying to encourage her. I think I got pretty far in front and won by quite a bit. So I’m coming across the line and I win and nobody knows who I am. The announcers said they thought I was from Australia. After the race we were going up in an elevator and she was there with her coach. She was crying because she was favored to win. I was also still overweight from my going downhill. Jon Sinclair, who ended up in the future being coached by John Davies and coming to train together with me in New Zealand for years, told me later that at this point when it was time for the awarding of prizes, said ‘who is that girl who won the women’s race? She doesn’t look like she’s a runner at all!’ It kind of shocked everybody, but that was my first road racing win in the United States. I won it seven times and once again John and I would sit down each year and have a plan. I just knew that course suited me. I knew I was a really strong uphill runner and a hilly course suited me and that was always part of my plan. Sometimes I am asked, ‘How come you won seven Bloomsdays?’ Well, I also finished third there twice and I say, ‘because we planned to do that.’ And that’s exactly it. I never deviated from the plan. We always had a plan. We always enough time to recover from races, had that plan and I stuck to it with consistency.
GCR:Continuing along with hilly races, a race that I ran twice and you won six times is the Virginia 10-mile where you and Rod Dixon, two Kiwis, still hold the course records which is pretty amazing. Jon Sinclair also ran well there back in the 1980s. What is your takeaway on this Lynchburg, Virginia race?
AAMy first year I ran there in 1981 I encountered that severe downhill mile right from the start. Of course it’s an out-and-back course so you have to come up that hill in the last mile. Because of my feet I’m not a confident downhill runner. I took off in that race and you can’t help but go down that hill a little bit out of control. I run the race and I end up wining and the next day I cannot lift my legs. And I’m supposed to get on a plane and go to Boston for the Freedom Trail 8-Mile race the following weekend. The next day I thought there was just no way. I can’t get into a cab; I can’t climb stairs up to the plane. I can’t walk. So we postponed going to Boston for a couple of days and then when I got there I was put up with Bill Rodgers’ brother in a big house that he had in a suburb of Boston. But the room was on the third floor and I had to climb stairs to get up to that third floor. I could not lift my quads. They were so hammered from that downhill race and that downhill mile. I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord.’ I was telling everyone I was okay. Bill’s brother would go to work each day and I couldn’t run. I didn’t run the entire week. He would come home and ask if I had a good run and I would tell him I did. I was lying but what am I supposed to say. Here I am and I can’t run. I was getting this reputation as this new Kiwi girl on the racing circuit.
GCR:How did you end up doing at the Freedom Trail 8-miler?
AAI turned up for that race and by that time seven or eight days later my legs were totally healed and I was so refreshed because I had done nothing for a week that I ended up winning by two and a half minutes. I ran an amazing time for eight miles. Rod Dixon won on the male side. Everyone was saying what an amazing time I had done and I was thinking, ‘If you only knew!’ I hadn’t been able to walk until the last two days. So, after that Virginia 10-miler I learned to be calm in the first mile and I never hurt myself again.
GCR:Another race you won a half dozen times, which I never ran, is the Cleveland Revco 10k. What is your neatest story from that race?
AAAgain it was in the first year. I went there in 1982, I believe, and I looked at the course. I had just come off of winning Bolder Boulder where I had beaten the course record by a huge amount. I had run 32:38 at altitude and that was unheard of in those days. To be honest there were a few accusations that I had cut the course short except that Jon Sinclair and some of his running buddies from Fort Collins had run beside me the entire way and stood up for the fact that I had run the true course. But 32:38 was a record that stood for 14 years. Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit and Ingrid Kristiansen all tried to break it, they offered money, they offered cars and no one broke it for fourteen years. So I was coming off that time at Bolder Boulder and going to Cleveland. Grete was the only woman at that point who had run under 32 minutes for a 10k. I just looked at the course and predicted to jack Staff, who is the founder and still race director along with his son now, that I would run 31:45. At the press conference I said, ‘I think I can run 31 minutes and 45 seconds on this course and be the second woman under 32 minutes.’ That does sound extremely bold, but I looked at the course and thought, ‘I can do this.’ That’s exactly what I did – 31 minutes and 45 seconds. To this day, Jack says, ‘I just thought you were blowing hot air and you did what you said to the second!’ What I’m proud of is that I formed an amazing friendship with Jack and his family, I watched his kids grow up, I’m now watching his grandkids grow up, I go back to Cleveland each year and I am involved with kids events. I feel like I am an athlete that never burned any bridges. I have had a tremendous relationship with all of the race directors that I met way back then.
GCR:There were some other very big races that you didn’t race or win as many times, but where you had big wins like the Cherry Blossom 10-mile, Bonne Bell 10k, L’eggs Mini-marathon and the Pepsi Challenge 10k. Do any of those races stand out for a great effort or beating someone who really pushed you?
AAWinning the L’eggs Mini-marathon in New York City, which is the big 10k there that is over forty years old and was held in Central Park. In 1981 I pulled out of the race after about four miles. Then I got lost in Harlem and had no idea where I was. Finally I managed to get back to my hotel. I was really disappointed in myself because I had never pulled out of races before. I left New York and was thinking that I wasn’t going to come back to that race until I could win it. I didn’t run it in 1982 even though I was having such a great year. In 1983 I went back and Grete Waitz was the darling of New York since she had won several New York City Marathons along with this race. She was unbeaten and had won this race three or four times. So I obviously knew who I was up against. I just went in there and got in front of Grete and ended up winning. Sadly, Grete passed away a few years ago and the New York Road Runners Club brought me back for the eulogy as part of many who gave a eulogy. I was the only woman to have beaten Grete in New York. That now has a special memory since Grete sadly has passed away. To be brought back because of that moment had given it another special meaning.
GCR:Let’s head down south to the Peachtree Road race 10k where you came in second place in 1981 and won in 1982. Interestingly, up until a couple years ago those were the only two years that I ever ran that race. I know how it was and about that hill you hit at about four miles. What did you learn from Peachtree the first year that helped you to win in 1982?
AAIn 1981 it was just a few days after I won the Cascade Runoff 15k in that first professional race. So, to be honest, coming down from Cascade and everything that happened I still finished second. The following year was also right after the Cascade race. Recently, I saw a newspaper headline in my scrapbook, ‘Audain out of Sight winning Peachtree,’ and I won by a minute and a half and I broke the course record. I do not remember the last mile of that race to this day. I had to get carried after I crossed the finish line as I was so dehydrated. I managed to finish, but I don’t remember the last mile and I don’t remember finishing. That was really, really a hot day. At that point I decided I could never do the Cascade-Peachtree double as it was too hard. I never ran Peachtree again because my loyalty was obviously to the Cascade race.
GCR:A race you didn’t win, but that you ran a few times was the Crescent City Classic 10k in New Orleans. I only ran that race one time in 1983 and you were in third place. I remember that day because it was a point to point course and we ran against the wind the whole way. What do you recall that stands out from your Crescent City Classic races, where the wind is sometimes helpful and sometimes not?
AAThat happened a lot with the wind in Cleveland as well. It’s pretty tough to adjust to a headwind in a point to pint race. Crescent City was my first race when I arrived in the United States in 1981. I came from the World Cross Country Championships in Madrid, Spain and flew from Europe into Miami and then on to New Orleans. Dick Quax had got me entered into the Crescent City Classic which was going to be the first time I had ever run a 10k in my life. It was my first American road race. I was picked up at the airport in a limousine and taken to a hotel where I was put up in a fancy room and I was thinking, ‘Is this what it’s like in America at a road race?’ They asked me to come down to the press conference and I went and sat out in the audience. They told me that I was to be on the platform with the other elite athletes. I was on the end of the row and the moderator starts asking everybody questions. What I didn’t realize is that Dick Quax had given them a time that I had run for a 10k which was low 34 minutes. He kind of told a white lie to get me into the race. That was a pretty good time back then. They came to me and the interviewer said, ‘You’ve run a pretty good time for a 10k, so what do you think you’re going to do tomorrow?’ I was smart enough to answer, ‘I really think I’m going to be able to run my best time tomorrow.’ This, of course, was the truth because I was going to run a 10k for the first time which would be my best time.
GCR:At least you weren’t lying! So how did your introduction to road racing in the U.S. go?
AAI lined up the next day and there were eight thousand runners. I had never seen that many people lined up before. I started on the front line, the gun goes off and I trip and fall. People around me went down and people were helping us up. I had grazed knees and grazed elbows and, at that point, you talk about decisions in your life. I could just pull off to the side of the road and just quit and go, ‘Oh my goodness, this isn’t a good start.’ Or I could just start running. So I kept on running and I ended up in third place behind Patti Catalano, who broke the American Record, and Joan Benoit Samuelson. I ended up running third in 33 minutes and 18 seconds. At the press conference after the race they were saying that I had broken my PR by over a minute. The next couple of times I raced Crescent City it was always my first race in the United States after going to New Zealand for the summer down there. Then when I was a Masters runner I won Crescent City in 1996 as a Masters runner.
GCR:Another race I liked and, you should have since you like hilly courses, is the Maggie Valley Moonlight 5-Mile. It’s different because it is run after dark and the last half of the race is up hill. In 1984 you were second and in 1986 you came in third. What sticks out from those two races?
AAWith that race it was at the time of year when both times I ran it I was coming off the Los Angeles Olympic marathon and then the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and I was recovering from those races. When I look back at these races from the 1980s, those of us on that running circuit, we all believe that it was the greatest time in American road racing. We had so much fun and the races were so much fun. The race directors were so great and we got to know all of these people so well. You came in early and did the press conferences and went to the expo and ran the race and stayed for the prize giving and then you stayed for the party that night. You got to meet all of the volunteers and the people who put the race on. You made friends with your fellow athletes and you had a few beers and a pizza. It was so much fun. Now when I go to these races and I see elite athletes who fly in the day before the race and they don’t stay around for the awards ceremony and they don’t come to sponsor events I think that they don’t realize what they are missing out on. There are so many people involved putting on these American road races and so many elite athletes come in, lick up and leave. They are missing out on a wonderful side of the whole experience.
GCR:Another thing that is really interesting is that for those of us like me who weren’t at the elite level, but were at that next sub-elite level, with social media communication today, the elites from back then along with the sub-elites are all a part of the same running community. It doesn’t matter if you were elite, sub-elite or just a more common runner, we were all in it together back I the 1980s and it is so much fun now communicating with each other as we all ran the same races. Do you think it has been especially joyful for so many of us to connect now on social media even though we were running on different levels back then?
AAWhat I think is that the second tier down were still amazing runners and awesome local runners. Nowadays you don’t have that standard in the local events. I remember at the Revco 10k in Cleveland there might be one hundred men under thirty-one minutes and the majority of them were second tier local or regional athletes who would come in for the race. Now, if the first ten are under that time we are lucky. So the standard has gone down at the second and third tiers. Now you just have the elites and everyone else. You are absolutely right. There are guys on social media who were racing times around me back I the 1980s and every time I go back to Cleveland and to the expo I see all of these people so many years later. We really did have a great camaraderie in terms of the elites, the second tier runners and third tier runners. Everybody appreciated what everyone was able to do.
GCR:We sure did and we all were training strong and doing our best. At the end of the day, a lot of it came down to genetics. I was training as hard to run a 2:22 marathon as someone was training to run a 2:12, but just didn’t have the genetic capability. Do you agree that is how the running tiers were defined back in our day?
AAThat’s exactly it. Now what I have found is another thing, which is kind of tough, and I’ll use Cleveland again as it is in my experience. I’ve been at the race all of these years and sometimes I’ll go into a booth at the expo or maybe with some reporters from ESPN radio and because the sport has so many people out being active as running and walking are the most cost-effective type of health care anybody could have. But the sad thing is that our sport hasn’t continued to bring back the heroes or to bring back the history like golf and tennis do. I’ve been at booths in Cleveland and had pictures from my running days with me and I try to reach out to people. There are still quite a few overweigh people participating, which is wonderful, but it’s almost like they are embarrassed to talk to somebody that is elite. I try to engage them in a conversation so they know that it is all relative and that what they are doing is the same as what I did. I tell them the same comment that you just made, that the only difference between us is genetics. I try to get a conversation going and they just don’t want to engage and they slink away sometimes.
GCR:Let’s get back to your racing. We’ve talked about some of your career highlights through your retirement in the early 1990s. But you did come back and do some good Masters running in 1996 and 1997 with a 5k in 17:02, 10k in 34:20 and 12k in 43:07. What were your thoughts as you did Masters running? Was it just a little fling and you weren’t that excited about keeping it up?
AAIt was a fling and the reason it was a fling is that I became a United States citizen in 1995 and I turned forty years old a week after the swearing in ceremony. I thought it would be cool to come out in 1996 as a Masters runner and to try to win a couple of the United States championships as a new citizen. So, that’s why I did it. I won three United States championships in 1996 at 5k, 10k and 12k. I ran six races as a Master and won all six. Then I retired again. That was it.
GCR:When I read your book, it details how you had the two homes in New Zealand and USA, were back and forth and had the continual problems with immigration and visas. Since you became a citizen, how exciting was it and what do you think now about undocumented immigrants being granted citizenship after all of the trouble and immigration and visa problems you dealt with?
AAYou might say that might be the one thing Donald Trump and I have in common (big laughter). I went through the legal process. Everyone assumes I am an American citizen because of my marriage and I’m not. I became an American citizen two years before I married an American. It was a tough process to go through. I practically got deported that first year in 1981 because I had won that $10,000 prize money at the Cascade Runoff 15k and was told I had to go back to New Zealand and go to the American Embassy to work out whatever visa was appropriate to come back to the USA. So then I came in on an H-1 visa which allowed me to earn money in the United States as long as it was through running. I wasn’t allowed to have any other job earning money. My income had to come from running. That was my visa status. Then I filed for a green card and I had to hire an immigration lawyer. I was living in Boise, Idaho at the time and they didn’t have an immigration office. The closest immigration office was in Denver, Colorado so I had to hire a lawyer in Denver to represent me at any hearings and to process paperwork. That was costly. When we filed for the green card I had to prove that I wasn’t taking a job from an American and I got turned down the first time because there was a quota system with a maximum number of new Zealanders and Australians and there were too many requests. I tried again and finally when I was approved for the green card I was informed and then had to stay in the United States for three months and go through FBI checks, medical checks and more interviews.
GCR:The process is much more complicated than I realized. How did it affect you in terms of you staying in the U.S. for that extra time rather than being able to return to New Zealand?
AAThis was at the end of 1988 and it forced me to stay here for an American winter when I would always go back to New Zealand for summer there and track season. We rented a place in Tucson, Arizona to get out of the Boise, Idaho winter. We were told I would get two days’ notice when I needed to get back to Boise to do the next required interview. Through this process I missed my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, spent my first Christmas away from them and my father passed away on January the 13th. Because of all of this immigration process, they wouldn’t let me go back for his funeral. I had to stay here. Or if I had gone back it would have been absolute immigration chaos. My mother understood, but people don’t understand that is what I had to go through to become an American citizen. I understand that people are coming to the United States because they are economic or political refugees. But I have a little bit of difficulty with people who come here on a visitor’s visa and then they just stay, go into hiding or do whatever they do and they are here. That’s tough for someone who has gone through the effort and cost of doing it the right way. It is agonizing and stressful. Something has got to be done and, if I make any political statement, it is that something has to be done to make the process easier on folks like me so they won’t want to immigrate illegally.
GCR:An interesting contribution to the running community was done by you in 1993 when you founded the Idaho Women’s Fitness Celebration 5K, which grew to become the largest 5 kilometer race for women in the United States. Could you talk about how so shortly after you retired from competitive running this whole effort came about and how rewarding it was to see the event flourish through the years?
AAI retired at the end of 1991 and Boise, Idaho was where I had based myself for training. The decision at that point, because I wasn’t an American citizen, was do I go back to New Zealand and be a big fish in a small pond? I could have gone back to New Zealand to great living, tons of sponsors and done lots of stuff. But, I really am basically a shy person. I’m good at standing up in front of an audience and speaking and that is what I like to do. I don’t like being recognized in public. I like a private life. I thought that if I went back to New Zealand my life would never again be private. So I thought I would stay here and see what I could do. Right at that moment I was asked by another woman in Boise if I would consider building a race in the city because Boise didn’t have a big road race. I thought about it and agreed. I wanted it to be an all-woman race. I was asked why not a mixed race, but I thought that was what was needed. At that point women weren’t competing in road races like they are now. You had the women who knew fitness, but you didn’t have the over forty, over fifty and over sixty year old women coming out into a mixed road race. They weren’t going to do it so I wanted to create a race where I could get all women of all ages, all shapes and all sizes and abilities to come out and do a 5k where they would understand that if they ran or walked or strolled a 5k three or four times a week that would be great for their health. That was the goal. So we called it a women’s fitness celebration so that we took away the intensity or the competition. Even though there were going to be the elite runners, we wanted to make it to where the only people getting timed were those in the first wave of runners. The rest could just come out and do whatever speed they would like. In 1993 we had our first one and would have been thrilled with a thousand people.
GCR:Did you exceed your expectations and how did the race progress in ensuing years?
AAWe got 2,400 participants. We had put our own money into it as we couldn’t get sponsorships and people didn’t think it was a good idea. Suddenly we had to print up another 1,500 t-shirts at the last moment because we didn’t have enough. It was pretty stressful because we had spent money to start the race. People saw that the first race was such a success and the next year we doubled to over 5,000 participants. At this point people were going, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ The third year we had 9,000. In 1997 we had 17,000, which made us the biggest women’s event in the country. Moving forward, I married, I moved to Evansville, Indiana and I tried to keep the event going by long distance. I would also spend three to five weeks at a time out I Boise. Finally, I thought I couldn’t keep doing it, but none of my team wanted to take on the Executive Director role. I knew I had to find someone to do it and St. Luke’s Hospital that was willing to be a title sponsor and take my team and hire them as employees. That was in 2001 and for ten more years it stayed as the women’s fitness celebration. But as you know the success of my goal was to get more women to participate and that leads us up to now where sixty percent of all participants in road races in this country are women. The event in Boise had shrunk from 17,000 down to 8,000 people. So five years ago I stepped up and said we need to reconsider going forward. The short story is the event is now entitled Fit One Boise and it is a 5k, 10k and half marathon that attracts men, women and families while being a year-around health initiative in the state.
GCR:It’s nice to hear the history and progression of the event. I know that over fifteen years ago you also launched the Anne Audain Scholarship Awards, which fund college scholarships for young women who seek to balance academics, sports, leadership and community endeavors in their daily lives. Could you tell us a bit about how that came to fruition?
AAThat all was to do with the event in Boise as well and that any profits we made were going to go out and into the community. The event was under a nonprofit, so once the event was over we looked at the proceeds we had and our goal was when we awarded money that it was to help women and girls with empowerment and fitness. One of the initiatives was that scholarship program and any young girl who was succeeding in education as well as sport would get a scholarship of one thousand dollars to help them go to college. It was one of the charitable situations we had through the Women’s Fitness celebration.
GCR:I’d like to go back to your competition with a couple of additional questions. First, you had mentioned Lisa Weidenbach, now Rainsberger and how when you showed up she knew she had a battle on her hands. Who were some of your favorite competitors, and she may have been one of them, where you knew you were going to have a great race followed by a beer afterwards?
AAWhen Lisa and I see each other we talk about one race a great deal. It was the Bobby Crim 10-mile in Flint, Michigan. I think it was in 1985 or 1986. Lisa and I were top runners there along with Cathy O’Brien. Cathy and Lisa went out very, very fast and Cathy just maintained an amazing pace and broke the World Record for 10 miles. I had to let them go. I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord. These gals are running a pace I just can’t do.’ You know what you can do. Cathy took off like crazy, Lisa chased her and I thought there was no way I could keep up. So I started running my own race. Cathy was way ahead and with a mile to go I started seeing Lisa. I thought I was picking her up. Cathy was maintaining a hard pace as Lisa was dripping back. I caught Lisa with about six hundred meters to go and Toni Reavis was reporting. We have this videotape and Lisa shows it with two groups she coaches out in Colorado all of the time. It is a great classic competition of two people who are actually great friends, but when it came to racing are out there to kill each other. I went by her wen I caught her with six hundred meters to go. Then she went by me. Toni Reavis was commentating and kept saying, ‘Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Weidenbach has passed Audain. Now Audain has passed Weidenbach.’ I think we changes positions five times heading toward the finish in that last six hundred meters. She went ahead and I got back. She went ahead again and I got back. She was ahead of me coming into the finish line and I suddenly did one last adjustment. They gave me second place behind Cathy, but if you look at it I think it was a tie for second place. We ran fast and, to this day, and our times are still the first, fourth and fifth fastest times ever run at Crim. It shows us on the video when we cross the finish line after dueling do hard and we both start laughing and hugging each other. It’s a really great video to watch as it show two women competing like crazy down this finish stretch and then laughing with each other. We talk about that all of the time.
GCR:After a renowned career many athletes get various forms of recognition and one that is not too common that you received in 1995 was the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Award for your services to athletics. I remember the Beatles getting an M.B.E. What was it like to receive this honor and others?
AAThat was a pretty cool happening. I say that I’m pretty unique because I am in two Halls of Fame in two different countries and I have an M.B.E. from the Queen of England. Rod Dixon and I are both in the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. I am in the Running USA Hall of Fame and the Roadrunners Club of America Hall of Fame. Rod and I both have an M.B.E. So if he is in an American Hall of Fame, then he joins me with this pretty unique distinction of being in halls of fame in two countries and having an M.B.E. from the Queen. It’s something now where I can look back and be proud of for my long career. The M.B.E. wasn’t just for sporting accomplishments. It was also for contributing and changing your arena in some way. So it was also for my taking a stance for professionalism in distance running.
GCR:We have touched a bit on your autobiographical book, ‘Uncommon Heart,’ that you wrote with John L. Parker, Jr. Could you relate how you made the decision to write the book and how you ended up working with John who was the iconic writer of ‘Once a Runner?’
AAI had started speaking at events even when I was still racing. I would also go to schools and speak to students. Then when I retired I spoke to more adult audiences, did clinics and went to running camps. John Parker was also at some of the running camps where Nike sent me. A lot of people would suggest to me that I should write a book because I had so much to tell and the story is so big and they only got me for an hour and there was much more they wanted to hear. I would drive them crazy because they knew there was so much more, but I only had a certain amount of time to tell me story. And so we were up at a running camp in Bar Harbor, Maine that John was also involved with and at the end of a day were out having a couple beers. John said that I needed to write a book and I told him it wasn’t something I had ever thought of doing. I said, ‘Why don’t you do it,’ and he told me he didn’t have the time. I said, ‘How about if I tell me story on tape and I’ll transcribe it and you touch it up,’ and that’s how it came about.
GCR:While reading your book it just flowed so nicely. What did John do to add to your story, fine tune it and bring out what you had written?
AAAs I was talking, I was just telling my story. I gave him my diaries and he went back and looked at comments I had made. I didn’t write a lot of personal stuff in the diaries, but about where I was and who I was with and thoughts that I had about races. He added sentences and things from my diaries and enhanced it to make it more interesting and better to read.
GCR:There is also the documentary film, ‘Anne Audain: Running her way,’ which was released in 2009. I’ve seen clips from it, but haven’t seen the whole film. What was the genesis of the film and how pleased were you with that project?
AAThat came about when Drew, who was my first manager here in the United States, whom I am still in touch with as he is a great friend, was working with a young couple out of Utah who were only doing music videos. But they had made a great music video that won awards and they thought they could possibly start branching out into documentaries. They had never done any before. So Drew gave them my book to see if they would be interested in doing it as a documentary and they agreed to do so. They told us what their budget would be. I told them I had videotapes of many of me races and videos of my interviews and all of my scrapbooks. I told them I would dump everything at their house and they could go through it all. Then Drew and I had to try to raise the money for the documentary. They came to New Zealand and did filming at my grandma’s cottage, and my school and all of my running tracks. They took that footage and combined it with my race videos and interviews and scrapbooks and made a documentary that is 52 minutes long. My husband berates me all of the time because I watch it so critically and he tells me, ‘For heaven’s sake, Annie, stop criticizing.’ They were a young couple and were new to the documentary genre and I haven’t really done anything with it. I’m glad you asked because I’m about to try to get it up on a hosting site where people can download and view it. The film is done with middle school and older ages in mind. It stars off with me being born and adopted and then with my feet issues and all the way through to the Gold medal race. It doesn’t go any further than that because we were limited in terms of time and budget. If I am asked to speak somewhere I have shown it in movie theaters and to running clubs and those types of audiences. I haven’t done anything else, but I am about to try to. What people have told me is that there are very few documentaries about women runners, so maybe my timing is right.
GCR:It makes me think of women’s running races like, here in the Orlando area where I live, the Track Shack running store started in 1977 and they are having the 0th annual Lady Track Shack 5k. Is this the type of running celebration for women where your documentary could be well-received and a part of the festivities?
AAIt’s interesting and frustrating in my sport as I’ve tried to get more women’s event to bring me in as I don’t charge a fortune. My fee is way below runners like Joan Samuelson and Frank Shorter and bill Rodgers. I’ve tried with several events to set up where I can show my documentary the evening before the event, do a question and answer period, sign autographs and have some social time, and I am getting nothing. I don’t know what it is, but I have tried.
GCR:I think that part of it is that, in general, with these big masses of runners, they aren’t as excited about great runners as someone like me who was a sub-elite runner. A good example is last week locally at the Track Shack. Hoka One One sponsored a Wednesday evening fun run and they brought in Lea Manzano, who runs for them and is the 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist at 1,500 meters. Bart Yasso from Runners World also was there on his trip back tom the U.S. from appearing at the Bermuda 10k. It was a great fun run with Leo and Bart and, at most, only 150 people turned out.
AAThat’s exactly my point. It’s just like when I was in Cleveland. Our sport has had trouble in this regard. I was on the Board of Running USA for six years and was the only former athlete to be on that Board. It is very costly if you aren’t connected to a company. I didn’t understand why they had forgotten about the elites and the history of our sport. Part of it is the race event’s responsibility and part is due to many of the elite athletes. But the great history and stories could inspire these new people. I watched Bill Rodgers speak in Cleveland recently to only about twenty people.
GCR:I was reading about how you went back to your elementary school, Papatoetoe Elementary, and spoke to the students and you go to other schools. What is your advice to kids to inspire them to get fit, to run or to learn about the joy of running?
AAI tell my story in terms of running with life lessons that go along with the story. I basically say to them that they all won’t be talented runners, but there are talented musicians and singers, maybe some doctors and lawyers and teachers in the crowd, and that everyone should find their niche in life. I do tell them that if they take up running, in everything they do in whatever arena in life running will make them better. It will help in their health and their job and their entire life. It is the most cost-effective health care we have and that’s what I try to impress upon them. It is the easiest and cheapest thing to do. You just need a pair of running shoes and go out your own front door.
GCR:How is your current health and fitness level and are you doing consistent running?
AAI had knee surgery six weeks ago. It was my first surgery since my feet and the first big running injury I’ve had. I was up at the Ballan 10k a bit over three years ago running with six thousand kids in their 10k. I found a pothole with about a quarter of a mile to go and I collapsed on the road. My ankle just went from under me. I managed to limp in and ended up in the E.R. The doctor comes in and he says, ‘The good news is you’ve got really strong bones. The bad news is you would have been better off breaking your ankle because your leg has taken so much trauma. I had badly sprained it and fractured it, but it didn’t break. Anyway, my leg was black from the knee down for about a month. It was severe trauma. I healed from it and focused on my ankle recovering. But about 18 months after that I was out running and going up a hill and my whole knee just collapsed on me. I went to the ground again. I went and got some therapy and they thought that maybe my ankle was weak and so the knee gave way. Then last September I was out running and the knee didn’t feel right and kind of went on me again and I haven’t run since. I tried therapy and it didn’t work so I went in and they found I had a torn meniscus that went all the way back to when I sprained the ankle. Because my lag was strong it took that long for the knee to finally say that is enough. So I had surgery six weeks ago and this is the longest I have gone without running in my entire running career. They tell me to take my time because of my age it takes a little longer. But I will run again. For four weeks I’ve been out walking for an hour and can walk perfectly fine. When I get up on my toes it doesn’t feel good though it is getting better and better. They say to take three months and when I start running it will be a walk/run situation. There is no way I would be able to run without the surgery. It is a little harder than an injury since a surgery is invasive. To be honest, my goal is to run three miles a day and I would be perfectly happy. My goal is to go out for an hour and if I run a half mile or mile, then walk a bit and run another mile, I really don’t care because I actually try and run at a faster pace. My engine is still great, but my chassis is worn out. I had started doing the run/walk routine before the knee situation, so that is all I want to do when I am better. I don’t want to race or run ten miles. The old knee just has to bring itself back again
GCR:My final question is what is the Anne Audain philosophy of running and life now as you are in your early sixties when you combine your foot issues as a child, being adopted, back and forth to the U.S. with visa struggles, learning from your relationships with your significant others and coaches, and all of your years running and racing, that sums up what one can do to realize their potential as a runner and as a person and to not give up when times are tough?
AAI just think it is all attitude. I remember when I was young and I would get so frustrated when I was getting teased a bit and my dad would say that it didn’t matter because those people were never going to be my friends. He would tell me if they treat me that way to just ignore them. What I went through at a really young age made me tough. I don’t let a lot of people in, but if I do you are with me for life. I have so many close friends both in the United States and New Zealand who have been with me for such a long time. We learn who to trust and who is loyal to us and we trust those people to pick us up when times are really bad. A lot of times people get down and others enjoy seeing them down. What I have found in life is when I have had the hard times, the people that picked me up – whether it was my father or John Davies or a good friend – when you have those people in your life it is all about your attitude. You should never accept that something is your fate and is a bad time from which you will never recover. Out of all of the bad times and the down times that happened in my life, I came out of them better and stronger.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI have always been a voracious reader. I still like newspapers and hard cover books. I’m not someone who likes to sit at a computer to read. I prefer the touch of a newspaper and a book. I like to garden. I like having my flowers and pot plants in the summertime. That comes from when I was growing up and my mother had a garden with me right beside her. (At this point I had to be funny and said, ‘You said pot plants. Do you mean plants in pots or marijuana?’ big laughter from both of us). Plants in pots! Plants in pots! I love all sports and my husband and I have our bucket list to get to as many of the high ranking sports events around the world in the rest of our life. We’ve been to the Kentucky Derby, the World Series, NCAA March Madness and U.S. Open tennis. We love sports, all sports
NicknamesPeople changed my name which is spelled A-n-n-e. Here in the United States everyone calls me Annie. So I went from Anne to Annie when I came to the United States
Favorite moviesI’m not a huge movie goer. The night before I broke the 5,000 meter World Record I did watch ‘Chariots of Fire.’ I do love documentaries and any sports documentaries
Favorite TV showsWe are both political junkies and sports junkies, so that is what most of our TV watching is about. I really love watching the ESPN ’30 for 30’ shows. They are great. We saw one the other night we hadn’t caught before. I did like ‘Will and Grace’ which I see they are going to bring back. I like all of the ‘Law and Order’ shows and crime shows. My generation of women, particularly in New Zealand, didn’t go to college unless you were going to be a nurse or a secretary or a schoolteacher. I often think that if I came through at a later time and was able to get a degree I would have been an investigator or criminologist because I just love trying to solve these crime situations before the TV show ends
Favorite musicMy husband will say that he wooed me on Jimmy Buffet and Country music. In New Zealand we didn’t grow up with that. So now I’m a real country music and Jimmy Buffett fan and he says that is all credit to him. When I was a little girl we were Beatles fans. Down in New Zealand they had these plastic things you could put on your head that had the same hair style as the Beatles. When our daughter was in college one semester she took a class that was entirely on the Beatles. So now she is raising our little granddaughters on Beatles songs. One granddaughter has a Beatles shirt
Favorite booksBooks by John Grisham, David Balducci, Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett and the series with Johnathan Cross. They are all similar and deal with solving crimes. I also like John Clancy
First carsMy first car in the United States was a little Ford Fiesta or Festiva, a small two door car, that I won at the Zoo 10k in Denver, Colorado in 1982 and I drove that little thing for fifteen years. When I sold it the car only had about 60,000 miles on it. I went to an auto dealership and leased a Saturn with the option to buy which I didn’t tell my soon to be husband, just that I was leasing the car. So eventually we got married and I moved to Indiana after dating back and forth while I was in Idaho. Last year I sold that car. It was twenty years old and only had 60,000 miles on it. It was a stick shift that had wind down windows and only had a cassette player in it. It was manual everything and didn’t even have power steering. I wanted to keep it and my husband said that I had such an emotional tie to it that I didn’t want to give it up. But to be honest it was a safety issue as if we got ice and snow here I couldn’t get out of the garage
Current carI got myself a nice Buick Encore. There are so many bells and whistles that I still haven’t learned everything
First JobI did some waitressing. We go through high school so fast in New Zealand that I finished high school at age sixteen and went straight into teachers college. Then I was a school teacher at age twenty. So I didn’t need to find too many jobs. It was just straight into teachers college and the government paid us to go there. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it allowed me to live at home. I would just catch a train as I didn’t have a car. All the government asks in return is that you give them three years back as a teacher. It is a pretty unusual system. So I didn’t really have to do many jobs. I was right out of high school and into teachers college
FamilyThere are my parents, who adopted me, who have both passed away, and my sister, Katie. Then there is my birth family with parents, six siblings and many nieces, nephews and in-laws. My husband is Chuck Whobrey and he is a Union President. The amazing thing about this is that my father was a Union Steward in New Zealand. He taught me all about the history of Unions in New Zealand and all about the Teamsters union in the United States. Here I am all these years later married to a Teamsters President. It is one of the coincidences of life, I understand my husband’s world and I get involved in it. He has had me speak at some of his meetings, particularly when he is trying to get female workers strong enough to become unionized. I grew up in a Union family and I’m still in a Union family
PetsI’m a real animal lover, so right now I have my seventh and eighth black cats of my life. Their names are ‘Max’ and ‘Sooty.’ Max is named after my mother-in-law who passed away a couple of years ago and her middle name was Maxine. We adopted him before she passed away. She never really liked cats, so we would tease her about the fact that we named a black cat after her. She was really in a bad way and we don’t know if she heard us. ‘Sooty’ is the exact same name as my first little black cat that I got when I was five years old. I’ve always loved black cats and my husband has always been a dog lover. This is the fourth cat we’ve had since we were married. I’ve also always had a belief that you can train cats just like you can train dogs. So these are not normal cats. I’ve taught them to fetch, they know commands and they’ve got great personalities
Favorite breakfastI don’t actually eat breakfast. I put breakfast and lunch together and it is usually pretty basic. I am a basic food eater. There is a saying, ‘I eat to live, rather than live to eat,’ and that would be exactly me. I only eat if I get hungry. We eat pretty healthy
Favorite mealI like to cook and we don’t eat out much unless we are traveling. I really like casseroles. I make good fajitas. I make many soups and stews through the wintertime that I can freeze for a later day. They are all full of vegetables. I do great pasta dishes. I make a good chili. I can cook anything. I was raised by my grandmother and my mum to cook the family dinners and I enjoy it
Favorite beveragesWe both would say that our only vice in life is we drink beer. My husband says I’m a beer snob because I won’t drink any of the popular American brands like Bud or Michelob. The reason I don’t is because I think they have too many chemicals in them. I prefer the craft beers and a darker one. I do like Foster’s, the Australian beer, but not the blue can – the green can which is an ale. I like Sam Adams. But Coors and Michelob and Miller – I can’t stand those!
First running memoryOne race I do remember and it was where people started to realize that I had talent. It was a junior girls’ cross country race. Because I was so new to running and I always hated wearing shoes because of my feet, I ran this race barefoot. In New Zealand cross country is really true cross country. You are running on farmland and having to jump farm fences. The rules were that you had to go over or under the fence however you could. The gates were never open. In my first cross country race I was running barefoot and it was muddy and there were all of these gates to cross over. I didn’t want to climb and then jump and land on my feet, so I crawled under the gates in the mud. I won and beat some really talented girls in Auckland City, which is New Zealand’s largest city. I think it was a regional cross country race. But I beat some really good runners and that’s the first time people started to pay attention to me
Running heroesI’ve never been a hero person. Certainly I have had people I admire. Coming up in New Zealand they were those from the era before me like Peter Snell and Murray Halberg. I followed them. Then in my era there was John Walker and Rod Dixon and Dick Quax. I think it comes down to people I respect. Then when I was running there were contemporaries that I competed against, was social with and respected. Some athletes couldn’t separate competing from socializing and were snobbish, but I always respected the athletes and once the race was over we were done and would go out and chat and have a good time. The two I mentioned earlier, Kim Jones and Lisa Rainsberger, were probably the main two. In retirement I’ve got to know Joanie Samuelson a lot better. We didn’t cross paths much before mainly because she was on the east coast and I was on the west coast. We also didn’t race each other a great deal because she was racing marathons and other long distances. In retirement we’ve met up at races as guests and we’ve hung out together more. One time when we sat down we started talking and found we were pretty similar with what we enjoyed like cooking and having a garden and living a quiet life away from all of the attention. We found we were quite alike in temperament
Greatest running momentsOf course the Commonwealth Games and both the Gold and Silver Medal races. But I’m really proud of my consistency that is pretty much unmatched in terms of the wins and the high placings. It was the combination of John’s planning and coaching and my following his plan and trusting him. Now that I look back on it, I have a Bronze on Nike’s Walk of Fame and they list my consistency of being ranked in the top ten in the world for ten consecutive years. It is putting an all-around career together that is enduring
Most disappointing running momentI pulled out of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Marathon and would have liked to have finished it. I tell people I ran the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon which is a great thing to be able to say. But when people ask how I did I have to tell them I didn’t finish. I don’t care about the performance, but it would be nice to say I finished it. Otherwise I don’t have any disappointments. It’s the nature of the beast that you win some and you lose some. And I won a great deal so don’t have reason to have any disappointments
Childhood dreamsI concentrated on my school work. My dad would tell me that since I couldn’t do sports to try to be top of the class and so I tried to be at the top. I was just living life as a kid. For most girls in New Zealand back then you finished high school, kind of got yourself a job and then got married. There weren’t a lot of opportunities
Funny memoriesSome of the funniest have come in retirement. One had to do with the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon. Where we live in Evansville, Indiana is only an hour and a half away from Louisville, Kentucky. I was retired from racing and was forty-three years old and couldn’t care less at the time about racing. But my husband is a really good local runner and said, ‘Come on Annie. Why don’t we go and do the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon?’ I didn’t want to run it or run that far. I told him I would go with him but I didn’t want to run. He tried to convince me we would make a weekend of it, go down the day before, have a few beers, have some spaghetti. I didn’t want to, but he was persuasive and kept saying we would make it fun. So, we went and I lined up and ran with everyone else. I was running along and didn’t even have a watch on. I had no idea how I was doing and was just running for the sake of running. But at forty-three I still had the talent, the memory was still there and I was running pretty well. I was running along with sunglasses and people were yelling, ‘You go young lady!’ and ‘You’re winning this race.’ I thought there was no way I was winning. But when I got into downtown Louisville with a half mile to go in the race I got a Police escort. I thought, ‘You’ve got to be joking? I’m winning this race? I can’t believe I’m winning this race.’ I crossed the finish line and ran an hour and twenty-one minutes with no intention and without a watch. There wasn’t any prize money or top elite runners there, but it was a huge race in Louisville. It was the start of the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby. There was a big media tent so a person had to grab the winner and take her to the media tent for live local television. This guy had a microphone and asked me my name and where I was from. He was excited for me and asking me if I did any special training for the race. I said, ‘no, my husband dragged me here. I didn’t even want to do it.’ ‘Well, you won it,’ he said. ‘Aren’t you happy you won?’ So I did say I was happy. He went on, ‘You ran a really good time and almost broke the course record. Did you know you were doing that?’ I responded, ‘No, I didn’t even wear a watch.’ He didn’t pick up on my accent at all. Then he asked about my husband running and I told him Chuck was still out on the course. ‘Oh, you’re beating your husband.’ ‘Yes, I’m beating my husband.’ Then he was asking me more about my training and I told him I only ran because my husband wanted to run the race. I was thinking that this was going to get embarrassing because he didn’t know who I was. He asked me to spell my name and with my accent the vowels are different. When he asked again I held up my race number which had my name. It also had my age. He looked at it and said, ‘You’re forty-three years old and you won this race?’ So finally I told him who I was. Then one thing led to another and I was asked to ride in the Kentucky Derby parade the next weekend, but I had to go out to Idaho. I held off for so long. And it was all on live TV. There were other times when I won local races and I would tell the race director to just give the prize to the next local lady as I didn’t want to accept the award. I just ran the races to be with my husband and didn’t need to be taking these prizes from local ladies. I pulled that off quite a few times where I was not acknowledged as the local winner
Time machine travelI would love to go to Mount Everest because of New Zealand’s history and Sir Edmund Hillary and the stories of triumph and tragedy. I read the book ‘Into Thin Air.’ I would love to do the trek up to base camp. My feet would never be able to handle the trip in the cold up the mountain. But to be there as a Sherpa with Sir Edmund Hillary would be the most amazing thing. I still can’t believe people climb that mountain and take the risk with their lives. I watch in awe though it isn’t something I would do
Favorite places to travelWe have spent twenty years now going on vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine. We both discovered that in the year before we were married and it was because of John Parker and the running camp up there. We go back there almost every year. If I had known about Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park I would have left Boise in the heat of summer and gone there to train. It’s absolutely beautiful and reminds me so much of the island of New Zealand where I spent so much time with my grandmother and will be going back again this year