Ross Steele is a man of remarkable determination. The 60-year-old started running in his early 30s and this year plans to run his 100th marathon. That’s a serious amount of time spent pounding the pavement.
Ross boasts some impressive statistics; such as completing the Rotorua Marathon 23 times, 98 marathons and four ultra marathons, crossing the finish line alongside a penguin in Antarctica; and now he is determined to notch up his 100th event despite being ‘broken at the moment’ with arthritis in his hip.
As much as running is a serious business, Ross also manages to find the fun element in marathons. He’s widely known as a ‘character’ and is not shy about spicing up the miles, often running in a tutu or even a kilt and he’s never averse to decking himself out in fluoro (usually orange).
The Kirikiriroa Marathon (Saturday, March 18) is set to be Ross’ landmark centenary – and he’s chomping at the bit to hit triple digits.
“I took up running in 1991 because the spare tyre around my waist was increasing,” he recalls. “My first ever run was 3.5kms … and I remember walking the last kilometre.
“Gradually I started to increase my distances and my walking became less.”
Ross joined the Tauranga Marathon Clinic in 1992 (now Tauranga Road and Trail Runners) and was delighted to discover the social side of the sport. As if he needed any more convincing to get involved!
“My first event was a half marathon in Tauranga where I ran 1.28.55 in 1991. The following year was my best year ever, time-wise (such a long time ago). I cracked a PB for a half at the Mount in 1.23.59 and the first Auckland marathon where I clicked 3.17.28 which remains my marathon PB.
“I also ran the Rotorua Marathon that year in 3.18.29 which is my best Rotorua Marathon time.”
Ross knows every footprint of the Rotorua track well, having run the lakeside event an impressive 23 times.
While his half marathon tally sits at 116, Ross says that in the early 2000s, he was running 10-12 halves a year.
“However, for probably my first 15 years of running, I was pushing out only one or two marathons a year, finally cracking 50 marathons by the end of 2011.
“It was at this point that I decided to pull finger and start taking concrete pills and bump my marathons up to 10 plus a year, which I figured was the number I needed to do if I ever wanted to crack 100 marathons while still alive!
“And so, the journey began. I did a couple of years where I ticked off 13 marathons each year, a BIG number for me.”
While he can reel off statistics and times, it is clear that sharing equal pleasure alongside his physical achievements is the social side of the sport.
“The people are like family. They are a great bunch and we have a lot of laughs.”
Ross has run a marathon on each of the seven continents and to mark this achievement, has the word seven tattooed on his leg.
“Those marathons have been a magic part of the journey. I ran the Gold Coast in 1997, New York in 2001 (seven weeks after 9/11), Great Wall in China in 2004, London in 2005, Antarctica and Santiago in Chile both in 2007, and finally Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2009.
“Three weeks after returning from Africa I had the word “seven” tattooed on my left calf. I wear that tattoo with absolute pride!”
Ross reckons he’s probably ticked over about 60,000kms on his legs. “Think of the petrol I’ve saved,” he jokes.
Definitely of the ‘half glass full’ mindset, Ross thrives on all aspects of his life, from his sporting achievements to business and family. He takes enormous joy in spending time with his two adult daughters Lisa and Hayley, and three grandchildren.
As part-owner of a real estate business, Westbay Real Estate in Tauranga he is a solid part of the Tauranga community and equally well respected amongst his fellow runners.
Ross is a straightforward no drama person. He cheerfully admits to his love of the colour orange, which he often wears while running and will be sporting to celebrate his 100th marathon.
He’s doubly pleased that the Kirikiriroa Marathon will be his landmark event, saying it’s one of his favourite races.
“There are always a lot of first-timers participating in this marathon which is great to see and I love how scenic it is on the banks of the Waikato River.”
He is also planning to run his number 100 race as a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s Tauranga. This is in honour of his best friend’s father.
Ross also looks forward being joined by several friends who did the Great Wall of China Marathon with him and friends from the Tauranga Road and Trail Runners club.
Ross sums up his experiences beautifully;
“I live life to the max, love my large running family … as well as my own little family, love the colour orange and tutus, take heaps of photos while running marathons and am super excited about running my 100th at the Kirikiriroa Marathon. It will be tutu-compulsory with a splash of orange.”
On your mark, get set, go
When it comes to training for a marathon, first-timers may find getting started a little overwhelming. But marathon veteran, with 99 events under his belt, Ross Steele has some straightforward advice: Put shoes on, run.
While the very basic nature of this may be amusing; firstly it is the truth, and secondly there is a great deal of wisdom in those four short words.
Everyone trains differently, but just getting out there and doing it makes you stronger and better at running than sitting on the couch thinking about it.
A well known marathon runner, Ross enjoys encouraging and mentoring other runners.
Ross admits to a special training method, one which he says has been his standard approach since first starting running at a fairly late stage in life. Here it is – Put shoes on, run!
“Now while you may find this amusing, firstly it is the truth, and secondly there is a great deal of wisdom in those four short words.
We all train differently, but just getting out there and doing it makes you stronger, and better at running than sitting on the couch thinking about it.”