Meet the MP who wins marathons - AFR Time Out Q&A


Australian Financial Review, 26 August 2019

Why running?

My father, Michael Leigh, was a marathoner, and his father, Keith, was an ultramarathoner who ran 50 miles on his 50th birthday. I’ve got more than my fair share of slow-twitch muscle fibres [good for endurance], and love the simple pleasure of starting the day with a run.

Road or track?

At home in Canberra, I do most of my training on bush trails, with a weekly speed session on the track. When I’m travelling, I’ll adapt to the local specialties: the Brisbane River trails, Adelaide’s Torrens Trail, Castle Hill in Townsville, the Tan in Melbourne, Cataract Gorge in Launceston, the Swan River loop in Perth and Bondi to Bronte in Sydney.

Do you race?

Absolutely. It’s the best way to test what your body is capable of. As an egalitarian, I love the notion that we’re all equal on the starting line.

Favourite distance?

Marathon. As my friend Andrew Dodd, a Baptist minister and running legend, likes to say, if it’s 42.2 kilometres, you needn’t call it “a full marathon”, it’s simply “a marathon”.

How often do you train?

Six days a week. I try to average about 100km a week.

Morning or night runner?

I’m usually out the door between 5am and 6am. That way, the exercise is done before breakfast. It leaves the muscles singing, and a hard training session makes other challenges seem easier.

Social or solo runner?

I’m lucky enough to be guided by former Australian Institute of Sport coach Dick Telford, and I sometimes get out to train with his squad, or with my friend Ken Gibson. But mostly, it’s just me running solo in the bush, with kangaroos, kookaburras and podcasts to keep me company.

Post-run fuel?

Poached eggs and avocado on toast.

Ever been lost?

My 12-year-old son, Sebastian, and I have taken up orienteering. It’s a fabulous way to explore the many bush reserves around Canberra. But neither of us has a great sense of direction, so we can pretty much guarantee that we’ll lose our way a few times each race.

What motivates you to run?

It’s what French cyclist Jean Bobet called la volupté. As he described it, the feeling “arrives, it takes hold of you, sweeps you up and then leaves you again. It is for you alone. It is a combination of speed and ease, force and grace. It is pure happiness”.

How do you mitigate the risk of injury as you get older?

I may be the wrong person to ask. Last year, overtraining led to multiple stress fractures in my pelvis. Turns out that having a high pain threshold isn’t always an asset. I rested for three months while the bones healed. Now, I sleep more, try not to let my body weight drop too low, and include more jumps and stretching in my routine.

Your best time?

My best is 2:42 in the 2017 Tokyo Marathon. While waiting on the starting line, I began to read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on my phone. I had a huge grin on my face when the gun went, and found myself running with a real sense of gratitude – appreciating every kilometre rather than just wanting to reach the finish. There might be a life metaphor somewhere in there.

Do you travel to run and if so, where?

Over recent years, I’ve run six of the world’s major marathons (Berlin, London, Tokyo, Chicago, New York and Boston) as a supporter of Rob de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Foundation, as well as a handful of Australian marathons. I’ve twice won Canberra’s Bush Capital Marathon, though I confess to a home-field advantage, since it’s held on the mountain trails where I train most mornings.

Favourite piece of kit?

Petzl NAO headlamp. It lets me hit the trails any time I’m ready.

Dream running buddy?

Last year, I had the chance to interview Yuki Kawauchi, Japan’s “citizen runner”, for my podcast The Good Life. He’d just won the Boston Marathon, after which he had to phone up his boss to get permission to take an extra day off work to attend the post-race press conference. I love Yuki’s willingness to get back up for big races week after week, his modesty and his sheer grit.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.