News & Updates

17 February 2023 • Cross Country

Anneke caps memorable few months with World Cross appearance

Anneke Grogan claimed an impressive 5000m victory at the Daikin Night of 5s at AUT Millennium last December. Credit (Alisha Lovrich).

It is fair to see that Anneke Grogan will never forget the past couple of months.

In December she completed six months of officer training before starting work as a psychologist with the Royal New Zealand Navy, in January she married long-term partner Dylan and on Saturday another significant ‘life moment’ will arrive in Bathurst, Australia when Anneke competes in the Mixed Team Relay for New Zealand at the World Cross Country Championships.

It is fair to say the 26-year-old Auckland-based athlete has enjoyed a whirlwind period in her life and taking to the start line will take on an added significance as it was exactly 40 years ago when her mum, Glenys Grogan, lined up for her first of her two World Cross Country Championship appearances in Gateshead, England.

“When I was announced on the team it was pretty special to do so 40 years after my mum made the team,” explains Anneke, whose older sister, Sabrina is a former New Zealand half marathon and mountain running champion. “During the early phase of my career, mum had a massive influence. Many coaches train the athletes too hard, too young but compared to many other girls I did not do a lot of mileage. The result was I got injured infrequently and the training allowed me to develop as an athlete gradually.”

First tasting athletics through her primary school in Auckland at the age of five she initially just treated her involvement as fun. Her mum was keen on Anneke experiencing a range of sports and she played soccer, netball, basketball and volleyball to broaden her experiences.

It was only as a Year Nine student after finishing fourth at the 2010 New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in Waikanae when she first acknowledged she was “better than average.”

“I remember mum telling me before the race, if I finish in the top 50, I will have done well,” she recalls. “I think people were surprised with how well I ran because I wasn’t really training at that time.”

Throughout her schoolgirl years, Anneke developed into an age-group athlete of some promise. She later won a silver medal at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Champs, made a couple of New Zealand cross country teams to compete in Australia and landed steeplechase gold at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track, Field and Road Championships.

Keen to experience the US she took up a scholarship to Southern Methodist University and while the psychology graduate reflects on her four years in Texas as a “net positive” her running experiences were mixed.

“There were definitely some challenges,” she explains. “Primarily the training I received from my coach over there didn’t work for me, so it was a bit of a wasted opportunity on the athletics front. But I didn’t do too badly, to go over to the US was a great opportunity and I received a lot of support, so it was more positive than negative. And it also inspired me to carry on running because I knew I have a lot more to give.”

Graduating in 2019 she returned home to New Zealand for a period to be coached once again by her mother who once again offered “structure” to her training regime. Yet the big change would arrive when she headed north from Palmerston North to live Auckland for study a masters degree in psychology at Massey University.

Anneke had heard good things about women-only training group led by Paul Hamblyn. She joined in some sessions but was 100 per cent convinced it was the right decision after Anneke had observed the reaction of Paul to one of his athletes following a disappointing run.

“I remember Paul did not sugar coat the bad run. He said, ‘it wasn’t very good, so what are we going to do differently?’ I like his honesty and thought Paul is the right coach for me.”

Joining his group – now known as Bays Babes – shortly after the 2020 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Christchurch – has proved an inspiration, and it is no coincidence that she has subsequently enjoyed the best period of her running career.

In 2020 she won national 3000m and 10,000m medals. The following year she pocketed a silver medal at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships as well as a 3000m bronze and she set a flurry of PB’s. Yet she admits a range of factors have contributed to her upturn in form.

“It is a whole lot easier when you have that accountability (training with other women in the group). It makes you want to turn up to training and races and it makes the whole experience far more enjoyable. It was also very motivating to see that I was improving because that just makes you want to compete more and more.”

Yet another piece in the puzzle was the input of her coach, Paul Hamblyn, which she says has allowed her flourish.

“I’m now a lot more involved in my training than I was in the US,” she says. “If I don’t feel well or 100 per cent, I don’t feel bad about taking a day off. Or if I’m feeling good, I can talk to Paul and make adjustments to the training based on what is working for me.”

Training between an average of 70-100km per week, Anneke continued to impress during the 2021-22 campaign. Setting PB’s over a range of distances she secured a silver medal at the national mile championship in Whanganui, bagged steeplechase gold to win her first national senior title and also posted an eye-catching 5000m PB 16:11.92 to place second in the elite women’s race at the Daikin Night of 5s in Auckland last March.

“I set myself some big goals that day and just went for it,” she recalls of the Night of 5s race some 11 months ago. “I often run my best races when I don’t worry too much about the race and just run on how I feel. It was awesome to get a huge PB and it was great reflecting back on my time in the US when I just never would have imagined I would be running those times. To me it shows the importance of persevering through the bad times because if you do everything works out in the end.”

Yet during the second half of 2022, Anneke’s running took a backseat as she underwent six months of training with the Navy. For large chunks of time, she faced restrictive periods where she was not allowed to run or do any physical exercise outside of the training and it naturally hugely impacted on her running training.

Some weeks she carried out zero mileage, so it was only after performing surprisingly well in a 3km time trial just prior to the Daikin Night of 5s in December did she opt to compete at AUT Millennium.

“I really surprised myself with the 3km run and some of the other girls commented “what secret training have you been doing?’

At the Night of 5s she once again adopted a relaxed philosophy of “running on feel” and was rewarded to claim victory in the elite women’s race in 16:26.65. It was a dominant display but also a little baffling given her very interrupted build up. So, does she have any theories why she was able to perform so well?

“It definitely surprised me because although I had run a good 3k time trial – running well over 3k is very different to 5000m,” she explains. “I did have significant periods of exercise as part of the training, so maybe that contributed. But I think it was more about mindset and being super relaxed which helped.”

Finishing her Navy training in December has allowed her to get back into a regular training rhythm, although she did have a major life moment in early January when she married, Dylan Arlidge in a ceremony in Bay of Plenty.

Since the turn of the year, Anneke has performed solidly. She finished sixth at the New Zealand Mile Championship in Whanganui and set a PB of 9:40.77 for fifth in Wellington at the national 3000m championship race. Most recently she placed fourth over 1500m at Porritt Classic (4:23.45) and she is now all set to compete in the mixed relay at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst.

“I was very excited to start my Navy training last year but also gutted because I was aware of the World Cross being the following February, which I thought might mean I would be excluded from selection. Obviously, the job opportunity was amazing – which I couldn’t pass up. But there was no harm in giving it a go and running as part of the mixed relay team was a potential route to Bathurst. I was then lucky enough to run well at Night of 5s, which gave selectors a good reason to pick me for the team (in the mixed relay).”

Racing middle-distances on the track this summer she believes lends itself to performing well over the 2km circuit in Bathurst and she is relishing the prospect of running in the 4x2km mixed relay alongside Sam Tanner, Eric Speakman and Rebekah Greene on Saturday at 5.30pm (NZ time).

“It is pretty special because I haven’t made a New Zealand team for nine years (since making a New Zealand schools cross country team),” she says. “There were times in the US where I didn’t think it would ever be possible, so it is pretty cool to think I’ve come out the other end and I can still compete for my country.”

World Cross Country Championship entry lists here

World Cross Country Championships timetable and results here

***All the World Cross Country Championships action will be screened live on Sky Sport 9 on Saturday 18 Feb from 5.20pm (NZ time).