News & Updates

27 April 2022 • General

Hannah in pursuit of marathon happiness

Hannah Miller in action during the Woodlands Marathon in Houston, Texas, US. Hannah Miller finished in second place overall and first place in the womens event (Photo: Scott Flathouse Photography)

An eclectic pre-event playlist which includes everything from jazz tunes, classical music and Dancing Queen by Abba will hope to provide the final moments of inspiration for Hannah Miller, who on Sunday 15 May guns for glory at the New Zealand Marathon Championships in Canterbury.

Competing at the specially organised standalone event known as Reboot: The Athletes Marathon the 24-year-old Southlander has set herself an ambitious target of the World Championships entry standard of 2:29:30 in only her second ever career marathon.

Hannah is realistic and knows the possibility of taking the best part of ten minutes from her PB is a long shot. However, taking a no-stone-unturned approach to the quest she hopes the background of between 110-120 miles per week plus that eclectic playlist can help propel her to the goal.

“I’ve always had a very creative mind, so it is nice to be able to express that in other ways than just being on a runner,” explains Hannah. “I did dance and ballet up until the age of 18, so my warm-up playlist is full of a lot of random songs I had when competed (in dance),” she explains.

“I’ve got all sorts of songs in there, Money, Money, Money and Dancing Queen by Abba, songs I performed too when I did tap and jazz dance, it is quite an embarrassing playlist, but I find it is really helpful to listen to as it reflects on who I am as a whole person.”

Aged just 24 Hannah who has just started this week a role as a junior policy officer in strategic planning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington has already packed a lot into her quarter of a century or so on this planet.

It is a journey of persistence and perseverance. A successful battle with an eating disorder, the transplanting of her from rural New Zealand to a six-year stint in the US and now back to her homeland where she harbours some big goals for the future.

Raised the eldest of three siblings on a sheep and beef farm around 20 miles outside of Gore her passion for running was first lit running at school sports days in her rural primary school and ignited as a Year Nine student Southland Girls’ High School.

“The more events I did at sports day I realised I could get the most house points,” she explains. “As a year nine I ran the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 3000m and a relay leg.”

Keen to further explore her potential for her first training session at Athletics Gore she was set the task of running five 800m repeats in three minutes with three minutes rest between each by coach Lance Smith.

“He called it the killer session and although he didn’t say much but I think he was impressed when I turned up the next day because he said ‘oh, you must like running’ and the rest is history.”

Combining running with a passion for dance, theatre and musicals during her school days, Hannah says she was very lucky to have found Lance as a coach.

“He was such a big influence and without Lance I don’t think I would have continued in the sport through high school,” she explains. “He was very supportive but was always a strong believer in that the athlete needs to be the driver of the programme and it is the athlete that needs to be the one that wants to succeed. Once you hook into that approach something dynamic happens.”

Success at least on a national level was far from instantaneous. In 2013 she placed fourth in the 1500m at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships and repeated the finishing position at the same event 12 months later.

At the 2015 New Zealand Track & Field Championships, Hannah placed fifth in the U18 800m and sixth in the 1500m and she started to question how good she could become.

“It was definitely frustrating because I was finishing fourth a lot and I was sick of it. But I’m stubborn, I’m not a quitter and I was lucky I have a patient coach in Lance, who always told me I need to be peaking in my mid to late 20s and not as a teenager.”

Coming under the umbrella of the Southland Sports Academy gave her access to work on her mental skills and through this her belief soared. On the back of this she earned a breakthrough 1500m silver medal at the 2015 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Timaru – and the floodgates quickly opened.

At the 2016 New Zealand Track & Field Championships she banked 800m and 1500m U20 silver medals and later that year won an athletics scholarship to attend Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. Coming under the coaching of Cathy Casey was a good decision, although Hannah admits the move to the US came as a culture shock to the Southlander.   

“I’d never been to the States before and here I was at this school in a super wealthy and affluent area,” she says. “I was in class every day with people who would fly into school in their private jets – it was an insane experience.”

On the track, however, during her freshman year things started to quickly unravel for Hannah.

Possessing an obsessive A-type personality in the six months or so between leaving school and moving to the States and with little to occupy her mind Hannah “fell into the depths of an eating disorder.”

Having not eaten for several days in the lead up to her first cross country race for SMU her coach Cathy Casey could see something was amiss and was withdrawn from her next race.

“It was not a fun experience (being withdrawn) but I’m super thankful she stepped in because she could see something was wrong,” explains Hannah. “She said ‘I do not want me to become another number in the system. I can’t have someone who is potentially my top runner on the team under fuelling’.”

Hannah was thankfully offered a tonne of support. Doctors and nutritionists aided her road back to a healthier mindset and slowly she hauled herself from the depths of the eating disorder. It has not been an easy road and it is something she has to continually work on, but as a naturally logical person this made the process to recovery a smoother path.

“I put myself into that head space where I need to take on board A, B and C before a workout,” she explains. “It wasn’t enjoyable at first, but I followed a regular food plan, talked to a psychologist and gradually I started performing better. Once I could logically see eating correctly was aiding and not hindering my performance is when my mindset started to change.”

During her freshman year Hannah experienced the thrill of SMU winning the cross country conference title and also the joy of standing on the start line with 250 other athletes at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

There she finished 144th and did not quite achieve the goals she wanted but she was on the road to wellness and it during her second and third years at SMU – where she was studying journalism and political science – she received another reminder after discovering another girl on the team was also struggling with an eating disorder.

“It broke my heart and was a big wake up call that you can’t continue to be serious about something unless you lead by example,” she adds.

During the remainder of her time at SMU she continually impressed at Conference championships and slowly whittled down her PB’s in every event from 1000m to 10,000m. However, some of her most cherished memories during this period were competing for New Zealand where she won the 1500m and 5000m double at the 2017 Oceania Championships in Fiji and competed at the 2017 and 2019 World University Games – the former where she was room-mate with New Zealand’s fastest women Zoe Hobbs.

While her performances at those two World University Games (she was 15th in the 5000m in 2017 and ninth and 11th in the 5000m and 10,000m respectively at the 2019 edition) were not what she desired, she recalls picking up crucial experiences from the trips.

“After Naples (the 2019 World University Games) I was disappointed with my performance, and I questioned whether I wanted to continue. Ultimately, however, it was a case of how do I want to define my success? And that it is when I arrived at the thought of my assessing my success as having a good attitude and putting in a good amount of effort.”

With the world in the grip of a global pandemic in 2020 she graduated from SMU and moved on to study a masters degree in public policy at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Coming under the coaching of Laura Bowerman and Joe Franklin has been a fresh and positive experience for the past two years and while she took time to adapt to her high altitude environment – coupled with frustration of being unable to travel back home to New Zealand for two years because of MIQ rules – she has made further progress.

Last year she whittled her 5000m PB down to 15:54.97 outdoors before last December in Boston – at the same meet as Geordie Beamish set a New Zealand 5000m indoor record – Hannah lowered her 5000m best to 15:41.28.

A lover of long distances in January she entered the Houston Half Marathon – her first race over the 21.1km distance since finishing fifth at the 2016 New Zealand Half Marathon Championships in Christchurch. Finishing 19th in an impressive PB of 1:12:41 – the fastest time by a Kiwi woman for the distance for eight years – was a significant result.

“I really enjoyed it,” Hannah says. “Again, it was a mindset thing. I went out at a certain pace, and I clicked off every mile. I love the longer distances. I divide the race into tiny chunks in my head and that helps keep my mind in the present.” 

Keen to try her first marathon in March she competed in the Woodlands Marathon in Texas. Setting the “lofty goal” of a World Championship entry standard, Hannah fell someway short, clocking 2:38:30 for the victory. But considering the humid and windy conditions she is convinced there is more to come.

“At halfway I was on pace (for the World Championship entry standard) and then hit a headwind,” she says. “I knew that worlds time was probably out of reach as it was not a super competitive race, so I knew I would be running solo for much of the race. The last six miles was horrible, but it was such a cool atmosphere and as soon as I finished, I said I can’t wait to run another marathon.”

Officially graduating in May she has nonetheless since taking up the opportunity to return to New Zealand. Starting her new role in Wellington is hugely exciting but she has not yet been able to scratch that marathon itch and she makes her eagerly awaited second marathon appearance on Sunday 15 May at the New Zealand Marathon Championships.

Known as Reboot: The Athletes Marathon the flat, fast course at Tai Tapu just south of Christchurch gives all competing athletes every opportunity at running a fast time and Hannah is relishing the opportunity of giving the World Championship entry standard a nudge.

“I’m super stoked it is happening, I think New Zealand is well overdue a fast marathon course,” explains Hannah who has recently affiliated with Wellington Scottish. “To have this opportunity on our doorstep is one the whole New Zealand marathon (and half marathon) community should take.”

“I hope to go under the 2:30 mark and to clock that 2:29 time would be great. I’ve had a decent training block behind me, and I go in with that confidence. I’m just hoping to work through each mile and see what happens.”

Having only just relocated after to Wellington after a month or so back in Southland, she says an average weekly mileage of between 110-120 miles – one which included a 20-mile training run from the family farm to her grandmother’s home in Gore – has provided ideal preparation.

Hoping to latch on to a fast group of men in Tai Tapu next month in pursuit of a fast time in the longer term her goal is to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Yet whatever happens in the future she insists the marathon is her number one event.

“I really enjoy the mental side of it,” she adds. “I find I get far less anxiety running the marathon than I do a 1500m or 3000m. I enjoy the discipline of the event.”

*Limited entries are still available for Reboot (Marathon and Half Marathon) and will close 8 May. You don’t want to miss this opportunity. This is a unique race for those that want to conquer their personal goals and relish top-quality competition. Entry details here.