News & Updates

24 February 2023 • Track and Field

In-form Tillie hopes to make national impact

Tillie is poised to compete in the 800m and 1500m at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington. Credit: (Michael Dawson)

It is almost impossible to believe that rising middle-distance talent Tillie Hollyer could have dreamed up a better 2022-23 track season than the one she is currently enjoying.

Since late-October, the 20-year-old Timaru-based athlete has set a remarkable TEN PB’s on the track in distances ranging from 800m to 5000m. She has also claimed breakthrough national senior bronze medals in the mile and 3000m and earlier this month at Porritt Classic, Tillie carved more than four-and-a-half seconds from her lifetime best to place third in a high-class 1500m race, clocking 4:20.78.

“The ten PBs for this season have come in almost every race I’ve done,” explains the quick-talking Tillie. “It has been a long time coming, especially for the 1500m. I was around the 4:30 mark for maybe two or three years, so it has been nice to finally smash it.”

Next Tillie is poised to compete in the 800m and 1500m at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington, where she has garnered genuine belief she can threaten the podium positions. After the season she has enjoyed anything is possible.

Born in the UK to a New Zealand-born mother, Tillie’s discovered her running ability while living in Kent in the Southeast of England.

“I was a skinny child with lots of energy and running came pretty easily to me,” she explains. “I remember winning an 800m race on my local track in the UK. I hadn’t done any training but that was the point I thought, I’m quite good at this running thing.”

In 2013 at the age of 11, Tillie relocated with her family to Waimate – 30 minutes south of Timaru – and shortly after she joined South Canterbury AC. It was here she connected with her first and only coach, Michael Wrigley and so began a successful partnership between the pair.

Adopting a conservative approach to training in order for Tillie to peak her senior years, the strategy is just starting to reap dividends, although the athlete did show potential as an age-group athlete.

In 2017 she completed the 800m and 1500m double at the South Island Secondary Schools Championships. The following year she secured an 1500m bronze medal in the U18 national 1500m final and the same colour medal over 800m at the New Zealand Secondary Schools champs. More national age-group medals followed but at no stage has Tillie felt she has been pushed too hard in pursuit of success.

“We have always adopted a low-mileage approach,” she says. “Even now I’m only running around 75km a week in the winter. It has been a very gradual progression because we have seen other athletes push too hard, too early and end up lost to the sport.”

To make that forward progression, Tillie has required patience. In 2020 and 2021 – a period which coincided with her body going through changes into womanhood – her form plateaued, and she was forced to endure some tough times. She tore her soleus muscle and took some time out but throughout it all she has remained loyal to Michael and the long-term plan.

“We have a great relationship. He is more like an uncle and part of the family. Like me he is British-born, so we have good banter. He understands everything about me and what I want to achieve and because he knows I’m not a mileage person and my main goals are to do well in the 800m and 1500m he understands that, so focuses my training around this. Without him I would not have got where I have, so I’m very grateful to him.”

At the 2022 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hastings, Tillie showed glimpses of her rich vein of form this season by setting PB’s over 800m (2:10.67) and 1500m (4:25.36) to finish sixth in the senior final of both events.

This season, however, the Timaru-based athlete – who trains on her own – has performed to the next level as she has whittled her lifetime best performance down to 2:08.79 for 800m, 4:20.78 for 1500m, 4:43.42 for the mile, 9:31.89 for 3000m and on her 5000m debut at the Daikin Night of 5s in Auckland last December – 16:51.34 to place sixth.

Tillie insists a number of factors have contributed to the improvement. She admits the new carbon plated shoes she now runs in have played its part while a switch to the Whippets Running Project has also helped re-energise her career.

“It is really fun and there is such a cool social aspect to being part of the club,” she explains. “It has been nice to build a cool friendship base and I have a real pride representing the club.”

Yet as Tillie is keen to point out there is no great secret to her success, just steady year on year training, good coaching and a natural evolution, which is starting to reap rewards.

Such has been the avalanche of PB’s it is hard to pick out a highlight, but when pushed the sizeable 1500m PB at Porritt Classic behind Rebekah Greene and Laura Nagel was a particular stand out.  

“I was quite nervous ahead of that race because I’d set a PB over every other event this season and the 1500m is my favourite race,” explains Tillie who is currently a student nurse.

“I ran well that day (to run 4:20.78) but I feel there is more in the tank because of the way the race was run. The first 500m was run at the pace I wanted but then it slowed, and we went through 1km in 2:55, which is not what I wanted. The way the race was run I definitely feel like I have a couple more seconds in me.”

Believing she is best suited to the 1500m because she has a “turnover more comfortably suited to that pace” than the shorter distances she will however target both the 800m and 1500m at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington. Such is her red-hot form she will head to the capital with high expectations – and she is looking forward to delivering her best at Newtown Park.

“The big goal for me would be a PB in both events and a placing. I know I’m up against girls faster than me, so if I can’t get a placing, a PB in both events would be the aim. I’m looking to run 2:06 in the 800m, which was the aim at ITM (when Tillie ran a PB 2:08.79) but the race didn’t play out as I wanted, and anything under 4:20 for 1500m.”

Tillie hopes that next year she can experience her first overseas competition and in the longer term has aspirations to represent her country at an Olympic or Commonwealth Games.

Yet whatever happens in the future she knows her passion for running will never wither.

“I love pushing myself to the limits to see how far I can go, and running allows me to do that. But it is the people that make the sport, that’s what makes it, I just love the camaraderie.”

***Catch Tillie in action at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships from 2-5 March.