News & Updates

4 February 2022 • General

Portia believes her best is yet to come

Portia Bing in action at the Cooks Classic (Photo: Peter Jones)

Like a fine wine Portia Bing is improving with age. Steve Landells caught up with the national 400m hurdles record-holder to discuss how a change in approach is reaping rewards for the two-time World Championship representative.

A shift in mindset following the disappointment of missing out on Olympic selection is fuelling an outstanding domestic campaign for the versatile Portia Bing.

This season the 28-year-old Aucklander has already recorded an electric 52.78 in Hastings to wipe 0.60 from her 400m PB and most recently ran the joint second fastest 400m hurdles time of her career in a mixed race at Whanganui.

As national 400m hurdles record-holder, Portia is perhaps best known for her accomplishments in the event regard as one of the toughest on the track. Yet the Waitakere-based athlete has taken a step back this season and focused once again on the joy of running.

Unquestionable low after her non-selection for the Tokyo Olympic Games what followed was a period of introspection.

 “I had to try and not take the decision personally. I had to separate myself from the athlete and someone trying to apply a policy. But it is through disappointing moments that make you realise there is room for improvement. That kept me motivated to stay involved, and I’ve since tried to find the enjoyment as well.”

Portia, who works full-time for the Serious Fraud Office, returned to training last spring with a fresh approach. Acknowledging her love of competition both domestically and internationally she has opted to focus more on the 400m flat – and also the 100m – this season, events which offer a more competitive environment for Portia than the women’s 400m hurdles.

“I worked out the best way for me to be an athlete was to enjoy it,” says Portia, who trains alongside national 100m record-holder Zoe Hobbs and New Zealand 200m champion Georgia Hulls. “And to enjoy the sport more it was not through racing myself in the 400m hurdles, it was more to embrace the competitive element.

“I started to do more speed work with Zoe and Georgia and this made me enjoy training again. I’m never going to be a top 100m sprinter, but it became a motivation to run consistently under 12 seconds. It was really uplifting to be in an environment where I was succeeding and contributing to others success. It was a big motivator for me.”

Portia has also adopted a different approach to her training under the coaching guidance of James Mortimer.

For the first time since 2015 in October she reintroduced gym work into her training programme.

Recognising it was always an element she needed to address, Portia feels strong than ever – and with much greater emphasis training for the flat sprints, it has brought about some other changes.

“James has taught me a lot about being an athlete, not only from the technical side but also tactically too,” he says. “Previously I used I ran to switch off, but I’ve started to apply more critical thinking to tactics, the conditions and race strategy. 

“In the past I’d never watched back videos of my races and what other athletes were doing but I’ve started to do so in order to understand my event better.”

The flexible formula appears to be working. Approaching the new season without having to manage a sore Achilles tendon for the first time in years is a good indicator her body was more robust. The results too have also followed.

In Auckland in December, Portia blitzed to a slick 53.67 clocking for the 400m – and in her first meet of the New Year in Timaru she posted 53.4 for victory, just 0.02 shy of her lifetime best.

Portia has also competed several times in the 100m. Entering partly for the love of the sport and also to ensure competition for her training partners, the experience has proved a fun distraction and at the Potts Classic she ran a handy 11.81.

Yet it was in Hastings when she perhaps produced her stand out performance of the summer so far excelling in the 400m to climb to number six on the all-time New Zealand lists.

Executing a tactically mature run, she finished powerfully to defeat the 2021 national and 400m gold and silver medallist Camryn Smart and Isabel Neal to run a rapid 52.78.

“I was super stoked,” she says. “The big thing for me was to run with more of a strategy, of how to approach the headwinds and being aware of where the other girls were placed. By making the adjustment of switching on rather than switching off to race actually made a big difference.”

Only very recently re-starting hurdle training in her first 400m hurdles since last June, Portia ran extremely well last Sunday in a mixed race in Whanganui. Posting a time of 55.99 – equal to her New Zealand resident record – she commented: “I can’t be unhappy because it is the quickest time I’ve run in a while.”

Given her lack of hurdling the fact she came within 0.13 of her national record indicates her national record time is in danger with the Sir Graeme Douglas International on 20 February – which offers both a 400m and 400m hurdles – a tantalising prospect on the horizon for the athlete who is relishing competing at her home track.

“It is a special event for me to be running at my home club at Waitakere. I love the club and the sense of community, there is something very wholesome about running locally. 

“The 400m hurdles will be exciting but I’ve love to run another 400m flat too,” adds Portia. “I will benefit from running more as it will help develop race strategy. For a long time, the aim was to run a sub-53 second (400m) and now the aim is to run low 52-second.”

Away from the track her non-selection has prompted another passion. She has since developed an interest in sports governance, and she has recently taken up a position on the Athletes’ Commission for Drug Free Sport NZ. 

“I wondered if I could bring my critical thinking skills from my day job into sport,” she says

Beyond this domestic season she harbours aspirations for the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. Yet whatever the future holds and given her current outstanding form, Portia is right to feel optimistic.

 “When I was at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, I thought I was at the top of my game and that I had peaked at the age of 20,” she explains. “Yet today you see so many athletes getting better in their 30s. I understand training a lot better and there is a lot more research and resources now available around the way women train in their 30s, so it is very possible to improve in the future.”