News & Updates

10 February 2023 • Track and Field

Rebekah Greene hopes to maintain rich vein of form in Hamilton

Rebekah Greene has struck gold at the NZ mile championships and won national 3000m silver in a stellar start to the year. Credit (Michael Dawson).

When Rebekah Greene lowered her nine-year-old mile PB at the Pak’nSaveCooks Classic to win the New Zealand title over the classic distance last month it is fair to say a lot had happened in the career of the Dunedin-based athlete in the intervening period. 

She 2014 she has completed a four-year period studying, running and graduating at the University of Florida, she returned to New Zealand, spent a year in Melbourne and underwent career-saving heart surgery. 

 Yet perhaps one of the most significant moments in the road to her breakthrough clocking of 4:32.92 – a PB of more than five seconds – in Whanganui last month arrived last August when she connected with her current coach, Craig Kirkwood, the man who guides New Zealand middle-distance star Sam Tanner and Olympic triathlon bronze medallist Hayden Wilde. 

 “Craig is relaxed, which I quite like, he has a good grasp of the athletes’ world ranking system. I’ve noticed how Craig is very strategically selective about the races that I race in to make the most of the ranking system. I find too I’m running better than ever.”

Rebekah, 29, is in the form of her life and looking forward to an outing in a high-class 1500m race at Porritt Classic on Saturday before she competes in the mixed 4x2km relay for New Zealand at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst the following weekend. 

She then plans to target the 1500m at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships and her early season form has given her the belief and momentum that a ticket on the plane for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August is not an unattainable goal. 

Born and raised in Dunedin, Greene was introduced to athletics from the age of ten. Joining her local club – Hill City University AC – with whom she is still a loyal and passionate member, she initially struggled to make her mark and frequently finished towards the rear in the sprint and field events.  

A gymnast accustomed to training up to 20 hours a week, she persisted with athletics and recalls making a huge breakthrough moment at the age of 12 while competing at Colgate Games.  

“My parents live on a big hill in Dunedin and every day during the holidays I started running for five minutes up the street,” she says. “Having previously done nothing that extra training paid off at the Colgate Games when I finished fourth in the 800m.”

  Continuing to make rapid improvements under the guidance of her first coach, Jim Baird, she made her international debut at the 2008 Pacific Schools Games winning 3000m gold and she maintained her development into an excellent age-group talent.  

In 2010 she again impressed internationally by placing 11th in the 1500m final at the World U20 Championships in Moncton, Canada. Having entered the competition as one of the most lowly ranked athletes, the experience taught the Otago-based athlete a valuable lesson which has remained with her throughout her career.  

“It proved to me that just because you are ranked at the bottom you can’t count yourself out,” she explains. “If you get an opportunity, just focus on the race and you can then do better than you think.” 

Two years later she returned for the next edition of the World U20 Championships in Barcelona and again impressed, finishing a highly accomplished seventh in the 3000m but after spending a couple of years studying at Otago University – where she was coached at the time by Maria Hassan – she decided to head Stateside at the age of 20 to embark on a scholarship at the University of Florida.  

In her first year she performed well posting PB’s for the 800m, 1500, the mile – that mark of 4:38.03 which stood for nine years up until a little under two weeks ago – and the 3000m but from that point on she says her running became “significantly worse” in the US. 

“I had a really good first four months or so, but looking back that was all because of the training I’d been doing back in New Zealand under Maria before I had arrived in the US,” she explains. “We had some good runners there like Corey McGee (a 1500m finalist at the Tokyo Olympic Games) but I had some RED-S and chronic fatigue issues going on. I was naïve, I ran in the heat in the middle of the day, I ran hard quite a lot. I had a series of injuries and just hit the wall.” 

Things went from back to worse for Rebekah when in her final year at the University of Florida she developed a heart issue which led to frequent blackouts after racing and hard sessions – it was a problem diagnosed as Atrioventricular re-entrant tachycardia (AVRT) – which essentially impacted on the electrical circuit of the heart leading to palpitations.  

 She was put on beta blockers and in August 2017 while in the US she underwent surgery to correct the problem.

Unfortunately, the surgeon went into the wrong side of the heart and the issues persisted and it was only after returning home to New Zealand and undergoing a second successful surgery was the problem fixed. 

“My heart was creating these extra electrical pathways which would lead to dead ends and then the electrical current would double back on itself and that’s when the heart palpitations would happen. The surgery was an ablation surgery which involved a camera that would burn off the extra pathways and create scar tissue to block the extra pathway. It was funny because Callan Moody (a former New Zealand 10km and half marathon champion) was the cardiologist in surgery with me.”  

Back living in New Zealand, reunited with Maria Hassan and free of the heart issues she slowly returned to form. In 2019 she won her first senior national podiums when claiming cross country and 1500m bronze medals. The following year she added a New Zealand senior women’s 5000m gold medal in the 5000m but she was far from satisfied. 

“I felt by 2019 I had reached a mediocre level and in 2020, although it was nice to win a national title, I actually finished second behind Charli Miller because we were racing the under-20 girls, so it probably wasn’t quite the same as crossing the line first.”

In 2021 Rebekah claimed 800m silver and finished fourth in the 1500m at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hastings before then opting to further her running experiences by moving to Melbourne with her partner. 

She jumped in with the training group of Peter Fortune, former coach to Olympic 400m champion Cathy Freeman, she spent some time training with former New Zealand 5000m champion Lydia O’Donnell and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

“I had a pretty good 2022 season in Australia,” she says. “I got PB’s in pretty much everything apart from the 1500m.” 

 She spent the Northern Hemisphere summer competing in the UK but after her partner was offered his old job back in Dunedin and in August last year, she headed back to her city of birth. While excited to be on familiar territory she admits she needed a change of direction in her running career and sought out Craig as her new coach. 

“No disrespect to Maria who had done a terrific job, but I just needed to change my programme so I could get excited about training once again,” she adds. “I knew I wanted a Kiwi coach and working remotely with a coach has never been an problem for me. I thought Hayden Wilde and Sam Tanner have both amazing endurance and speed, so I reached out to Craig.”  

For the past six months her training has undergone significant changes. The volume had stepped up, and now she regularly racks up 120-130km a week.  

To maintain her zest and enthusiasm for training she regularly reaches out to others in the Dunedin running community to train alongside but Rebekah admits one secret of Craig’s success is his training programme that includes three weeks of high volume work followed by one much lighter week. 

“The training has helped avoid injuries, but it also has its benefits mentally. Knowing that I have that easier week every fourth week has made a massive difference,” she admits. 

Given big volume sessions on the track, Rebekah was surprised herself with how she has managed the workload, and this has bred confidence. A pre-season 1200m time trial further lifted her belief and a good opener to win the Lovelock Mile in Timaru in 4:42.46 represented a solid start to the season. 

Yet if Lovelock provided a decent indication of her form, it was the New Zealand Mile Championship some three weeks later which offered greater clarity. There racing a high-class field which included Australia’s World Championship 1500m finalist Georgia Griffith and her compatriot Sarah Billings, Rebekah latched on to the back of the lead train for the wildest mile ride of her life. 

Finishing third behind the pair, the Kiwi shattered her previous best time by more than five seconds to claim the New Zealand national title and also lower the 40-year-old New Zealand resident record of Anne Audain in a time of 4:32.92 and now she moves on to the Porritt Classic in Hamilton – where she hopes to threaten her lifetime best set at the same meeting two years earlier. 

“It meant a lot to break the record. I’ve read Anne’s book, it was cool to run under that time,” she says. “It was very special.” 

Last weekend Greene offered further evidence of her excellent form when she won silver in the New Zealand 3000m Championships in Wellington behind Laura Nagel – the Dunedin athlete running the third fastest 3000m time of her career in 9:19.89. 

This weekend the pair meet once again but this time over 1500m at the Porritt Classic in Hamilton – the meet where Rebekah set her lifetime best of 4:14.81 set at the same meeting two years earlier.  

“I love the Porritt Classic, it is always a very well organised event with big fields. I want to make the most of the of racing in a large field to practice running tactically and if the conditions are conducive to capitalise on that and run a fast time.”

The following weekend, she is set for her first senior New Zealand appearance since representing her country at the 2013 World University Games when she features in the Mixed Relay team at the World Cross Country Championships and then the target will be the 1500m title at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington (2-5 March). 

Beyond that her huge new mile PB has put the athlete in a whole stratosphere of running and although she admits it is an ambitious goal – a place at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest is now a more realistic target. 

“I only look at my training week to week but I’m sure Craig has a bigger plan,” she explains. “It would be awesome to get that auto qualifier of 4:03.5 because that would also mean a New Zealand record (which currently stands at 4:04.82 for Nikki Hamblin) and killing two birds with one stone. That is hard to run domestically but I have plans to run in the US and then Europe to try and run as fast as possible.” 

Working part-time as a coach for Femmi gives that flexibility to really target her athletics goals and she admits she has no greater passion then chucking on her shoes and going for a run. 

“Running is a great way to see different places, and I feel going for a run helps break down walls between people and helps strike up a great conversation. I love going out for a run in the hills in Dunedin. We have some beautiful views and I’m lucky to do it every day.” 

****Watch Rebekah Greene compete in the women’s 1500m at the Porritt Classic via the livestream on Saturday 11 February which starts at 2.05pm here

Porritt Classic Entry lists here

Porritt Classic Live results link here