News & Updates

19 December 2023 • Ultra Running

Sue transforms her lifestyle to become NZ rep

Running has given New Zealand 24-hour representative Sue Hunter so much.

If inspiration is what you are seeking, look no further than Sue Hunter.

The 43-year-old mum-of-three has put behind her an appalling lifestyle in her younger days to make her New Zealand debut earlier this month at the IAU 24H World Championships in Chinese Taipei to prove anything is possible.

Formerly a heavy smoker and drinker “with no off button” – her diet for much of her 20s consisted of consuming takeaway chips and apple crumble. Understandably, given her lifestyle her weight started to balloon which took a toll on her health.

Living with Polycythemia vera – a rare blood disorder which leads to a thickening of the blood – shortly after giving birth to her second daughter at the age of 26 she developed blood clots on each side of her lungs.

“If I had stayed at home much longer (before going to the hospital), I would not be here today,” explains Hamilton-based Sue with typical frankness. “The lifestyle I was living at the time, I was told I would not make reach the age of 40.”

Doctors put on a blood thinning drugs but young and feeling “bulletproof” she did not put in place the lifestyle changes which the medics strongly advised.

That move was several years away and took meeting her now husband, Steve, to transform her life. After the pair became engaged, they underwent a weight loss regime with Sue shedding more than 30kg.

“This was the start of my health journey and when the penny dropped,” explains Sue. “I went on a more logical diet, got off the medication and Steve encouraged me to go power walking every day. He’s been the biggest influence and support person through this entire journey. He’s sacrificed so much.”

Quitting smoking when she found out she was pregnant with her son, Cory, now aged 12, and subsequently giving up alcohol the next stage of her lifestyle revolution was prompted by her brother who encouraged her to enter the 6km Tough Guy and Gal Challenge in Rotorua back in 2012.

“I was the sort of kid who at school (in Feilding) who made up any excuses, so I didn’t have to run. Physical activity was something I tried to avoid completely.

“I was petrified going into the Tough Guy race, but I managed to run most of the flat bits and some of the hills, I was ecstatic to finish, so proud of myself. In many ways running that race was the beginning of the end for me.”

Immediately hooked on running she next entered the 12km Round the Bridges and she has continued to tick off the challenges.

“I became totally immersed in running,” said Sue. “It has not been an easy fitness journey and something I’ve had to fight for. Running has always been a personal challenge to see what I am capable of.”

Besides the physical benefits of running, it has also acted as a huge mental stimulus. With a history of depression, Sue has discovered pounding out the kilometres on the road and the treadmill has made an immeasurable difference in terms of her overall wellbeing.  

In 2013 she completed her first half marathon in Rotorua before the following year returning to the city to complete her first marathon. Over time she expanded her ambitions to conquer trail races, half-ironmans and in 2017 was proud to complete the Tarawera Ultra 102km event.

Becoming a fully qualified personal fitness trainer she has worked for the past six years for Les Mills Gym, which she finds immensely rewarding.  “To be able to help others achieve their goals is a great privilege,” she adds.

Juggling the demands of working as a personal fitness training with three children, between the age of 19 and 12, Sue still manages to rack up between 80-120km a week and squeeze in at least two strength sessions and more recently has moved into the new realm of 24-hour racing.

Making her 24-hour debut at the 2022 New Zealand Championships at AUT Millennium, Sue made a promising covering a total distance of 136.5km to take the national bronze medal. 

“I had no idea what I could achieve and what running for 24 hours would be like. I thought it would help as a bit of training for some other races I had planned. but the style of running is completely different. There is a start, there is a finish and I complete rollercoaster in between. I had a blast.”

Encouraged by the performance the Hamilton City Hawks athlete headed over to Sydney in June for her second 24-hour race – with the goal to meet the criteria for a potential spot on the New Zealand team for the IAU 24h World Championships in Chinese Taipei. By finishing fourth and totally a cumulative distance of 162km she met her ambitions.

Elated to receive an email confirming her selection for the New Zealand team for Chinese Taipei, she admitted to a feeling of ‘imposter syndrome.’

“Every day since my selection I awaited getting an email that another person had done better and I was no longer going,” admits Sue.

Yet Sue did make the trek north to Chinese Taipei and can be proud of her efforts as she finished 85th and fourth Kiwi home totalling 157.224km.

“It was amazing to have all those top athletes around you and I couldn’t have asked anything different,” she says. “My body did as much as it could on the day.”

For the future, Sue just hopes to keep on running. Recently announced in the New Zealand team to compete at IAU 24h Asia Oceania Championships in Canberra next April and realising she does not have an infinite time to fulfil her ambitions she says: “I just want to achieve all I can, so when I can’t run any longer, I will have all those stories to share with others.”

Yet after the most transformative story, what does she think the new Sue would say to the old Sue?

“Just give it a go,” she says. “You never know what your limits are until you push it.”