News & Updates

10 November 2021 • Track and Field

The Lynch sisters target the NZ 10,000m Challenge

Susannah Lynch heads sister, Deborah, at their home track - Newtown Stadium. (Credit: Sharon Wray)

It’s hard to find a more engaging duo in New Zealand to interview than the Lynch sisters – Susannah and Deborah. Quick-witted, self-deprecating, and with an impish sense of fun, the endurance running duo are not prone to taking themselves too seriously.

Yet given their accomplishments over the last year, the Wellington-based siblings should not be discounted when they take to their home track at Newtown Stadium for the New Zealand 10,000m Challenge on Saturday.

Deborah, the elder of the two by four years, is a former New Zealand triathlon representative and top ten finisher on the World Cup circuit. However, after returning from Germany (her European summer base the last “five or six years”) in early 2020, she has specialised more as a runner.

“Running is so much easier [than training for triathlon], it is far cruisier,” she explains. “I’m not training 25-30 hours a week like I was as a triathlete. It gives me more time on my hands.”

Making her 10,000m track debut last December – in the same Agency Group 10,000m Festival she will compete in this weekend – she won the women’s race in a mixed event in a handy 37:17.82. Earlier this year the 29-year-old athlete finished fifth at the New Zealand 3000m Championships in Hastings and set a 5000m PB of 17:44.70 in Wellington in March.

COVID has muddied the competitive picture in more recent times, and in July the Olympic Harrier underwent surgery for iliac artery endofibrosis – fixing a long-term issue caused by years of cycling. The operation was a success. It removed a lot of scar tissue and has since allowed her to consistently rack up to 100km a week in training under the coaching of Tim Brazier.

“Well, my feet don’t go white when swimming anymore,” she quips of her post-surgery improvement. “Both legs are now a lot more even in terms of strength, although my left leg is still a bit weaker after years of it being underfed.”

While Deborah is gradually making her mark on the domestic athletics scene, Susannah arrived like a meteor with a stellar campaign in 2021. A former national U16 5km road race champion and hobby triathlete, she took up a US scholarship at the University of North Texas and returned home after three injury riddled years and virtually quit the sport.

“For my last year in Texas I physically couldn’t run because of the pain. When I came back to New Zealand I spent about two years working as a fisheries observer, where I’d spend up to two months at sea, then come back on land and have to start running from scratch with legs like little saveloys,” she explains.

Susannah’s transition to an office-based job for Fisheries New Zealand allowed her to train more consistently. Under coach Sarah Biss, she now runs around 70km a week. Despite the relative lack of preparation, she enjoyed “a happy little surprise” earlier this year by winning 1500m and 3000m national silver medals as well as taking second spot on the podium at the New Zealand Mountain Running Championships. New personal bests in the 800m, 1500m,  and mile were a welcome addition too.

While working with different coaches, the sisters occasionally meet up for lunchtime runs together in the city. Despite their shared commitment to running at a high level, however, the pair have rarely raced against each other.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to race each other very often,” says Deborah. “Last season’s 3000m at national champs (Susannah was second and Deborah was fifth) was the first time in years. Part of the reason is I was competing in triathlon while Susannah went to the States.”

So when the siblings do clash, could it be termed a friendly rivalry?

Not according to Susannah. “We did the Bernie Portenski Memorial Trophy over 10km last year and Deb beat me by about 30 seconds. I maintain the handicapping was a bit out and I didn’t speak to her for three or four days.”

“It certainly made for an uncomfortable ride home,” adds Deborah.

Which brings us to this weekend and the New Zealand 10,000m Challenge. For Susannah it represents her debut over the 25-lap distance and while she jokes “setting a time and not throwing up” are her chief goals – it is hard to believe she does not have a slightly more ambitious target at Newtown Park this weekend.

For Deborah, having had the experience of one previous 10,000m race, she adds: “Training has gone consistently well and I’m feeling relatively fit. I remember last year I was super unsure of how it was going to go – and I ended up having (and running) a really good time. So this time I’m going in with much less stress.”

With Deborah wishing she had Susannah’s “fast-twitch muscles” and Susannah desiring Deborah’s “pacing” ability – it is clear the duo are quite different athletes.

But come Saturday, will the pair help one another achieve their goals over the 25-lap distance?

“Not a chance,” says Susannah with an innocent smile. “You’re on your own, mate.”

For more information on the New Zealand 10,000m Challenge to be staged as part of The Agency Group 10,000m Festival on Saturday 13 November go here