If ever there was a time we needed inspiration, hope and a reason to smile, that time is now. When Durban North runner Trish Eksteen set out to run 100 half marathons in 100 consecutive days last year, her biggest motivation was exactly these things – to inspire and to bring hope to the hopeless.
“I’m going to be that woman who dies while going down a ski slope at the age of 120,” laughs Trish at the start of our interview. We are sitting at a busy coffee shop in Umhlanga and her partner, Claude is seated beside her.
Trish is bubbly and full of smiles and speaks passionately about their business – an obstacle training facility called Adventure Obstacle Training (AOT), which they started six years ago.
The 42-year-old obstacle course racer is currently ranked number one in her age group in the world and has placed in the top 10 in the elite ladies division for the past four years.
But running really was Trish’s first love – and it is her running that brings us to the coffee shop this morning.
Trish became the unofficial world record holder after completing 100 half marathons in 100 consecutive days in October last year. She took on the incredible challenge in an attempt to raise awareness and funding for those suffering from anxiety and depression, which she says reached an all-time low in her local community during the first Covid-19 lockdown. As a professional athlete and trainer, motivating people is something Trish is absolutely passionate about.
Originally from Bloemfontein, she moved to Durban when she was 23 years old. She has two sons, Keagan (12) and Daniel (9). “I was always very athletic growing up and did cross country for 10 years. I truly found my way in life through running. I was a scrawny, shy kid and running gave me the confidence I needed to become who I wanted to be.”
When she moved to Durban, Trish says, she started taking her running more seriously. “There is a strong community of runners here and doing the Comrades Marathon goes without question.” After running five Comrades, she became bored with the road. That was when she discovered trail running. “Trail running is everything. It fills my soul.” Trish has competed in almost every big trail race in the country, winning many of them. “I love the variety and technicality and the fact that it’s not about time, but rather effort. I get a massive kick out of doing anything that requires a lot of effort!”
Which is why obstacle course racing came naturally to Trish. She won the first race she ever took part in – and was hooked. She and Claude, a professional triathlete and trainer, started AOT in 2015. At the time, theirs was the only training facility with obstacles in South Africa. Now it is still the biggest facility in the country. “Obstacles are a perfect metaphor for life. You are faced with a challenge that you have no idea how to overcome, but by learning some techniques and the support of people around you, you are able to overcome it.”
During the first hard lockdown, Trish tried to keep her team positive. “It was fine for the first three weeks, when everyone could just focus on keeping fit at home and doing fun things, but then people had to go back to work, businesses started closing and depression set in. I wanted to motivate and inspire them to stay mentally strong. I knew I had to do something big and extreme to keep my audience engaged and make a difference.”
Trish searched the Guinness World Record book to find the most consecutive half marathons run and found someone who had done 60. Not concerned about the actual world record, Trish was simply looking for a benchmark. After more research online, she discovered a Canadian woman who had run 74 consecutive half marathons. “That became my benchmark. It took me three days to convince Claude that I could do it – and I wanted to do 100.”
Trish saw depression, suicide, fear and anxiety killing people and killing their dreams and decided she wanted to help her community. She set out to help raise funds and awareness for the team of counsellors at her church, Grace Family Church in Umhlanga, where they offer free counselling. One day at a time. One step at a time. This was Trish’s mantra. She decided to run for 21 days before making it public. Her other secret target was to run every half marathon in under two hours.
Out of the 100 runs she did, Trish ran 32 on her own. She had company in the form of friends who took leave from work or ran with her on the weekends. “The runs on my own were definitely the hardest,” she says.
She ran every morning between 6am and 7.30am. There were tears and a lot of painful runs, but she strapped up and continued to focus on ‘just one day at a time’. After 21 days, she made it public and her journey really began. When she passed 75 and became the unofficial record holder, it literally blew up! “My social media pages went nuts. I had people from around the world sending me messages and requesting interviews. People told me I saved their life by giving them hope … it was a massive responsibility. I actually think it was harder than the runs.”
There was a big crowd and media presence waiting for Trish at the finish line on her last day. “My talent and the accolades I’ve achieved don’t necessarily match up … a lot of it is mental strength. If I have made a difference in just one person’s life, and prevented them from committing suicide or helped them become mentally stronger, then that it is enough.”
Text: Leah Shone