Young Blood

At the tender age of 25, Andrew Hedgman has already clocked more kilometres than most of us will in a lifetime

When Andrew Hedgman was in his last year of high school in Paeroa, New Zealand, his PE teacher challenged him to run a marathon as part of an assignment. “All the other kids were doing a 10K run, but my teacher believed my friend Dena and I would be able to do a marathon based on all the running we’d done in the last few years,” says Andrew. “So we trained for it and did it. When we finished, it was such an amazing feeling and I was hooked.”

In the few years following high school, Andrew ran sporadically. But when he tried to go for a 3km run in 2008 and had to stop halfway because he was completely out of breath, he decided it was time to get back into shape. He started training for another marathon, but he couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that he should be doing something even bigger. So when he found out that the Athletics New Zealand National 100km Championships were being held in his hometown a few months later, he signed up immediately. He was only 21.

Not only did Andrew complete the race, but he finished in the top 10 with an impressive time of 10:40. The minute he crossed the finish line, he knew he’d found his calling. After running a couple of “smaller races”, he set his sights on running the length of New Zealand. In early 2010, he ran the 2200km distance in 28 days, averaging 70 to 80km a day.

“At the time, only a handful of people had run the length of New Zealand,” says Andrew. “Fellow Kiwi ultrarunner Lisa Tamati did it just a couple of months before I did. I really struggled with injuries in the first couple of weeks – I had severe shin splints and I tore a muscle in my leg. It was quite hard to get through, but if I hadn’t had the injuries, it wouldn’t have been as satisfying to finish it. It just made the end so much better.”

In early 2012, Andrew tackled his next challenge – a 1000km run from Brisbane to Sydney over 15 days to raise funds for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). “Raising money for animals is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “I love animals, I’ve grown up with them all my life, and that’s also why I decided to become vegetarian. I’ve been vegetarian for over a year now and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

A few months later, Andrew was invited to participate in the Lycian Way Ultramarathon in Turkey, a gruelling 250km six-stage race over seven days. “That was the craziest race I’ve ever done,” he says. “There were points where we were jumping over really jagged rocks along the shoreline. The year before, someone lost their fingers on those rocks. It was hours of just climbing and climbing up mountains, and the heat was relentlessly insane. I didn’t want to look up because I’d see how far I had to climb, so I looked at the ground or the person in front of me.” Despite the fact that several more experienced runners pulled out, he made it to the finish line.

Andrew’s accomplishments are all the more impressive considering he’s only 25 – a rarity in the running world. When asked where he gets his focus and determination, he points to the fact that he started running at an early age. “When everyone was planning parties on the weekends, Dena and I were planning our 30km training runs,” he says. “We were quite different in that way. It’s definitely made our lives better to have that sort of experience at a young age.”

In an effort to inspire the next generation to set goals and pursue their dreams, Andrew frequently talks to young students about his running experiences. When he ran the length of New Zealand, he visited several classrooms along the way. “I like speaking in schools because they seem to have a genuine interest in my stories and they ask a million questions. I think it’s because ultrarunning is something they’ve never heard about.”

With an autobiographical book in the works and numerous races on his calendar in 2013, Andrew is showing no signs of slowing down. “You see people in their 70s in some races, and you think, ‘I’d love to still be doing that at that age while my friends are at home watching TV.’ If not ultras, I’ll be doing marathons at least. The oldest marathon runner in the world is over 100 and he’s a vegetarian as well. Bonus!”

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