Mind over Marathon

DATE 16th Nov 2018

Brett Tingay and Fiona Crombie are two New Zealand-representative runners who have inspiring stories. Both are running the New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty Queenstown Half Marathon tomorrow, aiming to defend their 2017 category winner titles. Good luck Fiona and Brett!


When well-known Christchurch athlete Fiona Crombie was diagnosed with arthritis in her 20s, she thought she’d never compete again. Frustrated, weak and in horrific pain, she struggled to even walk for a year and a half.

That shock diagnosis was 12 years ago. Now, the former New Zealand triathlon representative is as fit and determined as ever as she chases another win at the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Queenstown Half Marathon this week.

The 36-year-old won the 30-39 Years category (and was third overall) at the renowned race last year and will return to defend her title, despite continuously managing ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in both of her sacroiliac joints. 

“I’m looking forward to running faster, especially over the last half of the course where I struggled a bit last year,” she says. “Constantly having an event to work towards makes it easier to get out and stay as fit as I can to minimise the impact on my joints. My biggest coping mechanism is deep breathing while working through the pain, whether it is arthritis pain or just trying to make the finish line.”

Crombie’s running career spans well over a decade – she qualified for the 2006 Commonwealth Games NZ Athletics team but was injured a few weeks before the event. Since then, the environmental manager has competed in marathons and triathlons around the world, all while learning how to manage stress and train appropriately to keep AS symptoms at bay. 

“At times it did seem impossible to get back to where I had been. I didn't want to have AS and I lived in denial for a long time,” she says. “But once I accepted it, things started to come right and I learnt to train to how I felt, rather than following what was on my training plan. Exercise is also a treatment method for AS and I find that, if I stop, things start to stiffen up and ache more than usual.” 


Brett Tingay is running a half marathon tomorrow, despite being struck down by a mystery superbug two years ago.

The Christchurch athlete – well-known for his success in running and multisport events – has been battling residual issues from an undiagnosed illness since November 2016. That hasn’t stopped him from competing, however, and he plans to take on the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Half Marathon at the Air NZ Queenstown International Marathon on Saturday. He placed third in the overall race and won his division last year.

It’s an immense achievement for a man that lay unconscious in Christchurch Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit exactly two years ago. Tingay was training for a Half Ironman event in Australia when he suddenly became weak with nausea, vertigo and intense migraines. His partner Fiona Crombie took him to hospital, where he remained for two-and-a-half weeks.

“The doctors started testing me for a lot of waterborne viruses because of the open-water swimming I had done in Australia and overseas for racing, but all the tests came back inconclusive,” he says. “I wasn’t responding to the anti-virals so they ended up putting me in a drug-induced coma because I was in and out of consciousness. The pain was horrendous, and the painkillers weren’t working – they had to turn off my body and let it reset.”

Despite numerous tests, doctors could only confirm that Tingay had contracted a ‘virus of unknown origin’. After waking up from the coma, he finally started responding to antiviral treatment and began to heal.

Although he had doubts he would ever race competitively again, Tingay has learnt to train within his limits and not overextend himself. He lives with the residual symptoms of the virus – such as migraines and fatigue – every day and says his body is less “durable” than it was prior to the infection. Now Tingay’s game plan is to train smarter, not harder.

“About four weeks after I was discharged from hospital I went for a little jog. I couldn’t walk for a few days after that,” he says. “I had to build back up slowly; if I felt tired, I got out of the pool or I would cut my runs down. I wear a heart rate monitor to keep everything under control and I’ve tried to be sensible about it. Whereas before I just did whatever – I could push myself to whatever lengths I wanted to.”

Although he’s hoping to once again win his division, Tingay will be taking it sensibly in Queenstown, where he is also acting as an athlete ambassador for New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty.

“What I enjoy most about the New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty Queenstown Half Marathon is the terrain – it’s one of the most picturesque places you could ever run a half marathon,” he says. “Crossing over the Old Shotover Bridge is epic!”