“It seems crazy that I’ve been running for over 20 years now. When I think back to all the fitness trends that have passed through the world over that time, I never would have thought running would be the one that had me hooked. But here we are. Over two decades of unbelievable personal development and my enthusiasm remains as high as ever. I don’t think there’s an activity quite like it! Being this mad about running is certainly not what I would have predicted when I lined up for the Breast Cancer Fun Run in London in 2002. My only objective that day was to not come last! In fact, I was so scared of doing that, that I trained for 8 weeks in the leadup!”
We loved catching up with Sound Mind Sound Body Crew member, Friena Sands, to hear about how she has maintained her enthusiasm for running over the last 21 years. As with all journeys, it’s not entirely smooth and linear. But despite the objectives constantly changing, the energy and passion remain!
Tell us more about that fun run in London. How’d you go and what followed after that?
It actually wasn’t even my choice to do the event. One of my super fit friends entered us and I felt like I had to do enough training to not embarrass myself on the day. Amazingly I crossed the line in the Top 10 and from there I was hooked. I kept entering fun runs while I was overseas, and by the time I returned to New Zealand in 2006, running had become a full-blown passion!
New Zealand is potentially a little different to Europe. How’d you manage to keep riding the running wave when you came back?
When I came home, I entered a bunch of races and ended up meeting heaps of cool like-minded runners. I met some proper long-legged girls who ran like the wind. I was so inspired by them I started training hard and racing more. Running in events overseas was a great experience but getting involved in the NZ community is what really solidified my passion.
Can you expand a little more on your experience with the running community in NZ?
After giving birth to my first son in 2009, I kept running to keep my base fitness up and used running as a great excuse to get out of the house. By the time I had my second son in 2011, I was chomping at the bit to get back out there and take my running seriously.
I joined Waitakere Athletics Club for my first season which had its challenges, being the only senior woman meant I had to join the men’s training squad. I almost always came last, they even clapped for me once when I crossed the finish line. I was completely undeterred though as being the only woman had advantages. This meant I won all the senior women's trophies at the end of the season, so I was stoked!
The following year I met this bunch of cool chicks who ran for Auckland City Athletics so I jumped ship and joined them. These ladies were real badass inspiring runners who helped me step up my game. Running for the club was a new type of running, it was fast, rough, passionate, sometimes aggressive… I loved every minute of it.
Awesome! Sounds like a fun smooth journey. Have there been any major challenges over the last 21 years?
In 2017 I got the opportunity to race for the World Masters Games. I put in the hours of training and I was feeling fast and ready to go. Two days out from the start I went for a shakeout jog with a girlfriend and broke my ankle. I’ve never cried so much in my life.
Ouch! How did you overcome this?
After a week of beating myself up, it was time to hatch a plan and start the project “get Freina faster”. I contacted a coach I had been watching online and started Aqua Jogging (running in the pool). Within six months Coach Sunz had me on the track doing time trials along with a shed load of physio and strength training. He sent me off to have my running style assessed at AUT Millennium of Sport. This was the most valuable thing I have ever experienced, learning from the best but also understanding what needed to be done to get up to the front of the pack. Fast forward two years of hard work, and often vomiting and crying after each race, I was running the best I ever had.
Epic. Did you push on with racing from here?
Even though my times were as good as ever, I eventually stopped racing in 2019 as my passion for running had shifted direction. Encouraging people to start running and helping them on their journey became my main driving source. Working with social run clubs and bringing my boys along on the run was my high (it still is).
Sounds like the perfect evolution, from fun runs, to elite competition and back to the heart of the community. After seeing so much over your journey, how do you think running has helped you on a personal level?
I’ve used running for so many things; self-confidence, weight loss, goal setting, chasing opportunities - and now with my busy life I use running as a meditation tool to help me focus and stay grounded. I’m a mum, runner, business lady, and coordinator of a busy family.
My life is hectic, to say the least, but I love everything about it and running plays such an important role in keeping everything in check. I have this saying “you can’t call yourself a runner if you don’t run!!!” Running makes me feel good, it keeps my body strong and helps my mind stay clear. This is why I get up every day and move.
On the days I’m not feeling it, I go for a soft short run & on the days I'm feeling good I’ll go chase the streets and run my arse off. There have been lots of times I haven't wanted to run but I’ve never come back from a run and wished I had never gone.
Thanks so much for letting us hear a little more about your story Freina, it’s honestly inspiring to us. Is there any advice you’d like to leave to someone who’s just starting out running?
Set realistic goals!!!!! If you’ve never run before, then making it to the end of the street is your first goal, build slowly from there until you can run around the block and then to whichever distance your goal is to get to.
Start slow (and I mean slow) if you can't talk whilst you're running, then you’re running too fast. Some of my best runs started so slow people walking their dogs passed me. You don't need to run every day but schedule set days that you do run so you get into a good routine and make yourself accountable for going on those days.
Be kind to yourself. Running is hard and the better you get the more you push yourself. Be proud of just moving, you don't have to be the fastest, you don't have to run the furthest, and you don't even have to “look like a runner”. You just have to get out there and move.
Freina's Top Tips for Runners
- Run your own race.
- Lean into your run. Don't run upright, lean forward, and fall into the next step.
- Kick your legs up behind you. Instead of bringing your knees up, let your hammies do all the work.
- Smile when it gets hard.
- Never stop on the hills - you can die at the top, just not halfway.
Morning, lunchtime, evening runner?
MORNING - the earlier the better!!! I like pretending the whole city is mine whilst everyone is still sleeping.
Favourite post-run snack / meal?
Electrolytes and a cup of tea (sometimes two cups of tea back-to-back).
Outside of your shoes, what’s one running essential you can’t go without?
My running watch and a hat.
Running Solo or Running in a group?
Short runs in a group. Long runs solo with headphones.
Music, Podcast, or your own thoughts? What are they?
90’s Hip Hop all the way. LLcoolJ, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, Souls of Mischief, The Roots, M.O.P, Biggy Smalls, J-Dilla (do you need me to keep going…)
In 3 words how would you describe yourself as a runner?
Carefree, enthusiastic, and energetic.
Favourite running route in NZ?
Anything with hills and a view.
Running distance a week?
I run because….
It makes me happy.
Where does your mind tend to wander while running?
OMG everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I put on my headphones and just got lost.
What’s your #1 way of maintaining a sound mind?
Doing all the things that make you happy, look after yourself and the universe will follow. Put out what you want back, don’t judge people, and never be a jerk to anyone!
Favourite ASICS shoe?
When Freina isn’t out for a run she’s often found on the family farm, at her hair salon helping clients look their best, or on a weekend adventure with her two sons and partner.
You can follow along with Freina for regular inspiration to keep running along with a look into her adventurous life. If you're based in Auckland, join Freina and the SMSB Run Crew on a Thursday 6am at Buoy Cafe Westhaven.
Interested in learning more about running? Visit our Knowledge Base where you’ll find resources on an array of topics for runners - from how to get started and mapping out a training plan, to discovering how to pick the right running shoes for you.