Q&A with trail runner Mal Law

He swapped his work clothes for running shoes and set about completing adventures for a cause. He’s gone on to push plenty of personal limits, while raising money for charity.

Have you always had an adventurous spirit?

I consumed a lot of literature growing up, devouring stories of great adventurers and explorers. I’ve always admired Sir Edmund Hillary; British explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, is my all-time hero. The seed was planted as a child when my father would take us up the Scottish Mountains. I came to New Zealand at 26 on a one-year working holiday to Nelson Lakes National Park. I took one look at the scenery and was converted in an instant. It will always be my spiritual home.

What does pushing the limits mean to you?

It’s an antidote. There are so many cafés to sit in and Facebook feeds to scroll through; it’s easy to live comfortably in this day and age, compared to past generations when it was about fighting to survive. There’s a part of us that’s still wired to get out of our comfort zone. I’m not saying it’s not nice to sit back and relax in a café; it’s just that if I have too long in my comfort zone, I start to question the meaning of things. Taking on a challenge or adventure makes me feel alive.

Can you share your inspiration behind becoming the first person to run New Zealand’s seven mainland Great Walks back to back in just seven days?

I first started really pushing my limits to honour my brother, Alan, who lost his battle with leukaemia at 13 years old. I was nine. He’s my inspiration. What would take a fit hiker a month to complete – crossing the Lake Waikaremoana Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Abel Tasman Coastal Track and the Heaphy, Routeburn, Milford and Kepler Tracks – I achieved in just a week. Money raised was donated to Leukaemia & Blood Cancer NZ. I’ve raised $260,000 for the charity. I can dig deep and find unrealised strength from reminding myself that I’m out there hurting to help ease the pain of others.

The Mental Health Foundation is also close to your heart and you’re an advocate for getting active in the great outdoors as a way to help manage mental well-being.

I discovered my brother-in-law, Max, after he had taken his own life. I’ve battled demons and have had periods of depression. I know first-hand the benefits of nature for well-being and it’s proven scientifically. Stepping outside for a walk or sitting in a peaceful place overlooking the water can help. I’ve raised $650,000 for mental health to date.

Queenstown’s Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon is a 101 Must-Do This Summer. You’ve completed all seven races since it began – what do you love most about the event?

I guess you could say I’m pretty committed! I’ve done a lot of running in New Zealand and it’s by far my favourite race; I return year after year. The course constantly changes in character. One minute you’re surrounded by big mountains and a rich sense of history among old mining relics. Then you’re running through native bush, following a mountain creek, or through a river. I love that there’s so much variety; the landscape is pretty spectacular.    

What would you say to those apprehensive about breaking down personal limitations?

I’ve always been a dreamer, but I believed I was too ordinary to achieve anything big. I have a middle-of-the-road athletic build, nothing special.  But I really grabbed the bull by the horns when I completed the seven Great Walks back to back. At the end of it, I realised I had achieved something pretty extraordinary. If you want something enough, you have to be brave and just get to the start line – from there, anything’s possible.   

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Summer 2018 issue

More information

Mal Law has launched the campaign, Out there April, to encourage Kiwis to get outdoors and be active throughout the month. He will run in the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon next year. 

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