Dave Ridley is not a ‘Runner’
Words: Elizabeth Campbell
Images: James Whiting
To most casual runners, Dave Ridley is next level. He has a marathon personal best of 2:20 and is an inspiration to everyone who goes for a jog every now and then. Since Sydney in 2014 when he ran his first sub 2:30 marathon, Dave has patiently and progressively bettered his times.
At a glance, his marathon history is currently the following:
- Sydney 2014 â€“ 2:29
- Gold Coast 2016 â€“ 2:26
- Fukuoka 2016 â€“ 2:25
- Gold Coast 2017 â€“ 2:24
- Berlin 2017 â€“ 2:21
- Seoul 2018 â€“ 2:20
The mind boggles at this list when seen on paper in black and white. However, to Dave, his results to date â€œarenâ€™t that impressiveâ€ and not until recently has he even considered calling himself a â€œrunnerâ€, let alone a runner of sub-elite ability.
Dave grew up in Canterbury, New Zealand and describes his start in running
as the same moment he learned to walk. â€œ[Running], never started for me,
it just always existed. It wasnâ€™t like one day I just decided to run; I was running from a young age. Whether it was playing in the yard or having races with friends.
Pretty early on, I developed a competitive streak because I would always win.â€
This said, from a young age, Dave knew he was fast, loved to go fast, and win.
However, it wasnâ€™t until his early teens did he focus solely on running and was able to join an athletics club. His start in structured running came after a couple of races he participated without a coach. Daveâ€™s tactic for these races was to go out hard, lead the whole race and win. After a couple of races like this, Dave was faced with a new depth in the field and tactics he was unaware of â€“ other runners sitting on the back of him and kicking in the last kilometre.Â
â€œ[Running], never started for me, it just always existed. It
wasnâ€™t like one day I
just decided to run.”
After one race, in particular, a coach approached him and gave him a compliment â€“ â€œThanks for leading out the race, it really enabled the other
boys to run well”.Â This â€œcomplimentâ€ changed everything. Dave got himself a coach and started training properly with a group for his first formal track season. At the age of 13, he was training over 80km weeks with a mixture of distance and speed work on grass tracks. As his races became more tactical, he won his schoolâ€™s 3000m with a time of 9:57 on a grass track and won the Canterbury 3000m secondary school champs in 9:47, taking him to his first national competition.
â€œThanks for leading out the race, it really enabled the other boys to run well”…
This â€œcomplimentâ€ changed everything.
Itâ€™s clear from this history the innate passion Dave has for the sport of running; it wasnâ€™t a conscious choice, it was an inherent characteristic of his personality. So, why then is it only now he has begun to consider calling himself â€œa runnerâ€? Unpacking this a little, we touch on the infamous Kiwi social issue of tall poppy syndrome. Dave notes here that in Kiwiâ€™s are known for being incredibly humble, so downplaying any achievement is common in social situations. â€œTall Poppy is really real in New Zealand. Itâ€™s a little frowned upon to talk about what you love, especially if youâ€™re good at it. People so commonly talk down their performances, or make excuses for why they donâ€™t perform, or if they do perform they try and deflect performance.â€
Comparatively, Australianâ€™s are often seen to boast and come across as arrogant when they talk about all their achievements and how proud they are of themselves. However, Dave views this as a real strength; he has seen a side of running where he can make it his own, do it his own way and be very proud of the fact that he is a runner. â€œIn Australia, particularly Melbourne, running is regarded as a bit more â€œcoolâ€. People are inspired by runners, and runners that perform well. Not everyone, but a lot of people are inspired or motivated by fitness, and running falls into that category. Fitness and achieving things is more socially acceptable.â€ Australia is a bit brasher in the way they speak about their achievements. If you perform well, you talk about it and youâ€™re proud of the achievement in a nice way – itâ€™s genuine.
â€œThis mentality is a blessing and also, at times, a curse. When Iâ€™m training, I expect results once Iâ€™ve done the work.â€
“People so commonly talk down their performances or make excuses for why they donâ€™t perform. Or if they do perform, they try and deflect performance.â€
Dave re-located from Christchurch to Melbourne in 2015; perhaps the slow assimilation into the Victorian running scene has something to do with it, or perhaps itâ€™s all the hard work paying off. A change in environment is part of the increase in performance, sure, but that isnâ€™t the sole factor at play, itâ€™s a culmination of different things. â€œItâ€™s maturity, itâ€™s the fact that I have to be more competitive with some of the opportunities that have been offered to me.â€
Looking deeper into this notion of â€œTall Poppyâ€, like many sub-elite, elite and Olympic level runners, running is something Dave is passionate about on the side, but itâ€™s not his full-time career. When someone asks him what he does, his answer is that he just works in advertising. Dave elaborates, â€œâ€¦when I was growing up in New Zealand, there was never a clear pathway for me to become a runner. By that, I mean there was no clear trajectory to go to college in the USA and head to the Olympics. I always had to have a career AND run.â€Â Due to his split focus between dream and reality, growing up and progressing as a runner has been a gradual journey. â€œThis mentality is a blessing and also, at times, a curse. When Iâ€™m training, I expect results in the first few weeks.â€ During the week, he works standard office hours, with occasional overtime, and still manages to clock over 200kmâ€™s. Daveâ€™s craving, and curiosity, to be the best he can be is a constant motivation for him to keep training.
Next goal for Dave is to run a sub 2:20. After Berlin, looking at the experience holistically, Dave says there is so muchÂ that people donâ€™t see â€“ â€œpeople will see a run at the end of a Marathon upload on Strava, or on Nike Run Club App – but they wonâ€™t see what happens before and after that milestone. There are so many intense weeks leading up to a marathon. Now after Seoul, my mind has shifted to something bigger. Iâ€™m so close to a sub 2:20 that Iâ€™m thinking I could be able to achieve something much bigger. I have no idea what that is, but I feel like sub 2:20 is just around the corner. My goals are still around times; secondary to that is to travel around running. If I can continue to do that for the next decade if I can stay injury free, train smarter, learn more about my bodyâ€¦ Goals shift, but itâ€™s primarily around times. But so far, Iâ€™m very proud of my achievements.â€
“Now after Seoul, my mind has shifted to something bigger…”