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 – 2:29
- Gold Coast 2016 – 2:26
- Fukuoka 2016 – 2:25
- Gold Coast 2017 – 2:24
- Berlin 2017 – 2:21
- Seoul 2018 – 2:20
The mind boggles at this list when seen on paper in black and white. However, to Dave, his results to date “aren’t that impressive” and not until recently has he even considered calling himself a “runner”, 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. “[Running], never started for me,
it just always existed. It wasn’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.”
This said, from a young age, Dave knew he was fast, loved to go fast, and win.
However, it wasn’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. Dave’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 – other runners sitting on the back of him and kicking in the last kilometre.
“[Running], never started for me, it just always existed. It
wasn’t like one day I
just decided to run.”
After one race, in particular, a coach approached him and gave him a compliment – “Thanks for leading out the race, it really enabled the other
boys to run well”. This “compliment” 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 school’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.
“Thanks for leading out the race, it really enabled the other boys to run well”…
This “compliment” changed everything.
It’s clear from this history the innate passion Dave has for the sport of running; it wasn’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 “a runner”? Unpacking this a little, we touch on the infamous Kiwi social issue of tall poppy syndrome. Dave notes here that in Kiwi’s are known for being incredibly humble, so downplaying any achievement is common in social situations. “Tall Poppy is really real in New Zealand. It’s a little frowned upon to talk about what you love, especially if you’re good at it. People so commonly talk down their performances, or make excuses for why they don’t perform, or if they do perform they try and deflect performance.”
Comparatively, Australian’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. “In Australia, particularly Melbourne, running is regarded as a bit more “cool”. 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.” Australia is a bit brasher in the way they speak about their achievements. If you perform well, you talk about it and you’re proud of the achievement in a nice way – it’s genuine.
“This mentality is a blessing and also, at times, a curse. When I’m training, I expect results once I’ve done the work.”
“People so commonly talk down their performances or make excuses for why they don’t perform. Or if they do perform, they try and deflect performance.”
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 it’s all the hard work paying off. A change in environment is part of the increase in performance, sure, but that isn’t the sole factor at play, it’s a culmination of different things. “It’s maturity, it’s the fact that I have to be more competitive with some of the opportunities that have been offered to me.”
Looking deeper into this notion of “Tall Poppy”, like many sub-elite, elite and Olympic level runners, running is something Dave is passionate about on the side, but it’s not his full-time career. When someone asks him what he does, his answer is that he just works in advertising. Dave elaborates, “…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.” Due to his split focus between dream and reality, growing up and progressing as a runner has been a gradual journey. “This mentality is a blessing and also, at times, a curse. When I’m training, I expect results in the first few weeks.” During the week, he works standard office hours, with occasional overtime, and still manages to clock over 200km’s. Dave’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 much that people don’t see – “people will see a run at the end of a Marathon upload on Strava, or on Nike Run Club App – but they won’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. I’m so close to a sub 2:20 that I’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 body… Goals shift, but it’s primarily around times. But so far, I’m very proud of my achievements.”
“Now after Seoul, my mind has shifted to something bigger…”