Roger Hanney Interview

Roger Hanney grabbing a breather on return from 17,000+ feet, Chile. Photo by Jess Baker

Roger Hanney is one of the most inspiring guys that I know. Launching the newly formed Born to Run Foundation, with Team Born to Run he has raced 250km in both the Atacama Desert and the Gobi Desert so far in 2012. Roger Hanney ran his first 100 miler the GNW in 2011 and backed up to pace 180km at Coast 2 Kosci a few weeks later. What is so special is that he has achieved these amazing milestones with Type 1 Diabetes. He plans on running across two more deserts with Team Born to Run and completing Coast 2 Kosci himself before the year is finished. Last year, Medtronic Global flew Roger Hanney Stateside to run in the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota and this year he has been nominated in Australia for the Roche Adult Achiever Award.

Roger Hanney has taken some time out from and to chat to me.

Roger Hanney With Japanese Spiderman in Gobi. Sanshu is an underground wrestler in Japan.
Roger Hanney With Japanese Spiderman in Gobi. Sanshu is an underground wrestler in Japan.


Shona: Roger I swear every time I look at your Facebook account I get jealous. You’ve just arrived back from China after Racing the Planet’s Gobi March. The photo that made me the most jealous was spotting you getting a helicopter ride to the top of a New Zealand Mountain so you could run down it. What was your mission in New Zealand?I call it a mission because it looked like it was straight out of Mission Impossible.


Roger Hanney: Jealous? Every time I check your Facebook, you’ve podiumed another race. 🙂

New Zealand was mind blowing. It was an opportunity to build the team and do nothing but run for a week. Jess (Baker) and I had one epic run to ourselves, doing a brilliant first-run-route with Malcolm and Sally Law. Mal took us 64km from the foot of a mountain over a massive saddle, right up to the foot of a glacier and down a valley as the melt grew into a river. Epic!!


Shona: Man that must have been amazing. It looked spectacular in the photos, but to be there and actually running it, would just have been a moment to savour!


Roger Hanney: We also got to run the Routeburn trail which was stunning. And yes, ridge-running out of helicopters was totally unexpected and deserved a hard rocking soundtrack. We ended the week by practising what is probably the hardest part of doing events as a team, namely running together, from start to finish. We ran the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon which was an utter beast and will probably rival Kepler for Kiwi trail racing cred over the next few years.

Roger Hanney this ridge will self destruct in 5 seconds Trail Running Ultra Runner

Roger Hanney this ridge will self destruct in 5 seconds

Shona: I am sooooooo jealous. I think ridge-running out of a helicopter should be on everyone’s bucket list!

Roger Hanney: Definitely. That, or at least running in New Zealand. The only place here that can compare is Victoria’s alpine region.


Shona. You ran across the Atacama desert in a team called Born 2 Run to raise awareness of Type 1 Diabetes. Who was your team made up of?

I read that they all excelled in their categories?…..

Roger Hanney: Greg Donovan is one of those rare characters who is a bit of a wide-eyed dreamer, but also makes dreams happen. He’s the philanthropist who has started up the Born to Run Foundation and brought us together as a team. His teenage son Stephen developed Type 1 diabetes about 4 years ago. Greg wanted to do something big to support diabetes research and fight the disease. He’s already helped raise $160k in the past, running the New York Marathon for 9/11 orphans, so running was a natural fit. But to do something bigger, he looked at the Racing The Planet 4 Deserts Grand Slam, and to do something unique, he decided to do form a team. 

That’s where Team Born to Run evolved from and, like I said, can also be the really hard thing about these races. 

When you enter and compete as a team, individual members aren’t eligible for individual awards. Ron Schwebel, Race Director for Narrabeen All-nighter, would have likely been winner in the 60+ category. Greg would have been top 3 in the 50+ and his son, Matt, running his first ever ultra would have been in the top 2 in the 20+. But the really frustrating part is that even though she was slowed down by having to stay at the team’s pace, Jess was the fastest 20+ and 3rd fastest woman overall, but she wasn’t eligible for any of it. So yep, in Atacama we all looked pretty good on paper, but it’s a different challenge than running or racing on your own, looking for whatever you need inside yourself to get through on your own terms.

Shona: It’s so true, you can only run as fast as your slowest team mate. How did your Born2Run team place overall?

Roger Hanney: As a team, we placed 2nd in Atacama and our total time put us about 30th overall in a field of about 170. The 80km day though was the highlight, we passed the leading team in the last 15km and ran 22nd for Matty’s first ultra on a day which got to about 45 degrees C. Gobi, I don’t even know. Didn’t care, still don’t. We ran 35km fully loaded in just over 4 hours on the first day and did the same distance with less weight in 8 ½ hours on the third day. Nausea, dysentery, inability to eat – we just wanted to get to the end. The story of that self-slaughter will be up at this week too, if you want to check it out.

Shona: Your Team Born 2 Run plans on running in all 4 Racing the Planet Desert crossings in doing so you will be the first team to cross the all 4 deserts as a team in the one year?

Roger Hanney: Yep, hopefully that’s how we end Antarctica in November. We’re launching the Born To Run Foundation by doing something bombastic with the Grand Slam and it’s already helped to raise more than $60,000 for Type 1 diabetes research – which is great. As a minimum, teams need 3 members. We’re a team of 5, which is unusually big and a lot of other competitors are blown out by it.

Roger Hanney ultra runner with Paul Every, the man who first put the idea of running 100 miles in my head, right before my first miler
Roger Hanney with Paul Every, the man who first put the idea of running 100 miles in my head, right before my first miler


Shona: Which Team members have Type 1 Diabetes? When were they diagnosed?

Roger Hanney: Ha! Just me, diagnosed Easter 2008. I actually went to see Greg because I heard about the desert runs through Jess and wanted to say, ‘you have to run it in HOKAs’! He knew I was an ultrarunner because we’d been talking after some big weekends, but he didn’t know I have type 1, and I didn’t know that’s what he wanted to raise money for. Over a beer and a pair of shoes, I’m suddenly off to run the Sahara. Hectic! 


Shona: You do have a way with words Roger, hehehe. Your team also consist of runners with family members with Type 1 Diabetes. Why is it so important to raise awareness of the disease?

Roger Hanney: Some people – a lot of people, even – still don’t even know that it’s an autoimmune disease. It’s an unlucky ticket in the genetic lotto. And it doesn’t have to mean a diminished life. Argiris, this Greek doctor who’s a kicking ultra runner and who came third in Atacama, really surprised me at the end of the race. We’d never spoken but I went up to say well done on his run, and he told me that his sister is type 1. He said that until the race, he would have never thought a type 1 could do what we did. Those moments of connection, whether they happen in emails or at races or through chance meetings are what it’s all about. They hopefully add up to raised awareness and a bit more understanding. 

Even now, a lot of doctors and specialists counsel type 1s to take it easy. I’ve told medical people what I’m doing with running and had responses like, “guess you may as well do it while you still can”. That ignorance can pull you down when you’re not sure what you can or can’t physically do. 

Ray Zahab’s an ultra runner who started the Impossible2Possible Foundation. He went from being a heavy smoker and party casualty to running the entire span of the Sahara, over 7,000km in just over 100 days. The quote of his that I love is that ultra running is 10 per cent mental, and 90 per cent mental. 

Shona: Nice quote.

Roger Hanney: If you can challenge perceptions about what things can’t be done by just going and doing them, that’s probably the most important barrier to push through.


Shona. Ultra Endurance running is made up of fitness, mental strength, hydration and fuelling. How do you as a diabetic have to change your approach to fuelling to allow you to safely compete in Ultra Endurance events? As a diabetic it is so crucial to get your sugar levels just right. How do you manage your health whilst racing?

Roger Hanney: I’ve never run an ultra with a fully working pancreas so I never had to adjust  : )  but I had the benefit of other diabetic athletes’ experience and guidance. There’s only one book I’ve found on how to cope as a diabetic athlete, so I am incredibly grateful this didn’t happen to me before we had the internet. Without groups like HypoActive, Insulindependence, email, blogs, and Allan Bolton (an endurance-focussed type 1 with nearly 30 years experience) and his site at it could have turned out a lot differently.

For general immune support, especially when fatigued from the mix of training, work, and lack of sleep that we all go through, I’m a fan of mega-dosed Vitamin C, regular high doses of L-Glutamine, Hammer Premium Insurance Caps, and Juice Plus.

The prep and practice of racing with diabetes is mindnumbingly involved – insulin, carbohydrate, climate, mood, exertion, fatigue, nausea all interact in a shifting dance – but when you live with it it becomes almost second nature. You still stuff up, though. At GNW last year I had a chance to use a CGM (constant glucose meter), so I had a metal filament sitting under my skin and transmitting my blood sugars from a node outside my skin. Until I sweated that off at about the 80km mark, I was able to watch a graph of my blood sugars on a small receiver. They stayed in a narrow and near-perfect range all day, except for a spike caused by adrenalin limiting the action of insulin at the start of the race, and a rise around Congewoi (55km) when I stopped to eat and drink while friends retaped my feet. 

That type of balance and control gave me so much confidence for the rest of the race, as well as keeping me healthy, that I pretty much felt great for most of the 30 hours. North Face this year, on the other hand, saw me fumble some calculations and underestimate some changes that had happened in my management. Just the first few hours pretty much hollowed me out and most of the remaining twelve left me feeling like I had absolutely nothing to draw on except loud music from my headphones.

It can go both ways. Most ultramarathons are eating contests, and I’ve had plenty of practice eating on the run. If I don’t, it’s a coma.

Roger Hanney excited about running down a 400-metre sand dune in the Valley of Death, Atacama
Roger Hanney excited about running down a 400-metre sand dune in the Valley of Death, Atacama

Shona: I really appreciate the body I have, and I admire you for pushing the boundaries with yours. I think sometimes when we (us non diabetics) feel a bit sick when Ultra Running it’s nothing in comparison to what your body or your mind is going through.

Roger Hanney: I think most people running their first 100km or 100mi are having a worse time than me. I’ve got the benefit of being really motivated to keep focussed when my body’s working happily and moreso when it’s not. I’d still like to go faster on less fuel. I’d like to be able to run myself into that same totally flattened state that Chris Turnbull hit on GNW last year, but perhaps without passing out in an ant’s nest.


Shona. How did you get into trail running?

Roger Hanney: Pretty much the same as most people I think – training for a marathon and needed a change from road. Brent Harris, a friend of mine, took me on the Spit to Manly and I was pretty much hooked after that. Mt. Wilson to Bilpin was the first trail race I remember doing, and it was just brilliant – great place, great people, great running.


Shona. What was your first Ultra? and how long had you been running for before you ran your first Ultra?

Roger Hanney: North Face 2010. I’d been running about 2 ½ years and had run my first marathon about 8 months earlier and my first trail marathon about 2 months earlier.


Shona. What is your favourite race?

Roger Hanney: Slick Rock in Utah was only (meant to be) 50km but the red desert,  absurd rain, extra distance off course, unexpectedly awesome friends I made there and racing for a plane back to Australia was a pretty hard-to-beat bundle of uniquely brilliant fun – especially for an out-and-back  Centennial Park Ultra’s flat but super-festive and I think I’ll keep going back to North Face for at least as long as it takes my fat ass to go under 14 hours.

But if I could only do one race over and over forever it would have to be Great North Walk. Dave Byrnes has the best sense of humour, calling a 174km run a 100-miler.

Roger Hanney Racing to the finish line in China, high-5ed a 100-strong Mexican wave of Uighur schoolkids. Such an unforgettable way to end, And so glad we made it. Zandy Mangold courtesy of
Roger Hanney Racing to the finish line in China, high-5ed a 100-strong Mexican wave of Uighur schoolkids. Such an unforgettable way to end. Zandy Mangold courtesy of


Shona: I know! Dave is cruel!

Roger Hanney: And I don’t even think that he’s a natural blonde.  My favourite race that remains to be done is Tor Des Geants in the Italian Alps – 200 miles in thin air with 24,000 metres of elevation gain. We’re hoping to do that some time in 2013 or ’14.


Shona. Again you have made me so jealous! I have total race and location trail running envy. Which event have you learnt the most about yourself from?

Roger Hanney: I had my first DNF at the Alpine 100-miler this year, at about 108km in but because of a massive nav fumble around midnight when I was at about the 95km mark. We’d got back from Atacama on the Tuesday, found out there were spots free on the Wednesday, drove down to Victoria on the Friday. I learnt that I love challenging runs, and that I really hate DNFs, unmarked courses, and hypothermia.


Shona. Yeah, Ultrarunning is tough, but it is brutal when you have to navigate too.  Do you like to train in a group or on your own? And Why?

Roger Hanney: You need to do both. If you can’t run on your own, you’ll never handle the hardest parts of a long run. But without friends, running partners, or even slightly faster strangers to keep up with or even be inspired and encouraged by, it’s easy to just maintain rather than improve. No answer on that one – I need solo runs and training, but I really look forward to running hours with a friend.

Roger Hanney tent life of an ultra runner
Roger Hanney tent life of an ultra runner


Shona. What is your favourite training session?

Roger Hanney: My favourite run would be to go and hit trails with a favourite running partner that neither of has been on before and do at least 30km with a plan to come back for more. Favourite focussed session would have to be 15 1km intervals. And I’m trying to learn to like 200s, but they just hurt. 


Shona. Those intervals do kill! How did you go about running your first 100 Miler? How did you even think you could run that far especially considering your Type 1 Diabetes?

Roger Hanney: Everything beyond 100km was going to be a mystery but I tried to be prepared for whatever might go wrong by reading up on the physiology of that distance and talking to friends and other runners I respect who’ve done the distance. I was also doing an article for Outer Edge at the time which was a great excuse, so I picked the brains of Tall Geoff, Paul Every, Suzannah H-J, Darrel Robins, Carol LaPlant, Beat Jegerlehner who’s a good American friend who races one every 2 months. Geoff’s advice, to just spend time every day thinking about how hard it might get and what I’d need to be prepared to do to get through probably prepared me really well. If I hadn’t been ready for it to all go south, it might have actually gone south. O yeah, one week total taper too.

I was running unscrewed but Jane Trumper jumped in and crewed me through each checkpoint after her own race tanked, and Natalie Watson also put her hand up to pace me, and just having someone with me in that final 70km was reassuring, to know that if it all fell apart I wouldn’t be a big mess that the runner behind me would have to clean up. 


Shona: It’s must have been nice knowing that a skilled runner like Natalie Watson had your back.

Roger Hanney: Yep. Tip for next time though, make sure at least one of you has done the final 10km before. As far as the diabetes went, it’s always a bit of a concern but after about 60km every runner’s in the same boat – a bit sore, a bit fatigued, a bit delirious, a bit hungry, and maybe even a bit nauseous as a bonus.


Shona. What are your most outstanding achievements?

Roger Hanney: I hope they haven’t happened yet. 


Shona. Cool Answer! What characteristics do you think go into making a multi day Ultra Endurance Athlete?

Roger Hanney: Self-reliance is key. If you can’t get it together for yourself – practically, mentally, physically – then get in the back with the hikers. That’s where we were in Gobi and as scenic as it was, and as self-belief-affirming as it was to push through illness and weakness and thoughts of complete failure, it’s no way to run. 


Shona. What sport did you play as a kid?

Roger Hanney: Chess. For real. But heading into end of school HSC stress and looking for an outlet I got into cross-country and 3,000 metres training. Had a 10:01p.b. How annoying is that?

Roger Hanney going up a 400-metre sand dune, also exciting

Roger Hanney going up a 400-metre sand dune, also exciting

Shona. Yeah, It’s worse than my 12:00:29 for The North Face 100. Is there a family history of amazing athletic ability? Like a long lost uncle or granddad/grandma or dad/mum who excelled at sport?

Or are you just the “Stand Out Kid/Freak” in the family?

Roger Hanney: I wish I excelled at sport! My sister ran 3rd in the state schoolgirl’s 1500m and my brother and father both cranked at Rugby Union. My sister-in-law has the best endurance genes though, a 3:15 marathon and high level triathlon. That doesn’t really help though..


Shona. What is your hydration and nutritional plan when you are racing? Is it different from when you race a 25km through to 100km to  100 Miler then a Multi day Ultra Endurance Event like the Racing the Planet events?

Roger Hanney: Something like Woodford to Glenbrook or Coastal Classic I’ll get by on a mouthful of water on the way and have 3 or 4 gels (2nd Surge, Accel, TORQ) or a tube of Clif Bloks down the back of each PolyPro glove. It’s overkill because I’ll bomb a gel at the start then run hard to push my sugars down, but if I run out of carbs or something unexpected happens I need to be able to deal with it. Like everyone, 100km is more of a deal in that if you get nausea it’s going to be a bad day out. 

For 100km and especially for GNW last year, eLoad Fly totally rocks my world. It’s a flavourless maltodextrin, 100% carbohydrate, highly refined to remove the fibre and roughage that could otherwise irritate your gut and mess with your digestion in-race. In water at about 10% concentration, it’s exactly like drinking water. It also means that you can get a lot less carb from your gels and solid foods, so you’re eating less on the run, and, again, less to mess with your belly. At the same time, less flavour carnage in your mouth. For anything really long now I also really like Ensure, and you can get these small tins that have high carb and good protein and minerals. A lot of people seem to neglect protein in races but personally if I get up to about 4 grams per hour I think my body just works better.

We could do a full article on multiday race foods. In short, glutamine, dehydrated coconut milk, nut butters, and potato chips!


Shona. Is your nutritional plan different from when you are training?

Roger Hanney: I do try to troubleshoot whatever I’m planning to race on in training, but I’ll also train more or less on a bag of jelly beans. Otherwise I’d be going through a box of gels a week.


Shona. Have you ever had to work through injuries? If so what sort of rehab or cross training did you have to do before you could start racing again?

Roger Hanney: Yep, I’ve had non-specific alignment issues play out through my hip and knee but only on one side and done the usual things of core strengthening until I feel good and can run more then forgetting about it until I need to rehab again. The last year has been really good because I haven’t had injuries that actually knocked me down, so I haven’t lost time or been unable to run. Probably the toughest thing was after Atacama. 

If you just had to run across a desert and do a marathon every day and then an 80km day it would be utterly sweet, but you’re doing it with a pack – a big pack. I chuck about an extra 2 kilos of spare food and medical supplies in so by the time we run out on day one I’m carrying about 13kg. That’s what does the body damage – lower back, hips, shoulders, knees. The forces on your body are amplified. On the other hand, it’s good strength training.


Shona. What is the biggest recovery tip? Food? Rest? Ice Baths? Recovery Jogs? What is the stand out feature in your training that you think allows you to continue racing with little “Down” time? You’ve achieved so much so far this year and you have a few deserts to cross. What is your recovery plan?

Roger Hanney: I’m a big fan of yoga – Power Yoga and Astanga especially, but probably because I’m not yet hardcore enough for Pilates and box jumps. Food rocks. Vegetarianism rocks. Big fan of the half-hour post-run metabolism window. Running whenever possible is definitely a good thing to be doing, because then you can eat even more! It has been a really cold winter but when it warms up a bit or even now would be good to get out and do some decent barefoot sessions every couple of weeks. Collaroy-Narrabeen-return on soft sand is one of my favourite ways to release accumulated fatigue and imbalance after big weeks. Tried ice baths – respect those who can handle them. Straight hot-cold-hot-cold-hot-cold flushing is a bit less extreme but pretty effective.


Shona: What is your favourite quote, or a few words that you have made up that you may say or remember to keep your mind focused when you are racing or training?

Roger Hanney: “It’ll go numb eventually” – Beat Jegerlehner, good friend & 1,000-mile Iditarod finisher, 2013.I also had a great chat with Krissy Moehl for Trail Run Mag where she talked about how we don’t compete against people, but with them. You usually have your best runs on some kind of race day, and it’s often because of the people you run with, we’re all there to lift each other. I think that’s cool. Jess inspires me all the time too. If I feel like I’m hurting, I just try to remember what she was going through on the last 50km of her and Meredith Quinlan’s GNW250 from Newcastle to Sydney, and then it usually hurts a lot less.

Shona. What would you say is your biggest strength when you are racing?

Roger Hanney: Fear of failure definitely helps. Since running so much on trails with Jess, I’d say that being less time-obsessed is a bonus. Really getting into the bush to be in nature and loving the run for the sake of the run is such a great way to feel connected to what we do. I’m not a very chatty runner but I love the moments we have out there.


Shona: What is your running schedule for the rest of the year?

Roger Hanney: Toying with the idea of running M7 Marathon but haven’t trained specifically and marathon’s a lot of hurt to take on for an average day out. I’m not sure what trail races I’ll do over the next couple of months but Matt Cooper’s doing an ultrarunning weekend workshop late August, September should pretty much be about getting strong for what’s ahead, then there’s the Hume and Hovell 102.5km near Wagga on October 20km, then flying to Egypt on about the 23rd October for Racing The Planet Sahara, then Antactica about 2 weeks after that, and then the race that I feel like I’ve been mentally prepping for since 2010, Coast 2 Kosci.

Shona: You are engaged to Jess Baker, when are you guys going to stop racing and actually tie the knot?

Roger Hanney: Stop racing? WTF?  : )


Shona. What shoes do you like to wear? You can list them if you like?

Roger Hanney: Well, you know I’m all about Hoka OneOne because they give me increased time to train and fresher legs later in the race.

Road Shoes: Stinson Tarmacs for everything I want to try to run fast up to about 42km if my legs feel fresh, Bondi B if I’m hurting before I start. Brooks Racer ST 5s sometimes for variety up to about 25km.

Racing Flats (I don’t think you’d have flats!):  Ha! Good call. I’ve got Inov8 F-Lite 230s but they’re a walking around or gym shoe. I’ve got a sweet pair of Brooks Mach 13 Cross Country spikes for track and grass that I really like just on short stuff.

Trail Shoes : Hoka OneOne Stinson Evo Flags for technical, tricky or sloppy stuff, Bondi B for groomed firetrail or long runs on tired legs. Sometimes Montrail Rogue Racers for a change. New Balance MT101s have one of the best uppers ever made but just don’t feel fun to run in over much more than 15km.

Ultra Trail Shoes: Yep, definitely Stinson Evo or Bondi B the whole way for trail ultra. If you look at the way Dave Mackey and Karl Meltzer can just keep on backing up race after race, and yes I’m going to sound like a salesman or brand ambassador or whatever you want to call it here, but the most consistently long running I’ve done has been since I got into Hoka. I’ve done multiple training weeks and racing weeks over 200km this year – at least 6. Last year, maybe one. They have really suited me well.


Shona: What was your gear for the Desert Crossings? Were they supported?

Roger Hanney: Long story, lots of gear. Let’s roll that into an article on multiday nutrition and stuff?

Roger Hanney trail runner very early, Moab Utah with Meghan, Danni and Beat, right before Slick Rock
Roger Hanney very early, Moab Utah with Meghan, Danni and Beat, right before Slick Rock

Shona. Fair enough! Okay last question.

What are 5 stand out tips that you would like to give any runner about training and nutrition to keep them racing regularly as you?

  • 1.      Listen acutely to your body, but also trust it
  • 2.     Outside races, protein is your friend
  • 3.      In races, carbs, salt, staying out of the red zone until the last 15km and not dehydrating too badly are your friends
  • 4.      Drop negative runners, and drop your own negativity – it’s just as bad
  • 5.     Do not get dysentery for 6 days in the Gobi Desert (see tip 1)

Roger Hanney thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to me.