• 01 Team
  • 02 Verna
  • 03 Tony
  • 04 Tony Jackson #28

About Us – The Once Were Runners Story

Verna Cook-Jackson and Tony JacksonOnce upon a time, many, many years ago in the early 1980’s, there were some individual, good Kiwi men who were heading toward their middle age years, had wives and families and busy working lives and who at one time in their lives had participated in physical, sporting activities.  But work, families and providing for the families had been their priorities for a few years so as they looked upon their futures of being overweight, unfit and just plain Kiwi blobs, they decided to do something about their health and fitness.  They began to run to get fit.  Most decided they would run a marathon (nothing like taking on the big stuff from the start) and over a period of 2 or 3 years each one joined the YMCA Marathon Club.  And met one another.

They became running mates and not only ran together at their running club on Sundays, but met once a week, after their working day, in the Auckland Domain for a good and fast 1 to 1.5 hour run around the streets of Auckland.  This proved to be rather a healthy habit and within a short period of time those in the ever expanding and decreasing group began to run marathons anywhere between 2hrs 40 mins to 3hrs 15 mins.  Anything over 3hrs 15 mins was not worth training for, to their arrogant and younger minds and bodies!

Over the years this group evolved and moved and changed but the one everlasting permanency was the core group of ‘blokes’ who remained consistent.  Years passed, this core group still met.  All mostly male as yet again, their arrogance set themselves a physical rung above most women runners.  However over some softening period of time they actually allowed one or two women to run with them, it gave their egos a lift as they would exhaust themselves trying to outrun any woman that came along.  The venue even changed.  It went to 5.30 pm at the Greenlane Foodtown carpark for a period.  The run done, the blokes would reach into their car boots, extract a can of beer, lean on their cars and discuss their last successful or unsucessful marathon or half marathon or 10km race or cross country race.

As life has it… even this little group dwindled out…. because the years had passed and their abilities had lessened and their lives had evolved… their childen had gone from toddlers to youngsters to teenagers to problems.  So there was less focus on their regular meetings.  Indeed, for a period, the meetings actually ceased to exist.

Then one day, one of the blokes happened upon another of the blokes.  The one bloke realised just how much he missed the other bloke.  So he decided to get the blokes back together again.  Only problem is, all the blokes were either completely broken down, partly broken down, fat or unfit or just plain lazy.  Never mind, not to be dissuaded, the essential core began to meet once more for a regular Wednesday after work run.  At Jesmond Tce.  This core consisted of Tony Jackson, Doug Shadbolt, Fred Ripley, Dave Norrie and Rex Willcox.  And after a short period of time another popped up and back to the group, one Terry Leigh.  But there was a problem.  Residing at Jesmond Tce was a woman – Verna.  This very matey, male core of Kiwi blokes realised they just had to bite the bullet and let this woman run with them as, after all, it was her house they were running from.  That was the beginning of the end of the male, blokey mateship nights.

‘Intermittent’ women would join them.  So much so that on one fine night young Terry Leigh exclaimed with great frustration, “There’s too many chicks coming.  Too many chicks!”  And there began the psuedonym of Chicks and Dick Chicks.  It was all to do with Terry and his adversity to Chicks.   Such is life that it often comes back and bites one’s bum.  Within a few years Terry wife joined the group!  🙂

And there we have the history of Once Were Runners.  That original group were, once, runners.

It’s been a nearly 30 year period all up.  Some of the originals have returned to physical or OWR retirement and others have achieved great sporting achievements. Tony Jackson, Fred Ripley, Doug Shadbolt and the sometimes outrageous Terry Leigh have remained.  The group has expanded and contracted on a weekly (weather dependant!), monthly, annual and decade basis.  There have been some amazing achievements among many of them.  Accumulatively there would be over 500 marathon runs among them, over 50 Ironman races and innumerable swim, bike and other running races.  Often more walkers than runners and a real mix of run, swim, bike achievers.    In essence the group is what it is because of the cameraderie, the genuine want of all to actually be healthy and fit and for the many, many warm and happy times shared amongst the group.

Once Were Runners presently meet at the Mt Albert YMCA and still on Wednesday nights.  And the motto of the group?  ‘The club that, who cares!?!’

Tony and Verna’s Story

Tony’s story

Tony Jackson26 New Zealand Ironman races
3 Kona Ironman races
50+ Marathons
Innumerable cross country races, multi-sport events, biking races, kayak events, swim distances
NZ Age Group Gold, Silver & Bronze medalists in all disciplines over the past 30 years

Coach extraordinare

For some snippets on the history of the NZ Ironman, go to:


Verna’s story

Verna Cook-Jackson12 NZ Ironman races

Somewhere around 100 Marathons

Innumerable cross country, multi-sport, off road, swim, biking races

NZ Age Group Gold, Silver, Bronze medalist in Ironman, Marathon and cross country events over the past 30 years

Ironman Coach

And still going