She’s the current darling of the Kiwi trail scene, rubberstamping her place as one of the trail community’s Talented Ones with a win in the Tarawera Ultra earlier in the year. But Ruby Muir’s path to singletrack stardom has not been one of convention. STORY EXCERPT BELOW & VIDEO: Derek Morrison.
As we trot around the trails of her backyard training ground, the Kiwi star of endurance trail reveals her secret for speedwork: a sparring partner with horns.
“I dived head first over the fence and he slammed into the barbed wire … the whole fence shook. Yes, I saw my life flash before my eyes,” says Ruby Muir recalling the moment when she learned that she could only just outrun the bull that had taken up residence across the road.
I’ve made my way to visit 22 year-old Ruby at her home on an orchard in Eskdale, near Napier in New Zealand’s North Island. The rental she shares with partner Kristian Day – also a competitive trail runner – is a cosy weatherboard cottage with a pile of almost worn-out trail shoes on the porch, a sure sign that I have arrived at the right door. Across the road is Eskdale Mountain Bike Park – a myriad of trails well-buffed by the soles of Ruby’s feet.
A quietly spoken, almost reticent athlete, Ruby has been turning heads since she first lined up for The Goat, a 21km adventure run with 1000 metres of climbing around the western flank of Mt Ruapehu, in 2009.
“I was planning to fast track it, so I entered and won it out of the blue,” she recalls. “I thought, not only do I enjoy this, I’m quite good at it, so I’ll keep going.”
But there is more to Ruby than natural ability alone. Her upbringing on the Coromandel Peninsula offers some insight.
“We grew up active. We grew up in a house in the bush – there was no proper road to our house, we walked to it,” she shares. “We chopped wood and had wood fires so being in nature was something I loved – it felt like it was seared into me.”
Ruby started running off-road at 17 years of age driven by a “really hard time” in her life.
“My dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. We were a really close family so that was like the end of my world at 17,” she explains through misty eyes. “My way of coping with it was to run every day. It was a way I could feel emotion when I was quite numb most of the time and a way I could have a small, positive achievement every day, when there wasn’t much else positive in my life.”
Ruby’s dad passed away two years later, at 62 years of age.
“I ran throughout that time. I ran and I worked even when he was really sick until my family felt I was never home. I was young and it was my way of dealing with it at the time,” she says.
“After my dad died – when I was quite depressed and quite low – it was the only way I could feel again. When I was running a lot I could remember him much more clearly. I am in a more balanced state these days, but sometimes when I run I have more vivid memories of him, which I can’t connect with otherwise.”
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