This Grandma is Goals! She’s Lining up to do her 40th Rotorua Marathon race

A Taupo grandmother is the definition of the word inspiring when it comes to being fit, healthy and active. She’s about to conquer her 40th Rotorua Marathon at the September 26 event. What’s even more impressive is this will bring her overall marathon tally, including NZ and international marathons, to 125 marathons.

Verna Cook-Jackson, 68, will be walking this year’s 42km distance. She has a bit of a “dickie knee” and will be taking her time to lap the lake, soaking up the sights along the way and remembering wonderful memories of years gone by too of doing this annual goal. 

She will be doing this event proudly. She’s chuffed she can still conquer this these long miles – given most of her mates now keep active with golf, bowls or gardening.

Verna tries to downplay her incredible feat with her feet when we chat during this interview, saying she’s no elite athlete. She says she will be celebrating her achievement likely “very quietly”.

But I tell her she simply is my goals. Most people dream of being this fit at 68…

Verna may walk this distance now. But she used to be darn speedy. Her fastest marathon time was 3 hours and 15 mins in New Plymouth.

Her first marathon was aged 26 at Rotorua when she clocked in at 4 hours 14 mins.

Back then, not many women ran, she explains. It was purely a male sport in this era. Verna used to run around an Auckland park in the dark to train back then so she wouldn’t be seen. This was because she was a woman running and so wanted to be “hidden away”, but also too because she was overweight then and was self-conscious also about being seen.

Back then there were no fancy tights. She wore a pair of shorts, oversized t-shirt and a sweat-band around her head aka “Rod Dixon style”, she says laughing.

She started running because she wanted to lose weight post having children. She couldn’t get to tennis because she had children to care for and so running at night was how she could fit fitness into her life. She has used this sport since to keep in shape and feel great, she adds.

Verna says she loves how the sport has attracted more women, and people of all shapes and sizes and abilities, over the years.

“Now you can go to a start line and see every size possible and it’s really nice”.

Verna says she uses the Rotorua Marathon every year as her motivation to keep active and fit.

“Rotorua has become a good habit. It keeps me motivated”.

So how long will she keep lapping this lake?

“I was going to get to number 40 and call it quits,” she says, then chuckles and adds. “Well that was the theory anyway…”

When I tell Verna she her marathon tally is simply inspiring, she shrugs it off. She says if she wished to inspire anyone around anything to do with running it would be just simply to “start” and take small steps. She recommends starting with a walk/run journey to keep healthy and then progress if you wish to running.

Every morning she gets out for an 8km walk and ticks it off “so I feel good”.

Asked what’s the secret to her long-run journey? She says her mindset is key.

“My knee needs replacing at some stage. In the meantime, I may as well keep running until it gets so bad it has to be replaced!”

This grandma is goals!

Join this amazing grandma and enter the Rotorua Marathon event (either the fun run, 10km, half-marathon of full-marathon distance.). Click HERE

Article by Rachel Grunwell: Rotorua Marathon ambassador. Qualified Coach. Yoga teacher. Author of the book Balance: Food, Health + Happiness.

Follow Rachel on Instagram & the InspiredHealthNZ Facebook page.

This article was sponsored by the Rotorua Marathon #sonsored #ad

Dad & son run Rotorua Marathon event in memory of 3 loved men lost

Joe Kurukaanga and his son Pokaiaua Kurukaanga will run the 10km distance at the Rotorua Marathon event together in memory of 3 loved ones lost.

Joe Kurukaanga shed a tear when he won the Rotorua Marathon $1000 ultimate fitness kick-starter/pamper pack for two people.

It’s a prize that will boost his own health journey. But training for the event will also be a balm to soothe the grief in losing three beautiful young men this year – all in heart-breaking circumstances.

“I shed a tear with my wife when I found out I won. I thought ‘this is meant to be’. It will be a journey that’s good for my physical health, and mental health too. It has been a taxing six months….,” says Joe, who is from Birkenhead, Auckland.

Joe was among 500 entries across InspiredHealthNZ Facebook and the marathon ambassador Rach’s Instagram in a collaboration with the Rotorua Marathon event. The prize includes. 2 x entries in the Rotorua Marathon event, 2X 60 minute massages at the Polynesian Spa, 2 sets of Asics shoes, 2 X Balance: Food, Health + Happiness books by Rachel Grunwell, 2 run caps and 2 event medals.

Joe says he immediately rang his son and told him he wanted to share the prize with him. His son Pokaiaua, a member of the NZ open men’s touch team, is elated.

“He told me ‘enjoy Xmas day dad… cause we start training on the 26th’!” quips Joe.

Joe is looking forward to kick-starting his health journey and losing some kilos with this prize. He and his son will run the 10km distance over the sulphur flats at Rotorua. Pokaiaua’s partner Jess and another friend Kris, have vowed to join them on race day at the event on May 2. So they are already a strong team of four.

They will all use the run to remember three loved men lost. Zae lost his life due to complications from pneumonia. While, Manning and Josh died suddenly where there were no suspicious circumstances. Joe says they almost lost another boy recently he knows too, but thank goodness he will be okay. It has been a time of “struggle” through the grief, he says, but he has tried to stay strong for the other young men in his life that he is close with in his role as a sports coach, mentor and friend.

Joe says he is still overwhelmed at the win. He’s still working out what they will do to raise awareness through their miles. But he already knows it will be around telling young people “it’s okay to feel not okay” – and to talk to someone if they feel not okay…

Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who entered the competition. There were so many deserving entries. So many were heart-felt.

Find out more about the Rotorua Marathon event HERE

Blog by Rachel Grunwell. Rotorua Marathon ambassador. Wellness Expert. Coach + Yoga Teacher. Multi-Marathoner. Health journalist and wellness columnist (Good magazine, Indulge magazine + the Herald online). Author of Balance: Food, Health + Happiness, which boasts 30 global experts on how to be healthier and happier + 30 nourishing recipes.

Follow Rotorua Marathon ambassador Rach on Instagram and Facebook for more Rotorua Marathon competition coming up s + health, yoga and run tips.


Elite Runner at Rotorua Marathon will be running in her parents footsteps

olivia burne

Elite Runner at Rotorua Marathon will be running in her parents footsteps


By Rachel Grunwell

An elite female runner doing her first ever marathon at the Rotorua Marathon event is a potential front-runner who could take out the winning title.

When Olivia Burne, 26, runs in the May 5 event, she will also be following in her parent’s footsteps. And she’s gunning for a podium spot too like her dad…

Olivia, who is an ASICS brand ambassador and works in marketing and communications in Auckland, won the half-marathon distance at the Rotorua Marathon event last year with a time of just over 1hr 16mins.

She decided to run her first marathon at Rotorua this year for many reasons.

Her parents success at this event was, of course, an inspiration.

“My parents have both run the Rotorua Marathon in their early 20s. “My mum completed the full marathon distance in 1981, recording 3:19 – that was one week before she married Dad. My Dad ran the full marathon five years in a row, with his top finish being a 2nd in 1979. His time was 2:25.35 – I’m not looking to break that record any time soon!” she says.

Burne says her running parents have been really encouraging of her running career and great support.

Asked if her parents have high expectations of her potential finish time, Burne quips, “I think Mum would be quite happy for me to beat her time and I think Dad would just be impressed if I beat his!”

She says she also chose the Rotorua Marathon event too as her first marathon because of the wonderful history of the event and because it is known as one of the highlights of the racing calendar.

“It’s also a beautiful setting. The cultural significance of Rotorua… the beautiful lake, the Redwood Forest, and the (Polynesian Spa’s) thermal hot pools make the whole running and recovery experience really special,” she says.

She also adds: “The race has an enormous history in New Zealand. Most runners from the 60s onwards would know the Rotorua Marathon (or Fletchers Marathon, as it used to be known) as one of the highlights of the racing calendar. Thousands would show up for the event and it attracts some of the best runners in the country. “

Burne says she is training hard for the event by doing lots of hills and miles out in West Auckland.

“I work in Hillsborough, Auckland – a suburb that’s aptly named,” she jokes.

She is training around the hilly and challenging Waiatarua course as much as possible. She too is clocking some high mileage (150km plus per week under her coach, Barry Magee.

Burne says she is looking forward to the marathon challenge and taking on a challenging course.

Her dream in the future is to be able to go onto the Olympic Games in the marathon distance in the future.

She has completed three years to date of racing the half-marathon distance.

Join Olivia and many others! Enter the Rotorua Marathon event too – there’s a distance for everyone. CLICK HERE

Blog by Rachel Grunwell: Rotorua Marathon event ambassador, Award-winning writer, ‘Good’ magazine wellness columnist, multi-marathoner, yoga teacher & Polynesian Spa ambassador (co-leading health retreats).


See other inspiring stories, recipes and go in the draw for health-inspired giveaways by following Rachel via InspiredHealthNZ’s Facebook and Instagram

This blog was kindly sponsored by the peeps behind the Rotorua Marathon event #sponsoredcontent

Polynesian Spa announces homegrown ambassador

polynesian spa

Pictured: Rachel Grunwell at Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa

ROTORUA, Thursday 25th January 2018:  Health and wellness expert Rachel Grunwell, who grew up in Rotorua, has been announced as the new brand ambassador for New Zealand’s leading hot spring and luxury spa experience, Polynesian Spa.

A mother of three, Rachel is a yoga and meditation teacher, wellness magazine columnist, keynote speaker, healthy recipe creator and runs the Inspired Health website and social media channels with a combined fan base of around 20,000 Kiwis.

Polynesian Spa chief executive Gert Taljaard says they selected Rachel to be their ambassador because of her influential health and wellbeing background, but also because Rotorua is very close to her heart. She was born and raised in Rotorua and even once worked with the complex as a massage therapist. 

“It’s great to have an ambassador who has had a lifetime relationship with Polynesian Spa having spent her childhood years growing up enjoying our pools and her early career working as part of our team.  Having authentic ambassadors on board is very important to us” says Taljaard.

As brand ambassador, Rachel will be inspiring people to lead a naturally healthier lifestyle by integrating the benefits of mineral bathing, spa treatments and mindful moments into their wellness regime.

“I’m excited to be part of the Polynesian Spa family. I can’t wait to share real-life and science-backed wellness wisdom to help people to be healthier and happier. I’m looking forward to being back in Rotorua more regularly and it’s great to be collaborating in an industry which I am passionate about” says Grunwell.

Ironically one of the two exclusive alkaline and acidic springs that feeds into the 28 pools that Polynesian Spa boasts onsite is named the Rachel Spring and the new ambassador has been excited to rediscover the history of the therapeutic and rejuvenating waters.

“What makes Polynesian Spa so unique is the access it has to these two wonderful springs. The alkaline spas from the Rachel Spring are hot and relaxing and leave your skin with a silky feeling while the Priest Spring relieves and rejuvenates tired muscles, aches and pains. It is very uplifting for the soul,” says Rachel.

Rachel’s first job is to assist with developing a wider range of healthier choices for the new 88Ra Café menu and will host the highly successful Mindful Moments Retreats during the year.

Mindful Moments Retreats will be held on the following dates:

Saturday 9th June – Sunday 10th June

Saturday 11th August – Sunday 12th August

Saturday 10th November –  Sunday 11th November


To find out all the details check out the Polynesian Spa website. Click HERE

Rachel Grunwell is a wellness magazine writer, yoga teacher, health blogger, healthy recipe creator for Good magazine and an ambassador for the Achilles charity which helps Kiwis with all kinds of disabilities to participate in events.

For wellness inspiration, follow Rachel via Inspired Health’s Facebook & Instagram