This one’s for Morgan

Ross Steele is running his 99th marathon on Saturday. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

He could have worn his hot pink skirt. Or his orange kilt. It was a toss-up.

But Tauranga man Ross Steele opted for his orange tutu – apparently quite a cheeky little number.

“Because orange is my favourite colour. And for a bit of fun,” says the runner who's clocked up 98 marathons in a 25-year career. “And too many people go through life with neither fun nor colour.”

Ross will be wearing the orange tutu when he lines up for the 42.195km of the Kirikiriroa Marathon in Hamilton tomorrow, March 18. And the impish runner's put the challenge out to all his mates coming to the event.

“Tutu compulsory and a splash of orange.” In other words wear your tutu too.

Ninety-eight marathons, including one on each of the seven continents. The word ‘seven' is etched into his calf as a reminder, as if he needs reminding.

And the 98 includes 23 laps of Lake Rotorua. “Well used to trekking round there.” What about those hills at the top of the lake? “Flat slopes, not hills, flat slopes.” He will put a positive spin on anything.

Like the marathon itself. “It's all about attitude. If you think you can do it, you will. If you think you can't, you won't.”

The 60-year-old calculates he's run up about 60,000km in his 25-year journey. If he was a car he would be two-thirds of the way round the clock. And journey is a word he uses a lot.

“My journey has been a blast and full of challenges. But it's how you approach those challenges.”

And it's a personal challenge that'll be a driving force for Ross tomorrow. Former marathoner Morgan Thomas, father of Ross' best friend Lee Murray, herself a marathoner, has been fighting a quiet, dignified but losing battle with dementia.

“It has been tough for Morgan and just as tough for his lovely supportive family,” says Ross.

So Ross will be running for Morgan. And for Alzheimers Tauranga.

“I've been watching the deterioration of a dear man. It's been quite a wake-up call for me.”

The Hamilton marathon was to be Ross's 100th but he was confronted with his own challenge – albeit miniscule and insignificant by comparison.

“Moderate arthritis in the left hip.” This means his efforts will be reduced to a walk unfortunately.

And he's quick to point out it's not the running. Dad had five hip ops. “My brother two, other brother one.” And the aches and pains are all part of…well, the journey. “I spend a lot of time on physio tables – but it's all about your focus on the end goal.”

A favourite marathon? Without doubt the Antarctica Marathon, February 26, 2007. “A blast – snowed for half to three-quarters of the race – got beaten across the finish-line by two penguins.”

His time was six hours 10 minutes and 57 seconds, reflective of the conditions and the fact he was running in two lots of socks, Icebreaker leggings, three Icebreaker tops, Gorttex jacket, two lots of gloves and a beanie.

That was one for Ross. But tomorrow it'll be one for Morgan Thomas, Lee, the family and the estimated 28,000 New Zealanders living with Alzheimers.

You can help by going to: givealittle.co.nz/cause/ross100

Or you can make a donation to Alzheimers Tauranga/WBOP account number 03-0435-0470677-00 and Ross100.

Marathon 100 will be somewhere local. “Running mates will fly in from round the country.” And there will again be a splash of orange and tutus.

For those even remotely contemplating taking up running and marathons, the master has some sagely advice – four very straightforward words. “Put shoes on, run.”

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