What Makes Norah Newcombe Pieterse Tick

In ‘What Makes You Tick’ I get the chance to pick the brains of some inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by sharing ideas we can continue to progress, push our limits, and inspire each other.

Norah Newcombe Pieterse- a native of Ballina, Co. Mayo- is a decorated, high level distance runner. The representative of Mayo Athletic Club boasts some impressive PB’s, including:

3K: 9:56, 10K: 36:06, half marathon: 1:18.11 and marathon 2:48.35. 

Norah recently returned to Ireland with her husband Elmer, after living and working in Seoul, South Korea. She lives a life very much dedicated to her passion; when she is not working in ‘The Gym’ in Ballina, she is training hard for competition- out on the tarmac, or in the gym. 

She was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions, and share her thoughts. 

Let’s get straight into it!

Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?

I think in recent years I have become more of an introvert. Living away from home has made me more at ease with my own company. I also think the long distance runner has to be more introverted than most. I don’t mind taking off for a long run lasting up to two hours or more on my own. All my training is done alone, and I don’t seem to mind that.

What is your passion?

My passion is running, training and competing. I am passionate about sports in general. I love watching people succeed in sports and seeing the knock on effect it has.

What are you driven by?

I am driven by competition, by setting PB’s, and seeing results. I’m a very competitive person; I would like to think I don’t see obstacles in front of me- rather challenges- and that drives me on.

I actually think I’m driven a lot by failure.

I’m also driven by other people’s success; if I see someone achieve something great, I feel there’s no reason I can’t do the same, or at least try.

How do you measure success?

Everyone measures success in different ways, it’s a personal thing. For me it’s about setting realistic but very challenging goals, and aiming to achieve them.

Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?

Obviously my parents influenced me hugely, but outside of my family, it has to be Sonia O’ Sullivan- who was and still is my hero. I can remember growing up in Ireland and following Sonia on the TV. To this day, I would argue that Sonia is the greatest Irish athlete of all time.

Norah and Sonia

What’s the best book you’ve read, and why?

Sonia O’ Sullivan’s biography, see above.

Describe your typical morning routine.

It’s very simple. It starts with a bowl of porridge with blueberries, and obviously a run comes after that, or before!  That sets me up for the day.

When I don’t train in the morning, I find that I don’t have the same drive throughout the day.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

If I’m not racing, I love to start Sunday with a run/ training session and relax for the rest of the day. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so I love to enjoy Sunday morning breakfast without rushing! I love a good championship Sunday too, watching my beloved Mayo in action.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Tea and scones.

What are your hobbies/interests?

Obviously running is number 1, but if I’m not running I love working out in the gym. I also love watching GAA, I am a big follower of Mayo GAA.

I am happiest when…..

I am in good shape. I hate the feeling of not being able to exercise, or being injured. The ability to just get out in the elements keeps me sane!

Norah in action

What is your approach to your daily life?

I am a big believer in planning for the day ahead, with work, food and training.

What is your approach to training?

Over the years, I have learned the importance of having both a positive approach, and a good planning system in training. With training sessions, you have to take it serious, almost like it’s a race day. Prepare and plan well for it; you can’t just rock up and expect to wing it.

What was the most significant learning experience you can recall having?

Undoubtedly the decade I spent travelling and living abroad. It opened my eyes in so many ways, and made me appreciate the simple things in life, things we take for granted on a daily basis.

What is the most rewarding aspect of competitive distance running?

I think the fact that it’s an individual sport; when it all goes well you can be proud of yourself at what you’ve achieved- obviously with great help from your coaches and family- but ultimately you toed the line. And if or when it goes horribly wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself. You learn from the mistakes and move on. It’s great, and it’s also rewarding to be able to compare your times at different distances.

What advice would you give to young athletes, who may have aspirations to compete at a high level?

If I could go back to a younger Norah, I would say train harder and apply yourself more; don’t be in a hurry to grow up.

I started in my athletics club when I was 10 years old. I loved the training, and the social aspect, but I wasn’t exactly what you would describe as successful. I think I presumed the girls in the bigger clubs like Dublin and Cork were more talented than I was, and that was it. In reality, they were actually training harder. I realize that now.

Above all, believe in yourself!

How big or small your club is has no bearing on things, it boils down to hard work and how much you want to achieve something! Once you surround yourself with the right people, anything is possible. You just have to look at athletes like Rob Heffernan; a completely home grown athlete- an unbelievably hard worker- and he’s the best in the world.

What are your goals for the year ahead?

My next big race will be the national half marathon championships in August, and my big goal will be another marathon. I’m hoping for a quicker marathon time!