Marathon runner; leader in sustainable living

Meg and John Christie are almost fully self sufficient by growing close to 100 different types of fruit and vegetables.
Meg and John Christie are almost fully self sufficient by growing close to 100 different types of fruit and vegetables. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Meg Christie’s job is to help people get more active. The former marathon runner has cycled and ran in several countries and now lives an almost fully self-sufficient life in Beckenham with her husband John.

What is holding people in Christchurch back from cycling and walking more?
A cyclist getting hit and killed is often front page news. So that puts up a flag that it’s a dangerous thing to do. Unfortunately, we have so many road deaths in cars, but they don’t get the front page. The perception is that it’s dangerous. In reality, it’s not.
You can’t change people’s perception; it’s very hard to persuade them. A group called FrocksOnBikes gets people out riding and realising, particularly in a group, that you are more visible and people give you more space.
It goes towards the notion of critical mass, the more people there are out cycling, the more there is a flag to drivers that they have to look out for cyclists. Fear is probably the No 1 barrier still.

What is your role as a health promoter at the Canterbury District Health Board?
I have had this role for 10 years and it’s to enable people to take up active transport for getting around, usually the commute to work. That’s because we have to encourage people to have at least 30min a day of exercise. Also promoting this to disadvantaged communities, people not working or people who can’t work. We try to make cycling, walking a bit easier by providing free bike fix-ups or supportive bike purchase projects and safe, social riding groups like Frocks on Bikes. My role is half strategic, half planning, writing submissions, and running projects – hands-on, face-to-face stuff. I come from an occupational therapy and mental health background. I have a heart for people who have experience with mental illness, because I know how horrible it can be for them. In my specific job I’m the only one, I work in a team of 20 health promoters, some working in schools, some in sexual health, nutrition, healthy homes. Whatever we can get funding for . . . like having a dry, warm home and having access to active transport. We are the top of the cliff part of the CDHB.

What are some of the projects you have created?
I set up the ICE Cycles project, which provides free bike fix-up in the inner city east – that was about 10 years ago. About three or four years ago, some pulled away to be able to deliver similar things throughout the city, we call ourselves Pop Up Fix-Up. Buy Cycles is quite a novel approach using supported purchase.
We found nothing on the web of anyone doing anything remotely like it. So we got the feed funding and used that money to buy bikes with people from the mental health services and Corrections to get the right bike for them at the right price. We provide a volunteer mechanic to make sure the bike is in safe working order. You never know what you are going to get when you pick up your bike from Trade Me. So they end up with a good quality bike that is suitable for purpose. They pay it off at such a gentle rate, about $5 a week, so they don’t experience any financial hardship. Ten years ago next month, a small group of women, including myself, started Frocks On Bikes in Christchurch. It’s common knowledge that there are far fewer women cycling than men. There is this perception that you have to be an athlete or have sporty gear in order to ride a bike.
But really, you don’t need to be very fit at all and just have to wear something that will keep you safe and warm. We do a monthly ride. The walking projects sometimes take a backseat.

Tell me about your own physical activity?
I do love physical activity. I have been a runner for about 25 years, but now it’s not so serious. You can’t really maintain that level of input for too long. I was working it out the other day, I have been running for 23 years and done 22 marathons. I haven’t done one for 12 months, I got injured at the start of the year. Running has taken a bit of a back seat, but what I love to do is cycling, mountain biking, cycle touring, going for a road ride with a bunch of friends.

That’s a lot of marathons. Where were they?
I have done a few overseas ones, I did Cork in Ireland, it was very beautiful but quite hilly. I did one in China that was really hilly, the Great Wall Marathon. I won that one and got a lovely trophy. I won Buller a couple of times, they were quite generous, I got some monetary prize and shoes. I did the Mt Cook marathon and won it outright, but there were only about 20 people running it. It was really strange, I don’t know how I won, I wasn’t particularly fit, I think I was lucky there wasn’t many people, it was my slowest one yet.

Do you combine your sport with travel?
In the last 20 years, any trip overseas was always going to involve a cycle tour or running event or both, that was the key reason to go. I really loved Slovenia cycle touring it was so beautiful and easy. The road culture was very polite to cyclists. We didn’t book ahead or anything for accommodation, it was just easy, there was a tourist information office in every little tiny town we had. It was a pretty special place. Biking in the Dolomites (Italy) was very nice too, quite spectacular. We have wonderful mountains, but they happen to have a road up almost every mountain, so you actually get to be on these mountains. Really high, high passes. One time we climbed for 21km, zigzagging up and down. You just feel like you are on the top of the world. That was Stelvio Pass in Italy.

You and your husband have quite a unique garden – tell me about how that came about?
It’s my husband – that’s his fault really. Way before I knew him, he secured a half-acre in Fisher Ave, Beckenham. He wanted a big garden, that was in 1981. He kept his half-acre, even when all his neighbours sub-divided, but we’re the last one on the street. When he and I got together, we bowled his old drafty house and built one that was better for my two young kids. We kept the big garden, there’s a lovely orchard at the back, we have chooks running free. We used to have beehives, but there were too many diseases, it just got too arduous. We are now growing sugar beet instead, which is an alternative sugar source. If I was to tally up how many different types of vegetables we grow, I think it would be about 40 and about 50 fruits and berry trees.

So are you living fully self-sufficient off your own land?
No, we buy dairy, but I am trying to cut down my dairy. We don’t grow wheat and yogurt, ice cream, butter, milk and cheese. We are vegetarians this time of year; the eggs aren’t coming on stream at all. We have seven chooks at the moment and no eggs for the past three months. There’s also tofu and tempeh and that type of thing. We grow a lot of our own dried beans, we don’t shop for a lot, and I make my own bread, so I go through a heap of flour, yeast and seeds. We are as organic as we can be.

Do you have a big family?
I have two daughters, one’s a traveller who doesn’t want to put her roots down. She’s just come back from a four-year OE. My other daughter is a bit more of a homebody in that she has a stable boyfriend, has a house and is settled. Weirdly enough, though, she’s in Japan at the moment on holiday. They are quite different girls, but they really get active transport thing. My husband John is a scientist; he’s a physicist and does a lot of work in electronic and agriculture space. His last big project was making a phantom sheep, an artificial sheep, in order to test the layer of fat so we would know when it is the right time to slaughter. It’s a dodgy job to give a vegetarian. He’s my soul mate and I’m lucky to have him.