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Interview with Ultra Runner Kelly Wolf: Every race is an opportunity to learn.

Interview with Kelly Wolf

Kelly Wolf: Telluride, Colorado, USA

Firstly, big congratulations in winning the Lavaredo Ultra Trail!

Thank you so much!

You’ve had a fantastic start to 2018 including the Lavaredo win, winning the Tarawera Ultramarathon and third at Transvulcania! How’s the rest of your year looking – do you have more races planned?

It was impossible for me to make any plans beyond Lavaredo because I had tunnel vision- I wanted that race to be my only focus. Now having accomplished that, I am really excited to race a competitive shorter distance, the OCC 50K (of the UTMB events) in late August and prior to that I will run the 6 Day 120 Mile TransRockies with friend and UA teammate Sarah Cotton.

Late September I will go out to South Africa and race the Karkloof 50 Mile! I will surely do one more race to cap off the year in the late fall, but which race that will be is TBD.

If you could choose to race either the Lavaredo or Transvulcania again, which race would you choose and why?

Well I really, really want to do them both again so that is hard, however choosing one I would pick Transvulcania because I feel I have unfinished business there. I was really unhappy with my slow start. I had some super stiff legs that took about 3 hours (at least) to shake and to begin feeling better, like I had my normal running legs underneath me. I feel I lost a good chunk of time in the first half of the race, so I know I can have a much better performance there.

kelly wolf interview - trail and kale
Photo Credit: SkyRunning Transvulcania 75K

Lavaredo in the Dolomites of Northern Italy was a spectacular place and upon reflection I know I can improve my performance there as well. That race really came together for me though and everything went 90% right! I’ve got to be happy with that. So I am satisfied, yet I have daydreamed about going back to the beautiful, unique Dolomites ever since I left!

RELATED: Running in the Heart of the Alps: Italy’s Aosta Valley

What running experience have you learned the most from, and why?

Every race is an opportunity to learn. Sometimes the lessons you learn though are bigger than others! I really make a point to consciously reflect on my race experiences, realize what went wrong or what I could have done better, and make sure I apply those lessons in the future. Things may go wrong but at least I strive to not make the same mistakes twice.

A big lesson I have learned from multiple races now is to not give up on yourself or count yourself out. Ultras are long, therefore there is a lot of time for things to happen such as recovering from a rough patch. “You are never as bad as you think you are”, Coach Koop often tells me in regards to these low moments. In a race you don’t often know what’s happening ahead of you, which could be anything! So even if you’re feeling disappointed and out of the race competitively, simply sticking with it can lead to opportunities for upward momentum and success!

A big lesson I have learned from multiple races now is to not give up on yourself or count yourself out…

Which race was the most enjoyable or is the one that you remember the most?

The Tarawera 100K was a truly memorable experience. The course was one of my favorites I have ever done EXCEPT for the middle 20-30 miles of nightmarish mud. A summer cyclone had come in the day before and muddied up the trails like crazy, making for a slippery and wet day. Once I embraced the conditions though I really had fun out there, reminding me of being a kid splashing through mud puddles and getting totally dirty. A lot of the course was a 13th c. Maori trail cut through the dense and ultra green New Zealand bush, kind of like a tunnel. I imagine the taller guys had to watch their heads.

I burst into tears at the line upon finishing first female with a flood of emotions- proud of myself for staying tough, fulfilled about the training I put in during the snowy winter months, ecstatic to be finished, and releasing emotions of the trying conditions of the day. I was greeted by a native Maori tribe’s dance and chant at the finish. Despite the tears and the mud, it was so special.

kelly wolf interview - trail and kale
Photo Credit: Mike Thurk, Telluride CO

What’s it like living in Telluride, Colorado? Why did you choose to move there?

I moved up to the San Juan Mountains a week after graduating from Arizona State University. I originally moved to Silverton, having just dove into the sport my senior year of college. I saw pictures of the Hardrock course and I thought, “That’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen! I want to live there”. I was curious about the experience of living in a tiny mountain town at such high elevation so I moved there for the summer literally to just RUN the mountains.

I fell in love with the area and moved over to Telluride, a semi-bigger small town where I coach gymnastics and run from my doorstep every day. I love living in Telluride for the mountain access and the community.

What’s your favourite local trail and why?

Part of why I love where I live is because there is endless terrain to explore and always another mountain to get up and check out. My favorite local trail though would have to be the Wasatch trail out of Telluride. It is a section on the Hardrock course, ether coming in or out of Telluride depending on the race direction. It is a grind at first as you get up high to the alpine tundra in just 4 or 5 miles but the best stashes of wildflower meadows are up there! It is gorgeous. You can make big loop connecting Bridal Veil Basin and back into town, make 15 miles total.

How do you train in winter there? Do you ski or do skimo to train?

I have been in Telluride for 2 winters now and previously I am from Phoenix, Arizona so all things winter is still new to me! The first winter I did a lot of snowboarding and would try to get in as many hike-to laps as possible during the day.

Also I would start the day by “running” up a groomer wearing running shoes and snow spikes with my snowboard and boots on my back. This past year we had a pretty dry winter and I wanted to really keep training through with big races early on in my calendar. So I ran a lot of dirt roads just outside of town at slightly lower elevation and went down to run in Arizona often. This year though I want to really embrace the snow and snow sports by getting a split board and maybe a skimo setup.

kelly wolf interview - trail and kale
Photo Credit: Kelly Wolf, Columbine Lake, Telluride CO

What is your approach to training? Do you prefer to focus on ascent and decent, or distance?

My training is based on hours over distance and how much ascent I aim for is largely dictated by the race for which I am training. For example, Tarawera 100K I knew would be fast and runnable (10,000ft of ascent) so I focused on faster running. Meanwhile, training for Lavaredo 120K (20,000ft of ascent) I basically tried to get as much vert as possible during the week. I include interval training 2-3 times a week, either hill repeats or flatter and faster, depending.

Finally, I go by time over miles in training because living at 8750ft and running UP from there, miles always take longer and can vary greatly over the terrain. Therefore, running based off time I can be more consistent with my training.

We read that you were a climber before taking up trail running a couple of years ago. Does your climbing experience help with trail running in any way? Do you still climb?

I call upon my climbing experience during the scrambly sections of sky running events. Because that is in my background, I truly love the Sky Running style races. I enjoy getting to use my whole body to move across terrain. I still climb here and there. Long, technical, vertical sport climbing is my favorite as well as crack climbing!

kelly wolf interview - trail and kale
Photo Credit: Mike Thurk, Telluride CO, Ingram Falls

What’s your favourite bit of running kit, and wny?

I used to hate carrying things on runs being an ultra minimalist, for example, stuffing a water bottle in my shorts and bringing a shirt wrapped around my wrist. Now that I have found packs that I love, Ultimate Direction Sig Series 4.0 hydration vests, I don’t mind it at all and I am much better prepared for my runs! During summer mountain-running training, I carry poles and often my GoPro. My favorite running bra is the Under Armour Crossback Clutch because it has a pocket in the front for a phone, key, and/or gel, so convenient.

RELATED: 5 Best Trail Running Poles in 2019 (So Far): For Ultrarunning & Hiking too!

What types of foods do you eat to fuel long races and training runs?

Spring Energy gels are my favorite endurance nutrition products because they are made from all natural, real ingredients such as basmati rice, banana, fruit, honey or maple syrup, and nuts and include things like beet powder and green coffee bean extract for added punch.

I have never had any stomach issues or nausea while using them on any of my runs or races, having tested them up to 14.5 hours. (Use discount code KellyW at to give them a try!) In addition to Spring I fuel up with dried fruit, oatmeal or homemade granola for the long efforts.

kelly wolf interview - trail and kale
Kelly on La Palma Island, ready for Transvulcania 75K

RELATED: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 Women’s Race Vest Review

How about recovery – what’s your go-to recovery meal?

I always crave a big smoothie bowl, loaded with toppings after my run. It is a daily routine. A smoothie is great because it’s refreshing and hydrating, easily digestible, and an excellent way to flood your body with the nutrients of fresh fruits and vegetables plus super-power additions like ginger, spirulina, and turmeric for optimal recovery. Then I top the bowl with homemade granola, hemp seeds, or homemade chia seed pudding. So delicious and your body is ultra-happy!

What projects / challenges / races do you have your eye on for next year’s running season?

Between CCC 100K, Tarawera 100K, and Lavaredo 120K I now have enough points for UTMB 170K so that’s definitely on the radar for 2019. I would love to go back to Transvulcania and I am keen on experiencing Zegama. I would love to do some travelling in South America next year so racing some things down there seems like a proper means to do it!

Tell us something not many people may know about you 🙂

My secret favorite hobby (after trail running of course) is surfing! I dream about moving to the tropics for surf, warm weather, and the amazing fruit one day!

Finally, what do you get up to when not running?

When not running I coach gymnastics, do my strength and stability work, foam roll, cook veggies for dinner and bake a lot of banana bread! There are always community events, shows, or vegan potlucks in Telluride so I do a lot of hanging out as well!

Social media links:

Thank you!

Thank you, Kelly, for taking the time to answer our questions. We have really enjoyed following your story so far, especially as you continue to build upon past successes. You’re a real inspiration, Happy Trails! 🙂

If you enjoyed this Interview with Kelly Wolf, why not read these related articles

As the founder of Trail & Kale, and seasoned marathoner & ultrarunner, Alastair loves bringing our readers independent running shoe reviews and gear insights to help you run your best. Learn more about Trail & Kale here.


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