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Runner Interview: Helen Dixon (@pixietrails)

Runner Interview: Helen Dixon – Co-Founder of Trail & Kale

  • Location: San Francisco, California

Running Matterhorn Ultraks
Running Matterhorn Ultraks with the Matterhorn view in the distance

When and why did you start running?

I started running in 2012. I was in my late 20s and hadn’t done any significant exercise since school, where the farthest I had run was 800m around a track. I was looking for a low-cost way to lose weight and get fit which was versatile enough to fit around working hours and travel commitments, and running ticked all the boxes. These days, while keeping fit is still a reason to run, it is not the only reason – it has become much more of a passion and part of my lifestyle than just something that I do for health and appearance benefits.

Describe your ideal race or adventure challenge

A trail run event somewhere mountainous and remote, with smooth, ‘buff’ trails and awe-inspiring views, in a moderate climate – not freezing cold, but not baking hot either. It would have to have a good challenge element – a fair amount of climbing and some altitude thrown in for good measure, and the views are important as a distraction, given I’ll be moving pretty slowly, particularly when puffing uphill in thin air! There are a few events I have my eye on which tick these boxes – including Everest Trail Race in Nepal, which is definitely on my wish-list as a place to visit and run in.

Runner Interview: Helen Dixon (@pixietrails) 1 - Trail and Kale | Trail Running & Adventure
Running on some local trails

Tell us about your favourite trail

This is a tricky one! An awesome trail is the route I ran for the Matterhorn Ultraks 32k, around the Swiss Alps in August 2016. There are stunning views everywhere you look, and it’s all very runnable, except where it’s too steep to run. However, I can’t step out my front door to run there often, so a more local regular favourite is a hilly bridleway near home. We call it ‘Stoney Lane’ and its a 1.5km long, c.100m climb – enough to get a good workout on if you run some repeats up and down it, or build it into a larger loop, plus you are rewarded with great views from the top of the surrounding Somerset countryside.

My first big trail race, and also first marathon (well, 48k) was Transgrancanaria Marathon, which starts in the centre of the island of Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, and makes its way south along mountain trails to finish at the coast.

What has been your biggest running / adventure challenge to date?

My first big trail race, and also first marathon (well, 48k) was Transgrancanaria Marathon, which starts in the centre of the island of Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, and makes its way south along mountain trails to finish at the coast. At the time, I hadn’t run further than 26k, and that had been tough, so to finish this race, which is very steep and technical in parts, was a huge achievement. What I learned most from that experience was how powerful the mind is: if you can tap into that inner strength then it can enable you to achieve things you may have previously not thought possible.

Helen Dixon
Hiking in the U.K.

Tell us about your greatest running fail, we’ve all had – or will have – them at some point!

I love testing myself on Chamonix’s vertical kilometre route, which climbs 1000m in around 3.5km of distance, under a cable-car from the town centre. However last September I attempted it in the middle of a baking hot day, having not eaten a substantial breakfast. The result was that I made it about 1/3 of the way up, but by then the combination of the still air, heat and lack of appropriate nutrition led to me feeling increasingly faint. I could have struggled up further, but may not have made it to the top, plus, seeing as it starts getting very steep (with ladders to climb later on), this would not have been a good place to pass out! I took the sensible option and went back down, opting for the cable-car ride to the top instead.

What advice would you give to a new trail runner?

Don’t stress about time or pace, and focus on the moment and enjoying yourself! In particular, don’t worry if it feels better to hike, rather than run, up steeper hills – you get more time to admire the views, plus it can be more efficient than trying to run, and helps conserve energy for easier sections later on.

Schwartzsee climb during Matterhorn Ultraks
Schwartzsee climb during Matterhorn Ultraks. Raining heavily and getting a bit cold near the top

What is your favourite bit of running kit, and why?

Even though it’s coming up to winter, I love running in shorts, rather than leggings, if I can get away with it, and I’m a big fan of running shorts with ‘pants’ built into them, so you don’t wear any underwear with them. This helps reduce chafing! My favourite shorts are currently Lululemon’s Run Swiftly shorts, which I have in black and a jazzier multi-coloured version.

Don’t stress about time or pace, focus on the moment and enjoying yourself!

What challenges / races / adventures are you planning for the coming year?

In 2016 I learned a great deal about the benefits of strength training and gym/core work for runners – both in terms of injury prevention and helping to make you an all-round stronger runner. So in the first part of 2017 I intend to mix up my training time with a greater proportion of strength and cross-training, and a bit of speed work (interval training) before taking on some new challenging races. Currently in the diary we have Endurancelife’s Coastal Trail Series Pembrokeshire Ultra in April, and the Cortina Trail in June, which, at c.48k and 2600m of climbing/descent, is the little sister race of the Lavaredo Ultra, held in the Dolomites mountain range in Italy – so both very different and exciting in different ways. In addition to these, we’ll look at other races being held over the summer and autumn and see what else piques our interest!

Whats your favourite running/adventure book, and which songs keep you going when things get tough?

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll is a book that I learned a lot from both about training myself to run long distances and thinking about how I fuel my body (Rich Roll is a plant based ultra-endurance athlete).

For songs, anything by Overwerk gives me a boost! 🙂

Finally, what do you get up to when you’re not running or adventuring?

I live with my husband and our two siamese cats in Somerset, near Bath. As far as work goes, I am an accountant and Director at accounting firm Grant Thornton, where I specialise in advising medium-sized businesses and their owners on transactions, such as raising funds and buying or selling businesses. Every day is different and I enjoy the excitement and challenge of helping clients achieve their goals, which is quite different to the excitement and challenge of running around a mountain while covered in mud and gobbling dried apricots and bananas!

Thanks Helen, happy trails!

Social media links:

Mentioned in this Interview and recommended by Trail & Kale:

Finding Ultra – Rich Roll

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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