- Vancouver, Canada
When and why did you start running?
I was a late bloomer and only started running in 2012 when I was living in London and enjoying the cities many amazing restaurants and food markets a little too much. I wanted to lose weight so downloaded the Couch to 5k app, signed up for a race for life on Clapham Common & the rest is history!
Describe your ideal race?
My ideal race is running anywhere new, I love traveling & exploring the world – if I can do it using just my own 2 feet, even better! My favourite distance is 50km – any less hurts too much, anything more, hurts too much! I would actually love to run a trail race back home in the UK, I didn’t even know that trail running existed until I moved to Vancouver so it would be fun to experience trail running on UK soil, I’ve heard it’s VERY different 😉
Tell us about your favourite trail race.
My favourite race to date is the Golden Ultra – a 3 day, 85km, stage race set deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountain trench. It is described as ‘3 days of pure mountain bliss’ and I would have to agree! I loved it so much that I am going back again this year. Day 1, or, ‘Blood’, is a vertical km, straight up the ski slopes of the Kicking Horse Resort.
Day 2, ‘Sweat’, is 60km with 2500m of elevation gain, once again, straight up (I see a trend here!) then straight down the mountain, through rolling forest trails and along ridges – the views are next level. My favourite elevation profiles are up, up, up then down, down, down, I like to know exactly where I stand at any point in a race, none of that rolling course nonsense so this route was perfect! Day 3 is called ‘Tears’, and for good reason, as I’ll admit I shed a few! It is ‘only’ 20km but the course perfectly epitomizes ‘that rolling nonsense’ that I mentioned before – not my strongest point, but of course, being located in the forest around Golden, it’s absolutely gorgeous and on fresher legs, you would probably describe the trails as fast and flowy!
[Wow this sounds like an event we would love to run and write about! It sounds like it has everything that we love about mountain running! 🙂 – Alastair]
You used to live in the UK (quite near us actually!), what was it like moving to British Columbia and having all those beautiful mountains on your doorstep to run around all of a sudden?
Life changing, literally.
I knew for a number of years that an opportunity to move to Vancouver was on the cards and it was a goal of mine to do it before I turned 30. It wasn’t the trail running that was the appeal though, it was the skiing! I moved to Vancouver approaching 29 having ran only 1 road ½ marathon at that point, but, within a month of living here I had signed up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon which I completed 4 months later. A year or so after that, in October 2015, a (incredibly strong, fast, race winning) friend (Katie Mills) of mine encouraged me to hit the trails.
I ran my first proper trail run on thanksgiving, up and down Whistler Mountain in the freezing cold & rain wearing road runners, but I was hooked on the views & new challenges it presented (aka getting up the hills without dying!). The next spring I ran my 1st 50km Ultra Marathon just across the border in Washington. Endurance running is a big deal here in Vancouver, 50km just seemed the natural thing to do, the running community here is amazing, supportive and inspiring – you can’t help but get swept up in it.
I used to live for the weekends, working a (to be fair, pretty great) regular 9-5 job and ran around the local parks a few times a week, mainly just to stay fit. Now that I work for myself and have access to such incredible landscapes I prioritize adventure over my career, it sounds cheesy but #yolo is pretty much my life motto right now. Don’t get me wrong, I still have to work and work hard at maintaining a successful design business (I need money to pay for all the trail shoes I get through! ha!) I just might not start my day until lunchtime & then just finish at 8pm instead, sometimes my weekdays are more exciting than my weekends! 😉
That skiing thing I mentioned before? It doesn’t happen too much. However, I am in the mountains all the time, and I realized it is not necessarily the skiing itself that I love, it is just being in the mountains that makes me happy. If a few days pass without some sort of mountain adventure I get a little twitchy. I love England and miss a lot of things about living there (proper pubs! Sunday roast!) but it is also hard to imagine moving home without having mountains right on my doorstep. So, for now at least, this is the perfect place for me.
What has been your biggest running/adventure challenge to date?
Last years Golden Ultra – the thought of running 3 hard races on consecutive days when I had only really started trail running 6 months earlier was pretty scary. When I ran roads, I always chose the flattest route. At Golden, I would be climbing around 4000m across the 3 days, a huge challenge.
Turns out if you really want to do something, train properly and just jump in at the deep end you can do hard things! I finished 6th overall lady at the end of the 3 days (I’m not particularly fast so this came as a surprise!) and as a bonus developed a lifelong love for the trails, experienced so many great adventures along the way (like a float plane drop to the middle of remote mountains!) and best of all, developed a solid friendship group to carry with me to the next adventure.
I downloaded the Couch to 5k app, signed up for a race for life on Clapham Common & the rest is history!
Tell us about your greatest running fail
Oh man, I am not lucky at all when it comes to races. I would say I fail more than I succeed – haha!
I guess the worse one was probably Victoria Marathon, I made it to 38km, lost the ability to walk in a straight line, let alone run, couldn’t remember basic things like the number to unlock my phone, then collapsed with dehydration & crossed the finish line in an ambulance. Needless to say, I gave up racing on the road and started trail running shortly after! ha!
[That sounds like a bit of an ordeal! Glad you made it out and it pointed you towards the trails :)]
What is your approach to training? Do you follow a particular training plan?
I don’t. I have had a coach in the past and have nothing against training plans or coaches, it works for a lot of people, and, if you have an aggressive time goal, I can definitely see the benefit. But for me, after the past few years of ups and downs with my running journey, I realized I didn’t really enjoy chasing fast times and preferred just chasing the next adventure. I train so that I have the ability to go on a spontaneous 30km mountain adventure the next day if my friend asks the night before, I train so that I can enjoy quality time (and keep up with! ha!) the incredible friendship group that I have built up over here.
Although I don’t follow a plan, I do have some sort of routine. Right now, I run on average 5 days a week with distances varying between 12-30km for a total of 50-70km a week, ideally with around 2000m of elevation gain so I like to include a decent amount of climbing in that mileage. If I was training for an ultra that mileage would increase to 80-100km a week. I also love to cross train, I aim for 3 strength training classes a week – TRX, kettle bells & Barre – I find this is the perfect combination to compliment my running. Basically, I really don’t like sitting still 😉
What advice would you give to a new trail runner?
Find a solid group of friends to run with! I am a Trail Ambassador for local running store Vancouver Running Company so help lead bi-weekly runs on the North Shore – these are perfect for Newbies as our job as ambassadors is to run at whatever pace the group requires, I’ll walk if you need me to and I’ll try my hardest to keep up with you if you need me to too ;). I would not do half the things I do without my run crew as well as the large group of strong, inspiring ladies that I am lucky to have as part of my personal crew 😉 This article by fellow local trail runner, Tara Holland, describes them perfectly.
I also always tell people to check out my good friend and sports nutritionist Sarah Cuffs business, blog and website – Eat2Run. Without adequate nutrition you aren’t going to make it through long distances in the mountains. Start fueling early and regularly in long runs. I cannot live without her power cookies as trail fuel and chocolate-cherry-berry recovery smoothie post run (she is an incredible 100 miler ultra-runner, she really knows what she’s talking about!).
Oh! And, walk the uphills! On the North Shore here in Vancouver in particular, some of the trails are brutal. 850m elevation gain across just 2.9km distance is the norm. Only crazy people would attempt to run that!
What is your favourite bit of running kit?
That’s tricky! I was lucky enough to win a Suunto Spartan Ultra in an Instagram photography competition earlier this year and cannot live without it. Its route mapping feature was a game changer, it opened up a whole new network of trails to me that I would have been scared to get lost in before.
Honorable mention to my beloved Nike Wildhorse – I have them in both Goretex & regular versions. They are so comfortable, versatile and the bonus is that they look super pretty too. Who knew that Nike made such great trail runners? Well, you do now!
The running community here is amazing, supportive and inspiring – you can’t help but get swept up in it.
What challenges/races/adventures are you planning for the coming year?
I’m a little different to a lot of other trail runners, I am not necessarily always trying to go further or faster, not right now at least.
Originally my goal this year was to run my first 50 mile race at the Squamish 50, here in BC, just up the road from Vancouver, but I decided fairly early on in the season that this goal wasn’t achievable right now. I was struggling with low energy levels and knew I wouldn’t be able to dedicate the time & training that this type of distance deserved (In fact, I have a whole other blog post dedicated to the reasons why) so I cut my losses early on and dropped down to the way more manageable 23km distance instead.
My biggest challenge this summer, after a lackluster start to the year, was to reignite my passion for running and build my energy levels back up, the passion is now back, and the energy levels are getting there so I feel like I am on my way to achieving that goal.
This year, at the Golden Ultra, I am going to mix things up a little & give the ‘Half pint’ option a try – same great location but half the distance. I think it will be fun to play with something a little shorter & see how well my legs react to speed over stamina for a change.
Locally, I want to complete a few of the epic routes on the North Shore of Vancouver, notably the Howe Sound Crest Trail and Hanes Valley loop. Both are between 25-30km long, summiting mountains with upwards of 1500m elevation gain, difficult, changing terrain and a backdrop of stunning vistas.
What’s your favourite running/adventure book, and which songs keep you going when things get tough?
I am not a big reader (as I mentioned before, I find it hard to sit still!) but I absolutely love Like the Wind Magazine. I am incredibly honoured to be featured in their latest issue, #13, as the illustrator for an article titled ‘LSD’ by Jeff Cann. I am an illustrator & designer by trade, so, needless to say, discovering a magazine that combines my love of running & passion for illustration made me very happy. Also, the fact it is based out of the UK too is awesome.
[How funny! You probably noticed that we (Trail & Kale) wrote an article for Issue #13 too! I took the photos whilst Helen wrote the story of our recent running adventures in the Aosta Valley, Italy]
Finally, what do you get up to in life when you’re not running or adventuring?
Growing my freelance illustration, design & creative business. Being a Pug Mum to my uncharacteristically energetic Pug, Percy. Making my way through too many bars of dark chocolate. Dreaming of the next place I want to travel to (I do not do this enough now that I live in Canada!).
Thank you, Hollie for giving us an insight into your adventurous running life. A lot of what you said sounds familiar to us and how we enjoy running too! We hope the “half-pint” Golden Ultra goes well for you, let us know how the shorter distance multi-stage racing goes for you 🙂