What prompted you to become an endurance runner?
Things probably all started for me with my first visit to the mountains as a young child of six years old – the beginning of a long love affair with the mountains. But running ultra distances happened more by chance than by design! It’s hard now to remember a time when I wasn’t running. I always ran – but it was only ever something I did for myself. In 2005 I entered my first ultra race and found it felt natural to me to run the long distances. I think the ‘endurance’ was always in me, I just didn’t realise it could have an expression through competitive running. For me the lesson was that sometimes opportunities arise – we don’t always know what they might lead to, but if we have the courage to take them, a new world might open up.
Why has it become a passion?
If the truth of our running is that in our moving we find ourselves, then running is the gift that allows us to know ourselves deeper. I love the mountains, I love to run, and I love to make a mountain journey. Endurance running can give the opportunity to try to push my limits (mentally and physically), to learn more about myself, to feel rawness and vulnerability and yet feel strength in body, mind and spirit.
What do you think about when you are running for so many hours?
Sometimes I am focused directly on the task in hand – keeping warm, eating enough, drinking enough; sometimes I think about everything that is going on in my life and the lives of those around me; sometimes I make plans; and sometimes I think about nothing very much at all – the running just becoming a moving meditation, a being there in the moment.
Which was your hardest race and why?
I’m not sure that I can single out any particular race, each race has its own unique challenge, be it 100 miles in the mountains or 10 km on the road. For me, the special thing is to have found the world of endurance sport, and to have this opportunity to explore my limits. It is not only about the victory or the competition. In the end it isn’t just about the race. For me the motivation is very much within myself – to try to do the best I can in each moment. It is about the journey – physical, mental and spiritual – the preparation – the in between – the looking for the ‘edge’.
What has been your greatest success to date?
Learning how to share my love of running with others.
Why did you choose Southampton for your PhD?
I wanted to do a PhD in polar oceanography – and there was an opportunity to work with Sheldon Bacon using a dataset collected by RRS James Clark Ross – the British Antarctic Survey ship that I had already worked aboard. It felt like the right chance!
How did your time at Southampton help you pursue your running and/or your career in polar oceanography?
Studying for and achieving my PhD put me in the position to be able to apply for a job at the British Antarctic Survey as a physical oceanographer. Throughout my time in Southampton I was running, every day, but only really for myself – it hadn’t crossed my mind to join a club or to race. Running was just my way to be outside, and antidote to the studying. It wasn’t until the last six months of my time in Southampton that I entered my first ultra race (simply because I was going to visit friends who were racing it) and things snowballed from there.
Are you still managing to combine your running with your work?
I no longer work in research as a polar oceanographer, but as a freelance writer I do still use my experience and knowledge through some science writing assignments. I have also just written a book, Runner: A short story about a Long Run (Autumn Press), based on my endurance running experiences.
What are you still hoping to achieve?
I am just starting to run again after a six-month break to try to stop a cycle of injuries, so for the moment I am hoping just to be able to enjoy running every day again! For sure there are also races that I still hope to run, but my focus will now probably lean more towards endurance challenges in the high mountains. It is also now time for me to share my experiences and love of running with others – the book is part of this, as is the race that I am setting up in the Alps, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, and encouraging young girls in Nepal to run.