Q: First of all congratulations on your third UROY in four years– how does 2014 compare to 2011 and 2012?
Winning UROY in 2014 is different because I have raced and won less ultras than I did in 2012 and I know that there are many other women out there who have also had great results so it was not something that I assumed I would win– the competition was strong! It is also very gratifying after having not raced much in 2013 to have really put together a solid year in 2014 and for this to be noted by my peers.
Q: Injuries sidelined you for much of 2013–how did you deal with that?
It was definitely frustrating and disappointing but I accepted that my injury was just a temporary blip and that I would be back, it might just take longer than I wanted. So I tried to be patient and surrounded myself with good friends and experts who would guide me through a sensible recovery. I also set reasonable target races to come back to, ones that were many months away so I would not put additional pressure on myself to recover quickly.
Q: Looking back on the year, what was your most memorable moment?
Hands down– winning Comrades. When I was injured in 2013 I said the one race I wanted to run in 2014 above all others was Comrades. At the start line in 2014 I still was not 100% confident that I would back up my solid 2nd place from 2012. The race itself was actually very tough but I am very proud that I just kept on moving forward, even if at times it meant I took walk breaks when I knew I should be running. I was resolute to get to that finish line and then seized the chance to push hard to the finish when I unexpectedly took the lead with just 3k to go. As for actual enjoyment, IAU World 100k was far more enjoyable as I just ran steady and had no real mental or physical lows during the whole race.
Q: What single thing did you do differently in 2014 that was key to your UROY performance?
In 2014 I chose my races more selectively than in 2012 and thus raced less. I also targeted road ultras at the start and end of the year but broke up the year with a summer on the trails. Mixing up the year in this way is great, both mentally and physically
Q: What is your key to success at 100km?
I run my own race and I’m prepared to not lead from the start if other women are running faster than me. I have the confidence that I can close hard so I run the first half of the race and then only start thinking about really racing after the half way mark. I also run this way in training which physically prepares me to do the same on race day. I am also able to keep mentally focused in the latter stages of a race and I think that keeps me running hard as I am consciously ensuring I increase my pace rather than subconsciously backing off.
Q: How has your fame and notoriety changed the sport for you?
I am very appreciative that I am known in some circles in ultrarunning but keep it in perspective that it is still quite a niche sport. That said, I am aware that when I go to races that a good portion of fellow competitors will know who I am and so I need to represent the sport, and my sponsors, well in how I conduct myself. Being known in the ultra world through my results has changed the sport for me by allowing me opportunities to be a voice for the sport through my writing and interviews, and I enjoy this aspect of trying to help the sport grow and grow in the right direction by voicing my opinions, but only if they are well thought out and considered.
Q: What encourages and excites you about the future of the sport?
At the heart of it the ‘good people’ are still in our sport and this is encouraging to see. We still have the volunteers who put love into our races and are only out there for the best of reasons with no ulterior motives. We still have the RDs who are ultra runners themselves and so know what racers need and want, and often eat into their budgets in order to provide this. This is central to our sport’s appeal and so it is great to see this still exist at 99% of races. That said, I am excited to see more companies offering more funds to support races and thus allow RDs to put in more resources for runners, and hopefully make a living out of the work that they do. It also excites me to see new races popping up all the time, yes – I love the classics but as more people want to participate in our sport we need new races also to fill the demand.
Q: You are a sponsored runner and you have won prize money– what is your view on the increasing role of these sorts of factors in ultrarunning?
Sponsorship and prize money are in my opinion a good thing as they will only increase the level of competition and thus respectability of our sport. Yes, we need to be careful that the sport does not become too commercialized but I think that we are a long ways away from that yet. Sponsorship and prize money allows athletes to dedicate more time to their training and thus raises the level of professionalism in our sport which could in turn lead to increased exposure in main stream media and thus increased participation. There is of course always a little caution to be taken when more money becomes involved and that is where we need to ensure that good people who respect the ethics of our sport remain the ones guiding and leading it. For example, if sponsors provide more financial support to athletes then they could start dictating which races they run, and this might not be a positive. Or, if prize money is provided by private companies then that company could start dictating the way a race is conducted. Good RDs with a true understanding of our sport need to remain in control. I don’t think that these are real issues for now, but possible things to be mindful of in the future.
Q: If you could change one thing about ultrarunning what would it be?
The reality right now is that in races with big prize money/prestige we need to have doping control. Comrades and IAU World 100k already have doping control and although I am not saying that I believe that there are many cheats in our sport, there certainly are some out there and it’s sad to know that. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could exist in a dream world with no fear of possible cheating/doping out there?
Q: Having accomplished so much already – what is in the future for you and ultrarunning? What’s left for you to achieve?
Plenty! One of the things that I love about our sport is that the goals are never ending. I would love to try win Comrades again, I would like to try run a faster 100k time and set the British record (currently 7:27) and there are still many more races that I would like to compete at for the first time.
Q: As course record holder at Western States– your fans are curious about when you will be toeing the line at another 100 mile race?
Possibly in 2015 but I am not 100% decided yet. I won’t race Western States in 2015 (I don’t have a qualifier and want to focus on Comrades in start of the year anyway) but I do very much hope to run Western States again one year.
Q: What other ultrarunner do you admire most?
There are so many it is very hard to say just one. Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball and Kami Semick were the ladies I read about in magazines when I was new to the sport 10 years ago. I respected them then and respect them even more now, as they are still involved in the sport for their true passion for it and to encourage other women into the sport.
Q: Recently you have started coaching other runners– can you tell us a little about your approach to that?
I really love coaching others through Sharman Ultra. We have a philosophy of very individualized training, as no one plan will suit everyone. Before I start creating a training plan with a new client I go over not only their running history and their upcoming goals but we also discuss their overall lifestyle and the impact this can have on their ability to train, as well as what they want out of the training. I only set a few weeks of a training plan at a time as then discuss and monitor how things are going with the client to ensure that the next few weeks of the training plan is a logical progression depending on how the previous few weeks have gone. This ensures that the training plan works for the client as we constantly adjust and tweak it. My ideal client? Anyone who is targeting an ultra, be they a first timer or an experienced athlete who wants to improve, so long as they are enthusiastic I enjoy coaching clients of all speeds.
Q: What will you be doing to celebrate your third UROY?
Probably something really wild, like going for a run! I’m pretty boring really and took some downtime in December to rest the legs and enjoy some wine and Christmas food, but once I’m back in training mode my social life is very tame. I guess I should at least go for a post-run coffee with my running buddies who supported me through 2014 and without whom I wouldn’t have received the award.
Q: What’s your favorite snack food?
Can chocolate be classed as a snack food?! I definitely have a slightly sweet tooth and enjoy chocolate or treats from the bakery as a reward for a long run.
Q: What’s your favorite vacation?
Most of my vacations are combined with racing and visiting family. With my parents, sister, brother in law and niece living in the UK I always try to spend a few days with them if I can when I am en route to a long haul destination such as South Africa for Comrades. In 2011 my parents came to Comrades with me and we went out to South Africa about a week before the race and went on safari which was a magical experience. I definitely enjoy visiting destinations with a chance to see the outdoors, more than I enjoy visiting cities. In 2005 I went trekking in Nepal and that is one country that I would love to get back to.