Who James Met: Kristina Schou Madsen

I met Kristina in May 2017, when we recorded this interview. Since then her running has gone from strength to strength with another National title and podiums around the globe. As I write (almost a year later!) Kristina is preparing to break the world record for a trip up and down Kilimanjaro! Kristina also runs a city race series and virtual race series, learn more at Kristina Extreme Running.

Kristina Schou Madsen

NAME: Kristina Schou Madsen – Danish National Trail Running Champion

LOCATION: Cucugnan, France, ahead of the Trail de Cathares mountain race.

BEEN RUNNING FOR: I did my first half marathon in 2008, very unprepared but I’ve been running every since.

HOW DID YOU START: It was actually a bet, a drunken bet! I was at a party and a friend said “Kristina, I bet you can’t do a half marathon…”

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Somewhere between 70 and 90km, I like the long runs, they suit me better.

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: Not sure about having favourites but the 2013 Everest Marathon was epic, that was my first race under extreme conditions. That meant a lot to me and inspired me to do more of this kind

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I’m sponsored by Hoka, Garmin and CEP, and a nutrition company 32GI so I need to be faithful to them all, but my favourite kit is my running shoes. As long as I have those I can run!

DREAM RUN: I would like to do the four Beyond The Ultimate events. I did the Jungle Ultra last year (which she won!), and I have plans for the Desert Ultra. Then there’s only the Ice Ultra in Sweden and the Mountain Ultra which will take me back to the Himalayas.

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: In the desert I am hoping to run with Susie Chan, who is a very nice and interesting person I met on the Jungle Ultra, so I’m looking forward to that. I meet a lot of nice people all the time through these adventures, so the next new friend will do.

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: I’m not setting goals for 5 or 10 years, I think that changes all the time as I change as a human, getting older and more experienced. So instead, I’m figuring out on my way and not looking too far ahead. As long as I always have the next thing in mind I’m happy.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: (laughs) Tits to the valley! (this was our rallying call for the downhill sections of the mountain half marathon that weekend, where Kristina finished 4th despite taking it easy and doing a 2km detour)

 

 

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40 Before 40: #4 Jump between Adam and Eve on Tryfan

One of my 40 before 40 challenges, listed HERE

Adam and Eve, the two iconic stones that make up the true summit of Tryfan in North Wales’ Snowdonia mountain range, have long been a favourite of the more adventurous mountaineer. Legend has it that any hardy hiker brave enough to leap from one to the other receives the freedom of Tryfan. I’m not sure what I’d do with the freedom of Tryfan but I set out to earn it anyway…

The hulking mass of Tryfan and the north ridge.

The walk is a demanding one from the start, with no chance to find your legs before you start climbing straight from the roadside of the A5 at Llyn Ogwen. Initially steep steps worked in to the hillside in tight turns, the climb soon reaches a level traverse of the mountain were decisions need to be made. The prescribed wisdom is to stay as central as possible on the North Ridge and climb, needless to say, I didn’t. I was climbing with Greg who liked the look of the long line of scramblers making there way up a thin crack in the rock face, but the more I watched the more I realised that long legs and rangy arms would serve you well on this section, neither of which I possess! We weren’t alone on the mountain (far from it in fact) and a confident voice proclaimed a less crowded and less demanding route to the left…so I followed him and his two friends. Our journey left continued leftwards, and even though we were gaining height slowly I was conscious of the nagging advice of the masses at the back of my mind. I fooled myself that actually, given the sheer scale of the mountain, even our long diversion was still relatively central all things considered. I was wrong.

We eventually turned up the face of the mountain and started climbing in earnest. There was something resembling a path but it would often peter out to nothingness, only for one of us to find something that looked path-like a few metres away.  We toiled on, gaining height gradually, until reaching a point where it seemed we’d climbed ourselves in to a dead end. A few minutes of clambering around horribly exposed rock outcrops and peering in to long drops all around us and we were starting to think retreat was the only option.

Greg killing time taking selfies at the summit, having gone the right way.

Greg to the rescue! Having followed the masses and stayed central to the North face as suggested he’d reached the summit and sat waiting. Getting bored of that he’d found his way off the back of the mountain and down to where we were waiting, albeit the other side of a very thin gap between rocks with an overhang and 1,000 foot drop. As cruxes go this one was a beauty, but with lots of contortion and passing of bags and poles we managed to all squeeze through on to the last reaches of a different gully and Greg led us to the summit from there. I have to say, even if we had committed to the crux and got beyond that ourselves we would have been unlikely to find the summit for some time. It was only thanks to Greg approaching it from above and seeing the obvious line that a route was possible at all, from below there were several impenetrable rock faces to be overcome.

With the summit safely made it was time for sarnies and Star Bar, a chat with some of the many other climbers there that day and to watch people toying with the step between Adam and Eve. If you read about it online you’ll learn that the stride needed to clear the gap is a mere four feet. What is harder to imagine is that on one side is a short drop to a boulder field and guaranteed broken bones and the other is a fall of several seconds to certain death. It is also hard to picture the space for landing and take off, both roughly a square meter, on an angle and uneven. If it sounds like I’m making excuses, maybe that’s because I am. I didn’t take the leap.

Adam and Eve, they don’t look very threatening from this angle…

Once I was able to see the challenge I realised that even climbing on to the stones would be a struggle, but then to make the leap would be a feat of athleticism, balance and bravery I just didn’t feel capable of. However, I wasn’t disappointed. I was sat on top of one of the greatest mountains in the UK, having scrambled and climbed up there via a very testing route and had done so comfortably and without fear. I realised that while the challenge may have been to jump between the two summit stones actually the achievement and pleasure was in getting there, in the journey to be in a position to make the leap. I didn’t need to cover that last 1.5 metres in order to have achieved something special that day.

In our usual way we came down via an unmarked route, taking the shortest line between two points which involved reverse scrambling, leaping over bogs and plenty of “I think it’s just over there…”. All in all a truly magnificent day in the mountains.

When I got home I measured out the distance between Adam and Eve in my hallway and attempted to leap it. I made it, just, with millimetres to spare but plenty of carpet to cushion my fall if I had come up short. In hindsight I think I was wise, but I’ve been practicing my leaping and landing since then and one day I will go back…

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40 Before 40: #1 parkrun in 40 different locations

One of my 40 before 40 challenges, listed HERE

Only 39 venues as yet, but more to be added very soon! Love the conversations this t-shirt starts…

As of 27th Saturday I’m pleased to report I have enjoyed the hospitality of 40 different parkrun venues with 40 different parkrun volunteer teams, and I learned a few things along the way…

Every parkrun is the same…you turn up, run and present your barcode. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the process is universal. That simple fact means there is never any worry or doubt about approaching new parkruns, you can travel with complete confidence.

Every parkrun is different…and that’s what makes tourism such fun! Every briefing is a new experience; some brilliant, some inaudible, some full of laughs and some short and to the point. Then you start running and every course is different; I’ve run along rivers and crossed streams, across open fields and through thick woods, over logs and under bridges, on tarmac, woodchip, sand and snow. Some courses are more scenic than others but every one is special and has something about it that you’ll remember.

Sign of the tourist. Keep an eye out for anyone wearing the infamous “cow cowl”, only available to parkrunners with more than 20 venues to their name.

Touring with friends is ace…because you can enjoy the road trip and post run cake, as well as the excitement of planning your next tour.

Touring on your own is also ace…because it is very easy to make new friends on a Saturday morning. You are all there for one thing so you already have something in common, and I haven’t had anything but the warmest of welcomes at every venue I’ve been too. If you do tour alone, talk to people, it makes the whole experience ten times better.

But parkrun tourism isn’t all good, I have found two distinct downsides to heading out on the road of a Saturday morning…

Missing home… I adore Cheltenham parkrun and all involved with it and recently managed my 100th run around Pittville Park. But thanks to tourism there have been many weekends away from my home run and I have missed celebrating milestones with friends or being there to support my fellow core team members when they needed it. As much fun as tourism is sometimes I wish I wasn’t heading away from a run with 400 friends.

Finding somewhere amazing… I’ve run some beautiful courses and met some amazing people through parkrun tourism (big shout to Poolbeg in Dublin for topping the table in both categories) but I am unlikely to ever go back which is sad. If I’m in Dublin again in future there are several other venues to go explore so chances are I will never enjoy another Poolbeg parkrun and coffee with the friendliest people in the world. I know we should be happy it happened not sad it’s over, but it’s impossible to ignore that some courses are better than others and warrant a second visit…maybe when I’ve completed the other 600+ venues!

So to conclude, as I’m always asked for favourites when I reveal my travels, parkrun tourism is mostly amazing here’s just a few highlights you may wish to explore yourself…

Poolbeg – on a horrible rainy windswept morning I met the most amazing people for a dramatic run around the bay. I wish I could go back regularly.

Bushy Park – the home of parkrun, with over 1,500 runners most weeks. Everyone should go at least once to see where it all began.

Vejen, Denmark – one volunteer with a carrier bag of kit turns up at 8.55am and a parkrun happens. Highlights the brilliance of the concept and how simple it can be.

Medina, Isle of Wight – An overnight trip with ferry rides, dodgy B&B, hunting an ever-changing parkrun course followed by lunch on the seafront, amusement arcades and giant ice creams in the rain. An epic 24 hour tour with good friends, go do it soon!

The brilliant Run Director at Poolbeg on a truly foul freezing day, but still parkrun puts a smile on our faces!

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Running Around Denmark

Over the last 18 months my heart has been well and truly stolen by Denmark. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Copenhagen three times now, and on this trip I stuck around for a while to see more of the country and it is just as wonderful everywhere I went. While on my travels I was able to get four runs in, and while I could wax lyrical for days about how wonderful Denmark and the Danes are here’s just a taste of what we got up to with our trainers on…

Faelledparken parkrun

My Denmark touring squad

Unsurprisingly, at least to any regular readers or those that know me and my travelling companions, we built our flights around fitting in some parkrun tourism. First up was my second parkrun in Copenhagen (I should have run one in October last year but I got drunk and fell off a curb instead). Faelledparken was just a mile or so from our accommodation, and also the site of the following day’s Copenhagen Half start so it was an obvious choice. As with every parkrun I’ve ever visited, from the moment we saw a volunteer in hi-vis and someone in lycra we felt right at home. Chatting freely with locals about the course, how the half marathon preparations had affected the route etc it was another perfect example of how the parkrun family is a global thing and we are all a part of it. The briefing was delivered in flawless English by our Danish Run Director, and we joked about trying to do our own briefing back in Cheltenham in Danish if we ever had a tourist make the return visit. Unanimous agreement was that we had no chance!

The run itself was three laps of the park on hard packed trail, pretty enough but nothing much of note other than the site traffic and buzz of a race village being built. The support each time we passed the finish was fabulous and the welcome when we finished was lovely. As a group we had the first and last finisher, a feat we’ve been trying to achieve on our travels for a while so well done Si and Claire!

When you find the people that bring you balance play with them often!

Copenhagen Half Marathon

Look at those happy faces at the sunny start!

A half of two halves! (does that make it quarters?) The race started in glorious sunshine and although the race village was a little muddy the day promised to be perfect for running. The organisation was great, which we’ve come to expect from Copenhagen races. Everything from entering online, collecting numbers (and shopping!) at the expo and bag drop off and finding our start pens was incredibly smooth. I’d put myself well back in the pens, struggling with what I now know to be plantar fasciitis I hadn’t been able to train for any kind of fast running so it was a slow social run around the closed streets of the city for me. I planned a run/walk strategy (run 1 mile, walk .1 of a mile) from the start which would mean swapping positions with Claire throughout the race, so she insisted we trade insults every time we pass. I can’t possibly share any of them here but the first 6 or 7 miles went by in blur of profanities and smiles with awesome support from the sides of the course.

A photo from the finish line after the worst of the storm had blown through

Then, somewhere around 7 miles, the apocalypse started. It is difficult to explain how extreme the weather was but it was certainly the most unexpected and fierce storm I’ve ever witnessed. In the space of a few minutes we went from spots of rain to flash floods, the water falling more powerfully than my shower! Hail stones the size of marbles (or maltesers or minstrels or peanut M&Ms, we initially measured them in chocolate) were pelting the exposed flesh of runners and we ran for cover rather than towards the finish. I moved behind a tree, then behind a thicker tree and eventually huddled at the foot of a concrete pillar seeking protection from the onslaught. I’m glad I left the tree cover as moments later the most thunderous crack and bright sky heralded the arrival of fork lightening. The storm raged for a few minutes before passing as quickly as it arrived, but it had left its mark on the course. The last 6 miles were blighted by icy surfaces, flooding across the course, washed out water stations and a sudden lack of enthusiastic cheering from the crowd! What was peculiar is that as the course wove its way through the city there were obviously areas that had avoided the downpour completely as spectators in t-shirts stood on dry pavements, but all too soon we would be back in ankle deep freezing water again a few streets later.

Claire risks instant death by lightening strike to demonstrate the race village swimming pool!

As I approached the finish line, considering breaststroke rather than a sprint finish, I heard an announcement that the race had been abandoned! The timing mats had been washed away and the storm we had run through had passed straight through the race village leaving it under several inches of water. I later learned that several people had been hit by lightening and the organisers were understandably concerned about the storm returning and the effect of a lightening strike on the newly formed lake with thousands of runners stood in it! Luckily the back up timing system still recorded an official time (2:24)but it was never about the time I just wanted it recorded that I survived and persevered! I also chased down a woman with a bundle of medals. Yes, I risked my life for race bling! We didn’t hang around in the icy water, and headed back to the hostel cold, wet, excited and satisfied. I’d definitely run another Copenhagen race, they’re great!

Kolding Night Trail

I look better in the dark!

The main reason for extending our trip this time was an invite from our friend Kristina, Danish National Trail Champion and ultrarunning bad ass, to the event she was hosting in her home town in the middle of Denmark. The Night Trail offered 6 and 12km courses, or for the chosen few there were 20 marathon places up for grabs. As the name suggests, it didn’t start until after dark so we found ourselves stood in a field at 9pm listening to a race briefing in Danish this time, with no idea what we’d let ourselves in for! I was signed on for 12km, which with my injury probably wasn’t the wisest move, but Kristina asked if I’d mind being tail runner for the race so I had an excuse to take it easy!

Making friends is what running should be about.

We were warned about the mud and treacherous terrain, but to be honest it was no worse than a Wednesday club run in Cranham! Running by head torch is always exciting though, every time I do it I pledge to do more and I never do. I had a great time making friends with runners at the back of the pack, learning Danish (some you’d say in polite company and some you definitely wouldn’t!) and enjoying the terrain. At times it was frustrating being stuck at the back, there were plenty of bits of the course that just screamed out to be run fast, so I think I’ll have to go back and have another go some time! We left the park about 11.30pm as the organisers settled in to a long night of supporting the marathon runners, the last of which didn’t finish until 4:30am!

Vejen parkrun

Our final run of the week, another spot of parkrun tourism and a classic example of how different two parkruns can be. At home in Cheltenham we arrive at 8am with an army of 20+ volunteers and a trolley of kit plus two big bags and more. In Vejen a guy turned up at 8:50am with a carrier bag and did the whole parkrun himself! Of course we are usually catering for over 400 runners, whereas our visit boosted Vejen’s numbers to 14! There was a little confusion about the course as they had changed it the week before and weren’t sure whether to keep the new route or not, but we were assured it would be impossible to get lost so swiftly set about showing them how wrong they were! A few hundred metres of tarmac led us in to a wood, which we knew we would be running around three times. Ahead of us the path continued alongside a ploughed field, so logically the turning to the right leading in to the trees had to be the correct choice. By this point myself and Malc were happily bringing up the rear with no one else in sight but we set about the journey through the woods full of gusto and confidence. Another few hundred metres and we spotted the leaders, coming the other way, looking at us with much the same confused expressions we must have been wearing! A quick about turn and we soon learned that just beyond the turning we’d taken was a second turning, or as it should more accurately be known “the right turning”. We were taking it very easy anyway, but the addition of nearly an extra kilometre meant we were out there a little while. I still think it was a touch unnecessary to send out a search party after us, but it was nice to have some company and chat to the locals over the last kilometre.

And so ended 9 days and 4 runs in Denmark. I’m already planning my next trip, there are four more parkruns to visit and a new one starting just over the water in Malmo which is a simple day trip from Copenhagen. Lucky that, as I’ll take any excuse I can to go back to the city I love.

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Race Report: Trail de Queribus

It’s been a while since I’ve done a race review…that’s because it’s been a while since I’ve done a race! It’s safe to say running and I weren’t on the best of terms for a while, I know why, but that’s a post for another day.

Cucugnan, France.

This one is to tell you about one of the most exhilarating, challenging, beautiful and demanding races I’ve ever done. The Trail de Queribus in Cucugnan, France.

First, an explanation. I only came across this race because I have a friend with a house in Cucugnan who informed me there was a trail running festival in May each year and he planned to be out there for it. This friend is the race whisperer; he has the ability to mumble something in passing and an hour later I’ve booked flights and accommodation for another foreign marathon. Long may it continue! When he mentioned the 21km race and an extended break in the continental sun I was sold, I didn’t even look at the race details, just paid my money and booked my flights. Perhaps if I’d looked at the web page a little closer I may have hesitated a moment longer…

Look at that course profile!

It turns out the race I had signed up for was a 21km mountain run, with 1,200+ metres of ascent to the top of two mountains flanking the town of Cucugnan, which included sections where they’d simply forgotten to put a path…probably because it seemed like too much hard work given the jagged rocks and treacherous terrain!

Had I paid a bit more attention I would likely have paid a bit more respect. There may even have been some training involved, I think it’s a course that deserves it. As it was I flew to France with a few hill runs and not much more in my legs since Milan marathon. There followed a few wonderfully relaxed days touring the area, taking in the sites of the Gorge de Galamus and a local swimming hole. We’d also popped to Girona for the day and collected Kristina, the Danish national trail running champion…another reason I probably should have done some training! It was fantastic to spend a few days with a running pro though and talk about how she got there, the races she’d done and what her plans were for the future. I’m certain she’ll feature in this blog many more times in the years to come. You can read Kristina’s version of events HERE, but you may want to translate the page…

All smiles at the pasta party…despite not getting in to the free booze!

Sunday was race day, after a wonderful evening of communal pasta and live music in the marquees erected for the event. There was also free booze but I only had a very small glass of local wine, so maybe I was taking it seriously after all? The race started at 9am in the streets of Cucugnan, with lots of excited shouting and cheering in French that you didn’t need to understand to enjoy. A quick lap of the town with the cheers of the crowd to spur you on and we were out in to the countryside and the first climb of the day. This immediately stretched out the pack, the racing snakes at the front disappeared in to the distance while I very quickly settled in to a fast march along with many other runners. The climbs in this race were brutal, I don’t remember any gentle ascents just lots of lung-busting, leg-shredding climbing.

The first climb…I didn’t stick with these crowds for long.

The first 6km climbed to the high point of the race. Not the high point in terms of altitude, there was still over 100 metres of that to gain, but for views and drama it’s hard to beat running through a medieval castle. For me the challenge was the terrain not the clock, so I took a few moments to enjoy the incredible scenes laid out below me and gaze across the Pyrenees and beyond. I’d love to return one day when I wasn’t running for a proper look around.

The French consider THIS a “trail”.

From the castle it was a further climb over broken rock, sometimes turning from running in to speed scrambling, and at other times practically crawling from jagged rock to jagged rock. The course markings were brilliant, route finding was no problem, but there was definitely nothing you’d call a trail in this section of the trail run!

Things ticked along nicely through the kilometres, although there was very little opportunity to relax and open the legs, the course demanded attention practically every step of the way. Even the downhills were challenging in their steepness and ground conditions, alternating between slippy dust and broken rocks, but the sun and views and novelty of running through the mountains made every step enjoyable.

My Spanish friend!

I made a friend on the way, in fact I made several. I must admit my shame that the only French I managed during the race was to apologise for being English and not speaking French, but everyone then immediately switched to their best broken English to point out a particular view, tell me it was hot or welcome me to France. One particularly large chap informed me he was going to run “like a boat”, slowly but ever forwarded. It reminded me of my own “be a shark” motto that came in handy later on. I also met a Spaniard who spoke French but no English. What followed was several kilometres of sweaty charades as we communicated as best we could without sharing a common language. Then disaster struck…

My Spanish friend was insistent I should look at something over the valley, despite being on a technical downhill section. I resisted for a while, but curiosity got the better of me and I risked a glance. That’s when I planted my foot on a loose rock and went over on the historically weak ankle, as I tend to do when I go running in mountains! To add insult to injury it turns out the Spaniard was just distracting me while he stopped for a pee!

So the last 8km of the run were more of a stumble, limp and hobble. I pushed on whenever I thought I could trust my ankle but on any broken ground I was reduced to a very cautious trot. It did give me a chance to take in the beauty of the region, stop for a while in the village of Padern for refreshments and chat with other runners as they passed me. I was determined to see the finish line though, there’s no DNF in my DNA – plus I didn’t know the French for “can you take me home please?”

The course had been challenging but fun, in the last few kilometres it just got challenging. The final climb was the steepest I have ever taken on in a run; there were parts where you could reach out and touch the path in front of you without bending over, it felt like running up a wall. Coming over the crest of that climb and seeing the village below, that final descent should have been a delight. Unfortunately I couldn’t even enjoy the downhill by this stage as the uneven ground and dodgy ankle made even that a steady shuffle rather than a flying downhill sprint.

Running – It’s about making friends and memories.

And so, 5 hours after starting and at least an hour later than I’d hoped I reached the line. The finish was at the same marquee where the post-race party was to be held and I was greeted by friends and tables full of drink and food. I learned that Kristina had managed 4th place despite running 1.5km extra after getting lost, which is an incredible effort and by my calculations means she would have been in a race with the first lady if she’d stayed on course! Our other runner, Rachel, ran a very respectable time just over 4 hours, so was also there to greet me at the end and celebrate a job done and a fantastic trip.

I’m already thinking about going back if invited, and taking the course a little more seriously and training accordingly. I also think I’ll avoid any Spaniards and maybe leave that glass of wine until after the race, it can only help!

The runners all home and happy…with random French lady for authenticity!

Thanks to Just A Little Bit for organising the trip. They don’t actually do tours, but they do do brilliant t-shirts so go take a look!

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