Words & Interview by Ruaidhri Marshall
To be an ultra-marathon runner you have to be committed and have an overwhelming sense of passion and positivity for the sport. Under Armour athlete Kelly Wolf is no exception! Combining her passion for running on mountain trails in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with her enlightening philosophy on food, makes for triumphant times. ‘’My passion is sharing good food, particularly good plant-based food, in order to make people feel good!’’
Kelly Wolf recounts her competitive nature, positive ethos and some strong advice for what people should remember when getting into ultra-running..
To begin, how did you get into trail running and ultra-marathons? Was it the competitive factor, your love of being outdoors?
I started trail running in college, at first without really knowing it was a sport. I just loved to be outside, I wanted to keep my cardio in good shape for rock climbing, and trail runs were way more fun than road runs! Then I discovered a trail running community in my city that also organized races. I was keen on the competitive factor of racing that was not inherent in rock climbing, my main sport at the time. I did a few short, local trail races with some success on the podium and thought ‘hey, maybe I’m a bit good at this!’. Soon with many friends in the group doing Ultra distances around me, I was quickly inspired and motivated to try Ultras myself. Ultras seemed impossible, I had to test myself in the challenge. Surely, after my first 100K race, though it was not pretty, I was hooked.
Describe yourself in three words..
Competitive, compassionate, positive
Could you describe your running routine and how you prepare before an ultra marathon?
My training is very specific to the goal race for which I am preparing. If the ultra is going to require much elevation gain, much of my training will be on steep terrain. If the course is very runnable, I will be doing a lot of faster running in workouts. Intervals and long runs are always included in my training, though they may look different depending on the nature of the race. For example, a 7 hour long mountain run with some scrambling in training for a 100K in the Alps versus a 4 hour long fast dirt road run for a 100K on the North Island of New Zealand. Specificity is very important in order to be properly prepared for a goal race.
What has been your ideal race in the past any specific reasons why it went a dream?
The Tarawera 102K in New Zealand has been my standout performance thus far in my racing career, being my first international win. It went so well because my training was very ideal in preparing for it, prioritizing fast running over slower mountain miles. I had a total aura of confidence within me going into this race and knowing I was ready to compete with the best at the front. The conditions of the race course that day- slippery mud, waist deep puddles, rain- required much mental toughness in addition to running fitness. I put myself through what I call ’tough girl training’, including things like river baths in the winter and cold showers! So I know I can be tough if I want to be and I know how to be uncomfortable.
An interesting section of your website is when you talk about the philosophy which you try to live your life by, how does it relate to you being passionate about veganism?
My philosophy is ‘promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate’. We are all passionate about ideas and have our own beliefs. The point here is to spread one’s ideas with positivity and by being a shining example of what one believes in, in order to make it attractive to others. The alternative is to put down others and their beliefs with one’s own nose in the air. This negative approach is off-putting and if I truly care about sharing veganism, then I want to share all the great benefits of it in a positive light, thus making people curious about it on their own terms. Nobody will want to eat with me if I only criticize their food because it does not match my own beliefs or if I ramble off statistics!
You describe yourself as a mountain ultra trail runner, what is your favourite mountain/ mountain range to run on and why?
The San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado! I have been in love with these mountains since I saw them in pictures of the Hardrock 100 course. They looked too beautiful to be real and I just had to experience them. Therefore, I moved to these mountains 1 week upon graduating from college, currently living in a tiny town, population 2,500, and at high elevation, 8750ft. When I first moved to this area, I lived in a town with a population of 500 people at 9300ft (Silverton). The true mountain town living drew me in, while I had the massive mountains in my backyard to explore. Coming back from a run I often feel like I am returning from another world, or maybe heaven. The San Juans are the youngest mountains of the Rocky Mountains as far as volcanic activity goes, therefore they are the least eroded and thus so crazy jagged. It is fact they are the best! At least in my opinion ;)
Unfortunately it’s something runners all have to deal with, but what has been one of your lowest points during a race, how do you get through the hard times?
A very low point was the first 2 hours of The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. My legs just felt slow once the race started out and I was on the verge of tears when I saw my coach out on the course early on. I was feeling so disappointed with how the day looked to be going, having expected to be competing at the top. He let me know that I wasn’t ‘as bad as I thought I was’ (as far back from the pack as I imagined). The course changed here with a big downhill plus fun, technical trail and I got in the groove. It only took passing a few girls to mentally get my head back in the game, then I started to get competitive and therefore get myself back in the race. Sometimes it just takes some words of confidence, a change in the course, or some competition to get your spirits up and back on track as we can sometimes mentally dig ourselves in a hole.
The Tarawera 102k, I believe it was your latest Ultra run, could you go through your experience of the race?
I escaped Colorado’s winter for 2 weeks to race in New Zealand’s humid summertime, and lucky for us there was a cyclone the weekend of the race. I was wet all day from rain and mud puddles. Sometimes the climbs were so slippery I had to use my hands and very ginger climbing skills in order to make progress up. The conditions were so tough, but upon embracing them it actually became a fun experience for being so unique. Not to mention the course passed beautiful waterfalls and ran through the super-dense and ultra-green New Zealand ‘bush’ that felt like a secret tunnel at times. My plan was to race from the start, up at the front. There was 3 of us women running together for the 15 miles or so at quite a fast split and the energy was thrilling. Soon though I found myself running by myself. I ran by myself for the last 45 miles, yet they were in my mind for the whole duration of the race, knowing they were strong women on the chase.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into ultra-running?
My advice is to build up slowly with thoughtful progression. It is easy to become impatient and jump into an ultra-distance without proper build up. This only leads to injury, as one’s body will just not be able to keep up with the mind’s excitement to test the longer distances. There is no rush and an ultra is much more enjoyable, maybe I should put ‘enjoyable’ in quotes, when one is properly trained and ready for the distance. Certainly, pick a goal that is inspiring to you whatever your reason may be, and be committed and consistent in your preparation. Respect your body, treat it well, and it will deliver for you!
Why run these immense distances?
There are many reasons for me to run immense distances. I love traveling and I want to explore the world. Ultrarunning is a very efficient way to do this, covering so much distance and terrain in a single effort. Even more importantly though, I feel the most alive when I am running an ultra distance. I am the most in tune with my body, appreciating its strength and its harmony in working as one to get me to where I want to go. Achieving goals that maybe I didn’t think were possible makes me realize my own potential, but also raises the bar higher for which I am truly capable. We can learn so much about ourselves, like what we are made out of and what our limits are by these great challenges.
I'd like to know what are your future ambitions? What do you aim to achieve in the far future?
My passion is sharing good food, particularly good plant-based food, in order to make people feel good! My dream is to have my own restaurant one day, serving nourishing food that is energizing, creative, inspires a healthy lifestyle, and most importantly makes people feel amazing! The more amazing you feel, the more amazing of a day you can have.
Kelly Wolf - @kel.lobo
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