After a storming summer in 2014, which saw Sarah Douglas win the Motatapu Marathon, Athletics New Zealand Mountain Running Champs on Mt Campbell and set a blistering course record at the Routeburn Classic, Sarah seemed to drop of the scene. But Sarah announced her return with a convincing win at this year’s Athletes New Zealand Mountain Running Champs, reclaiming the title with a convincing win on the slopes of Ben Lomond above Queenstown.
- So if we can, start way back- can you give us a brief history on your running background?
I started taking running seriously my last couple of years in high school. I was lucky to have a great high school coach (Ian McGregor) who taught me everything I know about training and through him I joined up and ran with the Christchurch Avon Athletic Club. Christchurch Avon were (and still are) very supportive, I owe a lot to them for showing me how to be a balanced runner. After high school I took up a running scholarship at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado and then on to the University of North Florida. I decided to move to Queenstown when I returned to New Zealand, and since then it has all been about running up mountains.
-Before we get into your “come back” win, tells us a little about what kept you away for most of 2015.
Morton’s Neuromas kept me from running, actually they kept me from doing much of anything weight bearing. Last year I learnt I have one neuroma in my left foot, and two in my right. I can remember having symptoms back when I was 16 years old, I just didn’t know what it was and always blamed the burning pain on not wearing in a new pair of shoes. Over the years the symptoms have become worse and last year was breaking point. I couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes without having burning pain followed by shooting pain through my toes and the only way to alleviate the pain was to stop, sit down, take off my shoes and cry a little!
- How is the foot now? 100%, or still something you need to be aware of?
Unfortunately it is something I have to manage daily. Whether it is running, recovering, the simple task of putting a sock on my foot, or the weight of my duvet on my feet, all can cause me pain. I have seen two specialists, both said there was nothing that could be done, which were hard words to hear. After a lot of googling I found a handful of little things that I can do to help manage the pain. I am OK with the fact that I can’t run for as long as I used to, that all my runs must be on soft surfaces and that during a run I often have to stop and take my shoes off and massage my feet. Sometimes I think I spend more time looking after my feet than I do running, but it is a small price to pay to be able to run.
- The ANZ Mountain Champs was not your actual “comeback” race- you did the Luxmore Grunt (3rd), 30km are Shotover (1st) and the Miners Trail (1st) over the summer. Did these results give you a lot of confidence that you were on the right track, after having 2015 away from racing?
I don’t know that they all gave me confidence, but they did give me motivation. The Luxmore Grunt I entered when I couldn’t even run. I was struggling to motivate myself and stay positive, so to give me something to focus on I entered the Grunt. I didn’t want to let another year go by where I made no progress with my feet. Looking back, the Grunt was probably a bit far for what my feet could handle at the time but the race served its purpose. The Shotover 30k race I entered last minute, mainly because I was intrigued with the course and I wanted a run with a lot of vertical gain. And I got plenty of it! The Miners Trail did give me confidence that my training was on track, in particular my uphill strength. After so much time off it is hard to know how your training is going compared to where you were, it is like you forget what it felt like to be race fit.
- This year was meant to be a “uphill” year for the Mountain Champs (each year the World Mountain Running Champs swaps between “uphill only” and “up and down” races), how did you feel about the last minute course change to an “up and down” race? (Due to weather the course was changed on the Friday night before the race)
There wasn’t much time to think about it really, other than ‘this is what’s happening, what do I need to do’ type thoughts. I prefer all up, it’s not that I am terrible at down, it just isn’t my forte. Having up and down does change the race as it allows recovery in between the ups and lets those runners who are fearless on the downs to make up a lot of time. But the race change was the same for everyone, so even though I had been training specifically for only up, so had everyone else, we were all in the same boat. When it comes to health and safety you can’t leave anything to chance and the race director had to make a tough call the night before. I feel it was better to change the course to an up and down rather than postpone or worse, cancel, the race.
- The Up and Down format clearly didn’t affect you! Did it change your race tactics much?
It did a bit. I had planned on being pretty conservative for the first half of the original uphill race but decided that with the new up and down course, I was best to go out hard on the up and just try and hang on to everyone on the downs.
- What’s next? Are you planning on running the World Mountain Running Champs in Bulgaria?
I am! The NZ team was announced yesterday and it is a dream come true to be in the team. I have a tough winter of training ahead of me!
- What New Zealand events do you have in your sights?
I have to race fairly sparingly as it takes quite a while for my feet to recover, so you probably won’t see me much! But you hopefully will see me at Worlds in September, Luxmore Grunt in December, NZ Mountain Run Champs in March and the Routeburn Classic in April.
- What tips do you have for running up hill- really fast? And what is your favourite workout for making you strong?
I think form is really important when running up hill. A lot of energy and momentum is lost with inefficient form so I think it is important to put aside time to focus on this.
- Favorite workout?
…can I just say uphill?!
-Thanks Sarah and all the best for the World Mountain Running Champs!