Today we want to share with you a new crazy challenge! This one is not from Luca Papi but it is at least as crazy. At WAA, we love the game “guess who?”… This new WAA Team member decided to run 12 ultra-trails from the Ultra Trail World Tour in 12 months over 12 countries and 5 continents in 2019, starting this month with the Transgrancaria HG. It represents a total of 1300 km and a total elevation of 270 000 feet, running in all types of destinations: deserts, snowcapped mountains, tropical rainforests, volcanic areas, etc.
Enough suspense, this who is a she and her name is Rachel Sklar! Never heard about her? It is probably because Rachel is pretty new to this trail running world, but do not get us wrong, she is far from being a tourist in this sport. This 30 years old Canadian girl started running in 2015, as a complement to the practice of Muay Thai, a martial art she was practicing. She enjoyed and decided to run her first marathon in 2016 and 8 months after her first trail with 50k. She loved it and from that point she decided to focus on running as she believes that “trail gathers the most incredible human beings and (she enjoys) their presence by (her) side on the trails”. In 2017, she ran her toughest race in Argentina, a 100 miles Ultra Trail called La Misión (162 km, 6475 m+). This ultramarathon took her 65 hours to get completed. The hostility of the place combined with the 26 000 feet uphill made it a really hard mission. She has also ran more than half of the 900 km Bruce Trail in Ontario. She is definitely not a rookie.
Let us present you a bit more of her challenge. The first race of her journey will be the Transgrancaria HG a 128k trail race in Gran Canaria on February, 22nd and the last one the Ultra-Trail Cape Town in South Africa on November, 30th. In between she will be running in European countries, in Australia, in her home country Canada and in various countries in Asia with a minimum distance of 100 km per race. Her longest rest period will be a bit more than one month whereas she will be running two ultra in Canada and Malaysia with only 8 days in between. We let you imagine the logistics behind it and the difficulty of the sequence. Even more knowing that she will have to take the plane with swollen legs from the first race and deal with a 9 hours jetlag. If you are curious about her full itinerary you can find it here.
How somebody can switch from running as a complement training to running 12 ultra-trails within a year? This is what we wanted to know when we decided to interview Rachel. The starting point of this project was her participation to the Half Marathon des Sables in Fuerteventura at the end of 2017 when her “mindset started to shift”. She enjoyed a lot this adventure and coming back to her daily routine was difficult. She was jealousing some ultra-trail runner friends she knew in Fuerteventura, posting amazing pictures of their accomplishments while racing on trails around the world. Even if she wanted to race again, she stayed in the shadows instead “learning growing, developing and molding (her) mindset and body for something that would make an impact on (her) life and the life of others”. She wanted a life challenge but at this time it was unclear how she would materialize this will. She had different projects she thought she could embark on but nothing really determined.
She “needed something that was bigger and more impactful”. The more she was thinking about it, the more her soul was enraptured by it. Always being on her computer developing her idea, she visited the Ultra Trail World Tour website, once, twice, then a lot more times. Finally in August 2018 came this idea of running over ten ultra-trails in a given year… and why not twelve? One per month! She quickly pitched this idea to her coach, Nick. He was first shocked then quickly very excited, even more than she was herself. Here was the project she publicly revealed last September, only 5 months ago.
Then came the questions of her entourage obviously… Why such a project? Of course there is this adventurous part in her choice, traveling around the world, discovering new people, cultures and landscapes through trail running is amazing. But you don’t need to run 12 ultra-trails to do so. The thing is, besides these discoveries, her main motivation was that she “wanted to push (her) mind and body beyond what (she) thought possible”. She does not consider herself as a machine as she says “I am not an elite runner who can fly through a course in a jaw dropping time. I have moments of strength and moments of weakness. I struggle through each race I compete in.” But this struggle is not a barrier for her, it can even become a strength as she loves to confront herself to adversity. This is what she loves with trail running, this is how she became resilient in life: “I have pushed through every boundary I thought to be impossible.”
She even wants to go further than her proper person. With this big challenge, she dreams of inspiring others and show them that they can make their dreams come true with dedication. She wants to show to people that they can step out of their comfort zone and do what they truly love no matter the circumstances, in a way to have this switch we love at WAA. She considers that humanity is stuck in a bubble of conformity and comfort, a bubble she has never enjoyed living in. To her “the magic happens when you pierce that bubble, step into the unknown and realize what you are truly capable of doing. Running is synonymous with life: building strength, character and resilience.” All this factors are so useful in our day to day lives. She really perceives this project as an opportunity she can’t let go as they come infrequently during the lifetime. “It is up to us to choose to follow that opportunity or turn our heads blindly. I personally never wanted to be the one looking up at the mountain tops, seeing their greatness from below. I wanted to be the one that summited them.”
At the end having this idea is the easiest part, you can get it from your comfortable sofa. But Rachel is a kind of being who acts and not only talks. Indeed, she was already a few months before the launch of this adventure and it was time to get prepared, because guess what, to run all these ultras a big preparation is needed. Here intervenes her coach Nick, with whom she has been training for one year. He is not only her coach on the physical part, much more on the mental part. He helps her when she has doubts thanks to his strong words and mindsets. “When my doubts came into fruition, he put realism into those thoughts and set them on fire, demolishing a negative mind space.”
As regards the physical preparation she trains a lot, of course. She has a flexible work to be able to train sufficiently. By sufficiently we mean around 200 km per week with at least a half marathon distance every day in one session or two. And of course she runs more during the weekend… It can be for example three runs of 40 km during the weekend. For these longer sessions she usually alternates between two types of trainings. Some are focused on vertical accumulation, for example a 4000 feet session and others on an accumulation of hours “on the feet”. For these last ones, she does not care about the distances, the idea is to be out for a certain amount of hours. She also goes to the gym to work on her strength. As she is living in Ontario, she has a nice playground for running with Blue Mountain. Still, when she wants to focus more on vertical ascent she goes to Arizona, her favorite place for training.
In addition to this physical preparation for ultras, she prepares for this 12-races challenge differently. One big fear she has is the injury, this would destroy the whole project. Even if she has never had main injuries in the past, she works a lot on technicality: running up and down to improve her agility and the resistance of her articulations. She also trains her stomach to be able to digest while running to properly fuel during the races. She has a plant-based diet and insists on the importance of food. “When somebody want to run ultra-distances he must watch out his diet in order to properly fuel and surge himself through rigorous workouts.” This vegetarian diet will be an asset to travel the world, not to take too much risk with the food to avoid digestion troubles. She will not be there for culinary purpose, she has ultra-trails to run…
Finally to success in this adventure she can rely a lot on her mental, her is very powerful. Mental strength is probably the most important during the races but also during the preparatory phase. “To be truly successful, we must choose not to go out at night in order to wake up in the morning.” In fact it is all about choices. When somebody asks “what sacrifices are you willing to make to reach you goals?” her answer is that “time given to your sport is a choice, not a sacrifice”. Deciding to go out for some long training hours on the trails while you can be relaxing or going out is a choice, nobody ask you to do it. Sound mind, sound body.
We all have to learn from people like Rachel, so we wanted to gather some tips and tricks she could have for us.
Keep in mind the whole picture but cut it into pieces
The first one is to always focus on the mile you are running during your race, to take it step by step and to try to enter into this flowing state of mind she calls “stady state zone”. This is also true when you think at the larger scale of an entire season. In her case, she will have to apprehend one ultra at a time. Starting the first one thinking of the 1300 km left would not be the best idea and a good way to panic.
Run against yourself, not against others
To people who are always taking care of the ranking, she answers that it is not a good mindset when dealing with ultras because on these races you only race against yourself, “the opponent is self, not other”. She also believes a lot on motivation. “Some will blame genetics or luck on successful athletes, but the truth is, it comes down to dedication. Every day we have the choice to do something great.” At the end it is only up to us to make the good choices. The choices which will lead us in the direction we want to go. Of course if somebody wants to be great he should know that it comes with costs, but these costs are our own choices. Rachel said “I have always chosen to push the boundaries of what I thought to be impossible, until it’s done.”
Don’t fear to fail, you will learn anyway
“In our lifetime, there are absolutely no assurances to success. That’s what makes it so exquisite.” Believing in our dreams is also a path to happiness for her. When you have these dreams, the key is to turn “one day” into “right now” and this is where the magic happens. “I’ve never been afraid of the possibility of failure. You have to trust the process, trust yourself and try, no matter what the adversity. Having one key quality will always bring you to the end: heart. Passion and love for this sport has brought me to this point. I know I can go the distance, one step at a time. Left foot, right foot, repeat.”