From Dubai to Death Valley: Catherine Todd going the ultra mile
Catherine Todd works as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai but once the final bell rings and school is out for the holidays, the 34-year-old likes to spend that time working even harder by competing in ultramarathons around the world.
She may have had to drop out of last weekend’s Berlin Wall 100 Miler with illness, but it doesn’t matter; she’s already achieved her fitness goal for 2013 – first place in the women’s field of the world’s toughest footrace, the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, California.
Congratulations on your result. How many ultra-marathons have you run in total, and what do you like about competing in them?
I have competed in many ultra-marathons and the true sense of adventure, accomplishment and challenge the race poses are amongst the most rewarding aspects for me.
Meeting all the fantastic people who are also participating and working hard to drive themselves personally and overcome the same challenge, is also a great part of the overall experience. To give you an idea, I have completed four 135-mile races, ten 100-mile races, plus several other ultra-marathons and I continue to keep going.
What have you learned from your first ultra-marathon encounter that has improved your performance today?
The correct clothing is essential to protect yourself against the elements you face throughout the duration of a race, as well as appropriate food and fluid intake to compliment the weather conditions, and training in the right environment. For me, all these elements are vital to improving performance.
I’ve been lucky in that I have been supported by brands such as Sport In Life that have seen the potential in supporting local athletes such as myself.
What are the three things you wouldn’t be caught dead ultra-marathon racing without?
My water bottle, tissues and money.
Why would you need money during a race?
You never know where you will be on an ultramarathon or what resources may or may not be available. At one ultra-marathon I had to stop and buy water because the aid stations had run out, the temperature was 35°C and we had 15kms to go.
That’s nuts! How does training for an ultra-marathon vary from training for a regular one, and what sorts of extremes do people go to?
My training schedule will differ from race to race and this depends on the distance and conditions faced during the challenge. To train for 100+ mile, single-stage races, time on your feet and cross-training is invaluable, as well as setting a pace appropriately based on the profile of the race.
Training in the conditions of the race is vital and if it is extreme conditions (for example, extreme heat) then you need to get out and train in those conditions, otherwise the race would be dangerous.
What’s a typical training week in Dubai like for you ahead of such events? Where do you prefer to train locally?
Training consists of one long run a week, a few other runs and then cross-training, but particularly heat training which is vital for Badwater and we are lucky to have access to heat in Dubai so I can train in appropriate conditions.
I like to train all over the city and in the wadis or deserts, up Jebel Hafeet and the cycle tracks (lack of traffic makes the latter preferable as well as being able to replenish with cold fluids throughout).
Did you ever go into this year’s race planning to win? And what was the first thing you did when you realised you had won?
Yes I went in to win. When I crossed the finish line I fell to the ground and cried. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and there are no words to describe it.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to prepare for a race?
I don’t think I do crazy things to prepare for races. I train safely and with other motivated people. Whilst some people think what we do training and racing-wise is crazy (like getting up at midnight, 1am for a training run), I think partying until 5am and then sleeping or feeling poorly all weekend is crazy. It’s all relative and each to their own.
Good point. So what do runners consume on these runs?
I’m assuming they burn off thousands of calories and will need to find a way to keep their energy up. What runners will intake varies; each to their own again. However, getting appropriate electrolyte, salt, sugar, protein and solid food intake is vital; frequently and in small amounts.
Do you ever listen to music during a race or would you not advise it? What’s going through your head during the course?
Yes, I often listen to music, to zone out and enjoy the run. A lot goes on through your head when you run 135 miles, but staying positive is vital.
What other races are you eyeing next?
I have the TransOmania in January 2014, which I’m an ambassador for. It is held in a stunning part of the world. It is also a distance I enjoy (100+ miles, single-stage races).
What’s your ultimate fitness goal for 2013?
I’ve achieved it; Badwater 1st Female.