Sarah Bard will take on another new facet of ultrarunning at this weekend’s Ultravasan 90k in Sweden. In the following interview, Sarah talks about her long history with running, why she got into running ultramarathons, and how her recent racing has gone.
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Sarah Bard Pre-2016 Ultravasan Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sarah Bard before the Ultravasan 2016. How are you, Sarah?
Sarah Bard: Pretty good. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. Is this your first trip to Sweden?
Bard: It is not. I’ve been to Stockholm briefly about ten years ago, but I’d say this is my first real trip.
iRunFar: Before we get into this weekend’s race, I’d love to know a little bit more about your running background. How did you get into sports? Did you do other sports first?
Bard: Uh, no. I’m not good at other sports. Anything that requires real coordination is not my strength. I have been running since I was in junior high or maybe slightly younger but less formalized. I only ran cross country in college, not track.
iRunFar: Did you compete in other sports or just… You just wanted to do cross country?
Bard: No. Well, the college I went to didn’t have a track team. They allowed for… if you were on the cross country team you could compete in track but as an individual. It wasn’t as fun because there wasn’t the team aspect of it. Then after college, I took some time off, and then I got into marathoning. I did that for about ten years at about two per year. Then I started to get a little bit bored, not about the racing but the training, so I was looking for something to switch it up.
iRunFar: You had a routine.
Bard: Exactly. It started to get very, very monotonous because at some point I reached my peak speed it felt like. I was looking to take off seconds every time which in training can be a little frustrating.
iRunFar: What was your first exposure to ultras then?
Bard: I ran the JFK 50 in 2014. I’d heard about it. I was living in Virginia several years earlier and knew a couple people who had run it. I was living on the East Coast at the time. I knew the course just by living in the area. I hadn’t actually run on the Appalachian Trail section or anything like that. So I thought that would be an easy one to buy a quick plane ticket down to which is what I did. I made a decision a month before and thought, Well, maybe I can run 50 miles, and I did.
iRunFar: It went pretty well.
Bard: It did go pretty well. I’m glad I took a low key approach to it because I think it gave me a little bit of wiggle room if it didn’t go well. Yeah, it was a great experience and a great race to start with. There’s a lot of aid along the way, so even if you don’t know what you’re doing, they kind of hand-hold you.
iRunFar: That was October 2014. By September the following year, you were running the World 100k.
Bard: Yeah, I had no idea that the JFK is one of the races that is used to help qualify you for the team. Actually, after JFK, I signed up for Camusett [50k] hoping to make the 50k team but then later found out that I had qualified for the 100k team, and I was in consideration for making the 100k team.
iRunFar: You were considered and chosen and ran to fourth place.
Bard: Yeah, it was great.
iRunFar: How did that go for you?
Bard: It went well. When I then found out I was qualified for both the 50k and the 100k, it seemed to me that the 100k was probably more of my strength. I think the longer the distance, at this point, the better… relatively. I could run a 48-hour race, and maybe that’s not going to be my strength, but we’ll see. Yeah, it was great. It was the sort of course that suits me. I was living in Boston, so running along the Charles, there’s a six mile loop that was very similar. I think I was prepared for the monotony of a loop course and the predictability of the loop course. It was flat and fast.
iRunFar: And you nailed it. You then went on to run a not-loop course at Comrades and had another good showing.
Bard: Yes, that race went well, too. I did not think that… that race on paper went really well, but that race was harder, I would say.
iRunFar: Is it because of the hills, or what was harder than you expected at Comrades?
Bard: I think I just had some… my legs started hurting really early. I had some tightness in my foot that led to some tightness in my calf that led to some tightness in my hamstring. It just seemed to work its way…
iRunFar: The whole kinetic chain was breaking down?
Bard: Breaking down along the way. It happened very early in the race. I think for any runner, when that happens, you’re like, It could be fine, but it could also be the next step. I just basically took it kilometer by kilometer and said, Well, if it hasn’t broken down yet, I’m just going to keep going. It held out.
iRunFar: Do you think that makes you stronger for the future mentally?
Bard: I thought a lot about how Ellie [Greenwood] hadn’t been able to enter because she was injured. I thought, Well, I know she’d want to be out here if she could, and here I am. So I might as well keep going until my body doesn’t let me anymore. Even thought my mind was saying, “Your body is not letting you,” I knew that it actually was. So I just kept going.
iRunFar: Now you’re here in Sweden for the Ultravasan. It’s 90k on a little bit of pavement, mostly dirt road, and as you saw this morning, some moderately technical trail. What has you—I guess you ran JFK so you’ve been on the Appalachian Trail section—sort of trying a little more in the trail area or the off-pavement area? What’s got you thinking about that?
Bard: Peter Fredricsson, who is the [Ultravasan] race director, he was at Comrades and crewed for Kajsa [Berg] and I along the way. I’d actually met him at the World Championships as well, so we’d seen each other at races before. After Comrades he invited me to do this race. He joked, “It’s a trail race, but you could handle… it’s good.” Then he told me Jonas’s [Buud] time from the previous year to give me a benchmark of what kind of trail race it might be. I really wasn’t planning on running this race, and then he proposed it. I said, “Okay,” five minutes later.
iRunFar: How soon after Comrades was this?
Bard: This was at the dinner that night.
iRunFar: So you hadn’t sworn off ultras yet?
Bard: No, I’m usually like, the first 10 minutes after if someone asks me if I’ll do another race, “Well, give me a second because that was awful.” Yeah, I made the decision pretty quick, but it seemed like a good opportunity. The field—a few people have dropped out because of injury or timing or whatever—but the field is still very competitive and is very competitive with the time, so I’m very excited about that.
iRunFar: It’s kind of interesting. There are people from a lot of backgrounds—Jasmin [Nunige] who’s run a decent amount of trail stuff, you with a little bit of experience in faster ultras, Isabellah [Andersson] who is a 2:23 marathoner who is making her ultra debut.
Bard: I think it will be a lot of fun to see how that happens. I think for Isabellah, it could be very interesting race because if you have that speed, and this course allows her that speed in many places, I think sometimes the naiveté of your first ultra can really benefit you.
iRunFar: Your first JFK?
Bard: Yeah, I think just not knowing what you’re getting yourself into, if you’re smart—and she seemed from her pre-race interview that she is pretty smart about it—she’s like, “I just want to finish.” I think that it could be a really good dynamic out there.
iRunFar: How do you think having the 15k of technical not that far into the race is going to change things up?
Bard: I’m happy that it’s early in the race so I can… it’s always nice to take it a little bit easy in the beginning so you don’t blow up later. Maybe it will just help to avoid that.
iRunFar: Your plan is to kind of relax through it rather than fight through it since it’s not your forte maybe?
Bard: Yeah, I’m probably not going to go for the sprint prems there. I’ll relinquish that at this point. I’ll just see how it goes and see what happens. I would like to maintain some level of contact if that’s an issue. I’m definitely not going to try to destroy myself on that part. We’ll just see how it goes.
iRunFar: Alright, well, best of luck out there, and enjoy the course.
Bard: Thank you. Thanks.