Kristina Pattison has traveled all over Europe this year to race in the Skyrunner World Series Ultra division, and she wraps her season with Saturday’s Ultra Pirineu. In this interview, Kristina talks about her steady performances in variable conditions this year, her goals for this race, and her advice for racing and traveling abroad.
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Kristina Pattison Pre-2016 Ultra Pirineu Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Bagà, Spain. It’s the day before the 2016 Ultra Pirineu. I’m with the USA’s Kristina Pattison. Hi. Good morning.
Kristina Pattison: Hi. Good morning.
iRunFar: It’s a fresh morning in Bagà. You’ve been here all week experiencing this medieval town. What are your thoughts on Bagà?
Pattison: I love it here. I’ve just had such a great experience with the people here. They’re really welcoming. It’s a beautiful area. The mountains here are just breathtaking. I’m excited. I’m excited for the race.
iRunFar: This is kind of… I haven’t spent much time here. I was here last year as a tourist, and now I’m here for Ultra Pirineu this year. It’s kind of a land of contrasts. There are these gorgeous limestone hills covered with greenery out there. But then in town, it’s this medieval town with 1,000-year-old buildings and 1,200-year-old buildings. It’s just kind of a lot of different things going on.
Pattison: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is. It’s something that you just wouldn’t see in America. That’s part of the reason we’re so taken by these races.
iRunFar: Something triple the age of what we find in America?
Pattison: Yeah, it is unique and a special place for sure.
iRunFar: You’ve been travelling all over the world for the Skyrunning World Series Ultra division this year. Talk about some of the places that running has taken you.
Pattison: Mostly just Europe.
iRunFar: But cool places in Europe.
Pattison: Cool places, yeah. I started out and went to the Canary Islands for Transvulcania, which I wasn’t able to race because I was sick. Then I went to Madeira, which is an island also off the northwest coast of Africa.
iRunFar: A Portuguese island.
Pattison: Yeah, I’d never been to Portugal. The people there were just fantastic. That island is just incredible. It’s so beautiful and green—another land of contrasts where they’ve just paved the road over to the north side of the island in the last 20 years. It is a quiet, sleepy little area—vineyards and just this beauty. We got to tour the island. That was a special place. I went to HighTrail Vanoise in Val d’Isère, France. Again, I’m in love with the French Alps. It’s definitely the most difficult terrain of anywhere I’ve raced by far.
iRunFar: Which part of it is hard for you?
Pattison: All parts. It is. The races there, for sure, in the French Alps, you have these huge climbs—starting out with a 7,000-foot climb up to a 12,000-foot glacier. To me, that’s something I’d never find in the United States. It’s fantastic, and it’s so hard, the elevation. It is grinding ascents and then demanding, demanding descents. All of the trail there seems rocky and challenging. So you’re just never just running easy.
iRunFar: You can’t mentally chill out or physically chill out?
Pattison: Yeah, so that was super fun. Snow, there was a lot of snow this year. I think they said it was an unusually high amount of snow. That was a challenge, too. After High Trail Vanoise, I went to the Skyrunning World Championships, which was here in Spain.
iRunFar: Just over that way 50 or 60 miles, or 70 miles? I’m not sure.
Pattison: Yeah, not far.
iRunFar: I went up to near the high point of the course yesterday, and you could see that mountain range.
Pattison: I know it is really close. That was just… that was unbelievably the hardest race I’ve ever done in my life. It wasn’t the longest but definitely the hardest. So, I don’t know what to expect from tomorrow.
iRunFar: Then you went home and raced The Rut, too.
Pattison: Yeah, well, sort of.
iRunFar: You raced the modified Rut.
Pattison: Yeah, which… I love The Rut. It’s always going to hold a special place in my heart, but it was shortened this year because of weather.
iRunFar: It was like the Tough Mudder Rut.
Pattison: It was. It was a totally different experience. It all stayed low on the mountain, and it was all very runnable. Then the places you could run were pretty muddy and wet. We were out there freezing. A lot of the girls just got so cold. It was still The Rut, and we had so much fun.
iRunFar: There’s always something hard about The Rut. If it wasn’t Lone Peak, it was going to be something else.
Pattison: Yeah, it was good. I was disappointed not to do the technical stuff because that’s what I like. Everybody likes that on that mountain.
iRunFar: I think you come for that iconic, rocky ridgeline, don’t you?
Pattison: Yeah, absolutely.
iRunFar: In the Skyrunner World Series this year, you’ve kind of been steady Eddy… steady Ed-ress? I don’t know. What’s the feminine version of Eddy?
Pattison: Edie? Depends on which language we’re speaking.
iRunFar: Steady Edie. But you have. You’ve had a series of basically fourth through sixth places all around the world. You’re sitting in fifth in the Skyrunner World Series right now. Put it out there. What are your goals for this weekend?
Pattison: Gosh, I wish that I could give you a really concrete… I’m going to run my best. But sincerely, I honestly… this whole season just because of the amount of different types of stresses that all these courses have challenged me with, I feel like my biggest goal in each of these has been just to stay present and really, really try not to be distracted by what’s coming or what’s behind and just really be absorbed in the moment and to run my best in this moment. It’s been challenging because these races are so long. That presence or that mindfulness, it only lasts for me…
iRunFar: It lasts naturally for awhile, and then you have to focus for it.
Pattison: Yeah, so it comes and goes and comes and goes. I think for sure it is actually running my best, staying present in the moment, being mindful of doing all that I can do just to let go of clinging to whatever happens in the end. I love doing this. It is very, very hard, all the travel and all the different parts and pieces of competition. All these women are so strong that every race has been different. We’ve all kind of lined up differently in different races. I’ve just had these consistent results the whole time. I think in order to stay in fifth position, I do have to have a pretty good day tomorrow. So, that would be great, fantastic if I get that. If I don’t, I’m just stoked I got to do this.
iRunFar: You’ve been here for the week, and I know you’ve been tapering so you haven’t been out too much. You’ve had a chance to see what the terrain is like here. You’ve studied the profile. I’m sure you’ve nerded out a little bit.
Pattison: I haven’t, though. This is so weird.
iRunFar: ”That’s what I’m going to do after this interview.” What are your thoughts on tomorrow’s course. It opens up with a huge climb, but then you have another huge climb half way through the race.
Pattison: Yeah, I know that. That’s a good point. I looked at that one. It’s 6,000 feet in some amount of miles?
iRunFar: I think your first climb is 6,000 feet in 14k. The first part is gradual, and then you spike up and climb 4,000-5,000 feet in one go.
Pattison: Yeah, I love that. I have seen pieces of the first part of the course because we’re kind of close to that. It’s great. There’s a lot of grinding ascents, those really steep rocky ascents. You get up into cow country up there, and it’s pretty entertaining. I think that to me…
iRunFar: Where the girl cows have horns, just FYI. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
Pattison: What? No. Whoa, you’re right! I did notice that! Yes, I have a picture of that.
iRunFar: I’ve yet to Google this, but here in the Pyrenees, the girl cows have horns.
Pattison: Just so you guys know.
iRunFar: We’ll do some research for you.
Pattison: So that’s exciting. I’m so excited about that. Just like Buff Epic [Trail], I think it ends with a lot of runnable terrain which, to me, is actually more… that’s a little bit more intriguing, a little scarier than the first climb. You know how it is…
iRunFar: Keeping it together…
Pattison: Yeah, the whole first… it’s 110k, the whole first 100k…
iRunFar: ”I’m saving it for the last 10k.”
Pattison: That’s pretty much what happened at Buff Epic. It was just this epic race except for the last 10k after being out there for 17.5 hours. How is this even possible that I could be running this hard? Anything could happen tomorrow. Like I said, these girls are so incredibly strong. It’s pretty fun to race with them.
iRunFar: Last question for you. You’ve been traveling around the world to race this year. When you’re doing a ton of traveling to race, it’s not just about showing up on race day. It’s about putting some challenging travel logistics together. It’s about converting your body rhythms to a time zone that is eight or nine hours away. Talk about that for a minute. That’s something I think a lot of people are intrigued by but also intimidated by. What’s it been like to transplant yourself into totally different food cultures and body rhythms and timing?
Pattison: I think it’s really intimidating, you’re right. I think it sounds harder than it is if you have certain things in place. It’s just like going camping. Once you have that particular camp kit together and your system set, and you know what things you need and what things you don’t, then you can go and have it not be so stressful. This is the first trip—now this is my fourth trip to Europe this year—and this is my first trip that hasn’t been super stressful. It is just knowing you will, as soon as you get here, you’ll be eight hours ahead, and like we were talking about, getting on that sleep schedule immediately and kind of knowing what foods work for you. The grocery stores obviously don’t have the exact same things, but they have a lot. It’s not that hard. People here speak a lot of English, so they’re really accommodating which is helpful. Everybody here is really kind and I feel like even more just patient. They just take their time with you. I feel like it’s easier than we think it would be. But absolutely, it’s a ton of stress and takes a lot out of your body. So for me, I can’t do a lot sightseeing. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see all the great buildings in Bagà because I just had to lay low and rest.
iRunFar: “I might sprain my ankle on a cobble.”
Pattison: Which has happened.
iRunFar: You can look as you’re sprinting through the ancient city at the start tomorrow morning. No, you’re not going to look up.
Pattison: Yeah, exactly. Maybe the day after.
iRunFar: ”This is the one time I really don’t want to trip on a cobble when there’s over a thousand people behind me.”
Pattison: Oh, I’ve done that. It’s the worst. I’ve heard that story so many times. It happens to everybody.
iRunFar: A lot of people from America joke about there being certain rules for when you come to this time zone or come to Europe to race like, don’t go to sleep the first day you get here, don’t eat the funny foods when you first come to the island…
Pattison: What do you think about those rules?
iRunFar: I break all the rules. I’m wondering about you. I come here to work, so if I’m tired on race morning, meh, but you come here to run. Do you follow those rules, or have you found that your body can tolerate if you try out different foods and you can change your sleep patterns?
Pattison: As soon as I start leaving the U.S., so if I’m in Atlanta or whatever airport I’m coming over here from, right then I’m trying to get on European time zone.
iRunFar: You’ll go to sleep on the plane?
Pattison: Yeah, and I’ll try to take REM Caps or something that has valerian and melatonin in it to kind of get my sleep or circadian rhythms back into alignment. When I get here, I try not to nap. I try to stay on this time zone. I try to get exposed to natural light because I feel like that changes…
iRunFar: Go out for a run.
Pattison: I immediately start eating on their schedule. As far as food goes, it is hard for me. I stick with really basic foods here. It’s very easy to find rice and basic vegetables and eggs and meat. I eat meat. I just kind of immediately go into eating as nutritiously as I can and without experimenting with processed or spicy… I try and stay away from dairy and things that might be irritating to my system. For the most part, it’s not too bad. It doesn’t…
iRunFar: You’re a sort of rule follower.
Pattison: Sort of, yeah, that’s a good point. I try to be, but I’m not good at it. Ask my coach, I’m not good at it. I do not follow rules well.
iRunFar: ”Do not give me a system.”
Pattison: Yeah, it’s good. It’s not as bad. I really would encourage anyone to try it because it’s beautiful over here. These mountains are just so incredible and something everyone has to see. It’s why I’m doing this. I didn’t come over here thinking I was going to be able to win the Skyrunning World Series, but I’d absolutely encourage anyone…
iRunFar: You came here for the adventure.
Pattison: Yeah, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to legitimately run and race, so I feel like we should all just go for the adventure and see what happens and find that passion in what we’re doing versus worrying so much about all these little things that could go wrong. Let them go wrong. Live life.
iRunFar: That happens at some point.
Pattison: It all does. Everything has gone wrong. It’s great. I’m just learning. It’s good.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you tomorrow. Let almost everything go right.
Pattison: Yeah, thanks.
iRunFar: We’ll see you out on the course.
Pattison: Thank you so much, Meghan.