In the midst of a great season, England’s Holly Page heads to the Ring of Steall Skyrace to see how she’ll fair in Scotland. In the following interview, our first with her, Holly talks about how she’s been running the hills since childhood, why it took her until this year to smile while racing, and how she’s raced nearly every weekend since April.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Holly Page before the 2018 Ring of Steall Skyrace. How are you, Holly?
Holly Page: I’m quite cold. I just flew in from the US two days ago and it was nice and warm there, but yeah, it’s great to be back in the beautiful UK.
iRunFar: You’re making me jealous. Where were you last in the US?
Page: I was in Montana. I went over to do The Rut. Because it took so bloody long to get there, I decided to stay for another week afterwards and went down into Wyoming in the Wind River Range and the Tetons and, then, up into Yellowstone.
iRunFar: That’s a pretty amazing week after The Rut.
Page: Yeah, it was nice. Yeah, it was fairly restful-ish.
iRunFar: The Rut itself went really well?
Page: Yeah, I didn’t really know what to expect and it was really high altitude… for a British person it was pretty high.
iRunFar: And for a race.
Page: So I kind of flew in from not very high and wasn’t sure how that go in terms of altitude and being generally tired. I’ve been crewing Tom [Owens]at the TDS. He finished after midnight and at 4 a.m. I drove to Geneva airport to get my 7 a.m. flight which is… it was great prep… just a bit like this. Yeah, I was pretty happy as it went pretty well.
iRunFar: Good thing Tom didn’t take any longer at TDS.
Page: He took long enough, so… [laughs]
iRunFar: The Rut went really well, but you’ve also had other high-altitude races like Yadingearly in the season.
Page: Yeah, so maybe high-altitude races are my thing. I don’t know. Yeah, I did well in China. Then me and Hilary Girardidid a race up Monte Rosa in early June which was cool. That went up to 4,500 meters or something.
iRunFar: Which was the original Skyrunning race.
Page: Yeah, they brought it back after not having it for 25 years. That was a pretty awesome experience.
iRunFar: How did that go?
Page: It was great. I’d never done a team race before. We did it with a partner. We did 1,000 meters not roped together, then 1,000 meters with crampons and still not roped together, and then 1000 meters attached to Hilary. It was good.
iRunFar: Did you two take that?
Page: Yeah, we had some ski mountaineer rivals but we took them on the run, so that was good.
iRunFar: Who was that? Who were you racing hard against?
Page: I’m not sure of their names.
iRunFar: Are they here?
Page: I don’t think so. They like snow. Last time I was here it was really snowy in February or March.
iRunFar: I think there are rumors of possibly snow on these ridges one of these nights.
Page: That would be good for me. Anything that slows everyone else down is good for me.
iRunFar: Why is that?
Page: Because I’m slow, but I’m strong and slow. When it’s raining and hurricaning and blizzarding and whatever it might be, I don’t enjoy it, but I tend to do better when it’s like that.
iRunFar: It’s equalizes things a little bit. You’re not just going to use some speed and blow people away.
Page: I can’t do that.
iRunFar: This is your sort of course.
Page: Exactly. I am British, so I feel like I ought to know the route, but I don’t.
iRunFar: 29k and a good bit of climbing.
Page: Yeah, there are always plenty of people to follow. I’ll be fine.
iRunFar: It’s well flagged, I’m sure. It’s a lot of climbing, technical in parts—not climbing technical, but it’s technical.
Page: Yeah, apparently so. As I say, I’ve not engaged very much in looking at the route properly, but yeah, I guess I’ll see it tomorrow.
iRunFar: Rumor is you’re pretty good at that stuff.
Page: That’s what I like. I was brought up as a fell runner, so ever since I was in the under-12s in the English Fell Running Championships I’ve been running up and down… well, walking up the hills and running down them.
iRunFar: Are you going to have your club kit on in tomorrow’s race?
Page: I probably should. They’d be really happy if I did, but I don’t think so. I’ll probably be wearing a waterproof coat and my hat and gloves.
iRunFar: I don’t know, the forecast for during the race is actually…
Page: This is best weather. Blue sky… It’s here!
iRunFar: Let’s look really close. Folks, you witnessed it. You’ve been running for a long time then and competitively so.
Page: For quite a while, yeah. I like to race which means actually since April I’ve race every single weekend other than last weekend.
iRunFar: You’re fresh now.
Page: Totally fresh. My legs are going to be feeling great tomorrow.
iRunFar: Some of those are really high level Skyrunning World Series races, Mont Rosa race, but I assume some of them have been low-key?
Page: There have been a few low-key ones, but mostly races overseas. If I haven’t got a race, I try and find one. Yeah, there have been a couple of fell races on the rare occasions I’m back in the UK. I even did a triathlon three weeks ago because I was in the Alps and didn’t have a race. I can’t swim, and I found the Mont Blanc International Triathlon and bought a swimming costume from Decathlon for eight euros the day before. I borrowed some goggles from somebody, turned up, and everyone else was wearing a wetsuit. I was the only one in a swim costume, and it was raining.
iRunFar: You made it?
Page: I made it, and I got a puncture on my bike. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Yeah, I finished.
iRunFar: Now back to a simple run in the hills.
Page: Yeah, this is easy. I’m not having to dress about how many swim caps I’m going to wear or whether I’m going to literally die of hyperthermia because I’d been swimming in the lake.
iRunFar: Because… you’ve been running in crap weather in the hills for quite a while.
Page: Yeah, people are like, “Oh, yeah, It’s great. This is your sort of terrain and your sort of weather. You Brits love it.” We don’t love it. That’s why most Brits go overseas. Just because it rains all the time doesn’t mean we love the rain. Yeah, well, we’ll see tomorrow… or maybe we won’t see because it will be too misty.
iRunFar: Maybe some clag or whatnot. On the competition side of things, there are a lot of really strong women here. As you matched up at Zegamaearlier in the year, probably some of them. Are you excited by that or what draws you to these kind of races?
Page: I used to be super competitive. I think I was more competitive as an under-12 than I am now. I used to get really nervous before races and would look up who was going to be there, whereas now, I know what I can do. I know what other people can do, and I know there are a lot of other people faster than me. That’s totally fine. They’re better than me. I don’t get too stressed like, “Oh, no, this person might beat me or this person might beat me.” I’m like, “Well, I’ll go out and run hard, and if that’s faster than some people, cool, and if it’s not as fast as some people, also cool.” I’m pretty chill about the whole thing.
iRunFar: Are you competing against yourself, or are you just going out there having fun in the mountains?
Page: I don’t think I’ll be having fun. Everyone is always like, “Yeah, it’s so fun smiling and running around in the mountains.” That’s one thing I’ve learned this year is how to smile in a race. I never used to smile when I was running because if you’re running hard, you’re racing. You shouldn’t be enjoying it. But then some of the Skyrunning guys after the first race this year said, “Holly, you never smile. You’re supposed to at least smile for the camera.”
“I’m trying hard!” I usually have spit down my face and a double chin.
iRunFar: Classic fell runner photo. Snot coming out one nostril.
Page: My dad would have told me off if I was smiling. That shows I’m actually trying. What was I even talking about… oh, having fun in the mountains. No, I won’t be having fun in the mountains probably.
iRunFar: Not on race day.
Page: I enjoy before the race. This is fun. I get to feel justified in eating large amounts of food. Afterwards, I also feel justified in eating large amounts of food. But the actual race is usually not that fun. Oh, yeah, and competition, you asked about that. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m not like… you should never turn up to a race expecting to come in a certain position or expecting to do well. I usually just presume I’ll be at the back. Then if I’m not at the back, I’ll be really happy. If you have zero expectations, I’m never, ever disappointed after a race because I usually expect to be last.
iRunFar: That’s funny. I just interviewed Damien Hallafter UTMB and had that same exact mental approach—“I’m rubbish. Whatever. If I beat anybody, great.”
Page: Exactly. Whoo! I’m not last! Amazing! Then you’re always happy.
iRunFar: A little mental gymnastics.
Page: Yeah, and I used to be really bad, so I’ve never… I was never a good runner as a junior, for example, so I never went through the phase of always winning and then stopping winning. I never won and then sometimes now I win. Wow! This is cool! Yeah, I never take it for granted.
iRunFar: Keep climbing upwards. Good luck out there, Holly. Great meeting you.
Page: Thanks. Thank you.
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