Adam Campbell is back to give his second shot at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In this interview, Adam talks about why he chose to return to Transvulcania, how he trained through winter and early spring in Canada, and how’s he’s mentally approaching Saturday’s race.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Adam Campbell Pre-2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here on the island of La Palma a couple days before the 2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. I’m here drinking some coffee with Adam Campbell. Hi.
Adam Campbell: Hi.
iRunFar: How’s it going?
Campbell: Good. I think we’re on coffee number three right now.
Campbell: Cheers! Jetlag.
iRunFar: This interview has been brought to you by caffeine curing jetlag.
Campbell: Yeah, I think we’re finally on semi-coherent state now, so this will be interesting.
iRunFar: How are you doing? It is early spring where you’re coming from in the deep, dark depths of Canada.
Campbell: Yeah, it’s always interesting preparing for the first race of the year especially coming off Canadian winter—a lot of skiing this winter and a bit more scrambling and climbing than actual running. It’s probably the least I’ve actually run prior to a race. I trained a lot, but it’s just different types of training. I think a lot of the mountain runners in Europe have a similar type of approach to it, so we’ll see how it works.
iRunFar: You can have conversations at the starting line, “How many running miles do you have on your legs?” “How many miles do you have on your legs?”
Campbell: Exactly. I think the bigger issue is that I’m going to be really, really sore the day after the race. I’m a bit more worried about that than anything.
iRunFar: A little quadriceps failure at the end of the final descent?
Campbell: Yeah, maybe 20k of downhill at the end will definitely take its toll. It’s a great opportunity to put in an early season race, and it’s such a cool atmosphere. It’s so beautiful.
iRunFar: Yeah, this place is not unfamiliar to you. You’ve been here before.
Campbell: Yeah, I had a bit of a shocker race here three years ago.
iRunFar: 2013—you came in good shape, but…
Campbell: Yeah, I caught some sort of a bug on my way here.
iRunFar: Along with a couple other folk, eh?
Campbell: Yeah, quite a few other people.
iRunFar: I just said, “eh.”
iRunFar: My next door neighbors are Canadians, too.
Campbell: Okay. Do they say, “eh,” a lot?
iRunFar: No, they make fun of me when I do.
Campbell: I don’t really know that may Canadians who say, “eh.” Yeah, a few of us got sick coming over here with the really long-haul flights and new food and sleep deprivation before the race and everything. It’s a part of racing internationally. You have to manage yourself.
iRunFar: So did you get a stomach bug, or what did you get?
Campbell: Yeah, it was a stomach bug. I started the race, and I felt okay for about two, two-and-a-half hours, and then it was basically lights out. I took a little nap on the side of the trail.
Campbell: Literally took a nap on the side of the trail. I ended up hiking the rest of the day out of there which was a really different experience. It was the first time I’d ever had a bad race at an ultra. Once I took a little nap and recovered a little bit and got some food into me, I got to meet some people who were a little further back in the race and I had a really good time with them.
iRunFar: Turned into a bit of a party?
Campbell: Well, it was more helping them with their struggles at that point. I’m not sure how much they were partying that day. It was just neat to see how much support and camaraderie people give each other out there. A lot of times you kind of take it for granted that you go and race 50 to 100 miles and you’re actually racing, but for a lot of people, it’s a huge accomplishment to finish a race like Transvulcania. It is for anybody, but people train all winter and for years just to be able to complete a race like that. You can really feel that back there. I got a lot of energy from that. It was really cool.
iRunFar: You might have said you had a little alcohol going, too?
Campbell: Well, one of the guys I was helping was having some cramps, so I ran up to the next aid station to get some pretzels and some water for him and some ice to help massage his legs a little bit, and…
iRunFar: Wow, massage therapist on the trail?
Campbell: I wasn’t massaging his legs!
iRunFar: Okay, because that would be amazing.
Campbell: That’s not a service I offer. So, Sage [Canaday], no massages for you while we’re racing.
iRunFar: Hey, guys, let’s all take a break at this point in the race.
Campbell: That’s weird. People already think ultrarunners are weird; let’s not get into that.
iRunFar: Let’s not make it any more weird.
Campbell: That’s right. Yeah, that aid station was having a bit of a party at it, so I went and asked if they had any ice. They did, but they had watermelon and beer. So I had watermelon and beer with them before bringing back some ice for the other guy.
iRunFar: So, I don’t know, when I look at your style of racing or how you choose races, from my perspective, it seems a little random. I like this, so I’m going to do this. I like this so I’m going to do this again. I don’t care what I’m supposed to do as a “fast sponsored runner.” I’m going to do what I find interesting. So what brings you back to this race a second time?
Campbell: That’s interesting. I like to do races that inspire me. There are a couple things that inspire me. Fast fields will inspire me. Beautiful courses like Hardrock will inspire me. You’re right. This year my race schedule is very random. I’m doing Mount Marathon in Alaska which is less than an hour long. I’m doing Transvulcania. I’m doing a new race at the start of August called [SALOMON ALPEN] X 100.
iRunFar: Which I haven’t even heard of until talking to you.
Campbell: It’s super cool. You go from Germany to Italy across the Alps which should be wild. I’m doing some local races. I think one of the things… I’ve been racing semi-professionally since I was about 17—World Cup Triathlon circuit until now. That’s a lot of years racing. I just find that I don’t need to race quite as much anymore to be inspired. I’ve got such an amazing backyard in the Canadian Rockies that it takes something special to draw me out of there because there’s a lifetime of exploring back there.
iRunFar: So are you back here for the competition? Are you back for the island community? Are you back to revenge your stomach bug?
Campbell: I wouldn’t say it’s totally revenge. If anything, it’s to prepare for races later on in the year. It’s such a cool opportunity to come to a tropical island after a winter freezing my toes. When I was offered the chance to come back, I said I’d like to come back here. You’re right; it is really fast. I find in the last three years racing that the level has gone up. I think the top is as quick as it always was. I don’t think that’s changed too much.
iRunFar: But there are more people there.
Campbell: Yeah, a couple years ago, an hour or hour-and-a-half and you’d still finish top-10 whereas now you need to be within a half-an-hour. It’s really tightening up. I love that level of head-to-head competition. So many ultras you run you’re by yourself whereas this a real race the whole time. You have to manage yourself differently. I’m excited by that. It makes you push yourself to the next level as well.
iRunFar: When is the last time that you’ve seen something that’s comparable? I know ultrarunning and trail running have been changing really fast and races are growing more competitive. When’s the last time that you raced in a deep men’s field?
Campbell: In an ultra or just a general race?
iRunFar: In general.
Campbell: Probably the deepest race I did was the year I ran Sierre-Zinal. It’s the same thing there. You’re fighting every second of the race. That’s only a 25k or 27k race. It’s a lot shorter. You’re really on the whole time. The year I ran CCC was pretty fun, too. It was quite competitive for the first 30-40k and then it thinned out quite a bit. When I ran UTMF, I was with Julien Chorier the whole time or a good 120k of that race which also felt… although there, you’re kind of helping each other along in a 100 miler as opposed to racing each other until the end… or until he decided to really hurt me. So those are the last times it felt like it was a real head-to-head, but a lot of times you’re by yourself.
iRunFar: Yeah, you’re kind of off the front by yourself.
Campbell: Or somebody’s ahead of you like Kilian [Jornet] at Hardrock.
iRunFar: Well, there’s that. I want to ask you a little bit about your specific training ahead of this race because you do come from the core of Canada. You’ve been on skis; you do skimo racing. I think you did a 50k a couple weeks ago?
Campbell: I did. I did a 50k race called the Nimble Bear which is an awesome race. It’s a community race in a town called Kelowna, British Columbia.
iRunFar: Also an awesomely named race.
Campbell: It’s awesome. I think there’s another race called Broken Goat… Nimble Bear.
iRunFar: If a goat gets broken, that’s really bad.
Campbell: So, yeah, it wasn’t a very competitive race, but it was quite a technical course—very similar to here.
iRunFar: Good training.
Campbell: Good training, yeah. It had over 7,000 feet of climbing in 50k, so it was pretty decent. Otherwise, the training has been big weekends on skis. I’ll go out midweek for skis. Throughout the week when I’m working in the city, all of my runs are relatively flat. So it’s a different type of prep.
iRunFar: Are we talking like throughout the winter 30k running during the week?
Campbell: Yeah, it would depend on the week. If I was in the city, I’d run a bit more, maybe run up to 60k. Otherwise, yeah, even then throughout the winter, a lot of my ‘runs’ were more scrambles. I might be out for four hours but cover 15k because it’s plenty of vertical and technical. I quite enjoy that sort of more mountaineering style.
iRunFar: Coming into a race like this that is a lot of kilometers but there’s just a ton of uphill and downhill, how do you… are you just going to go into it thinking, I’m going to rely on muscle memory here; I’m going to be focused on trying to have good, efficient mechanics so my body will hold up as long as possible? What is a person’s mentality when they’re like, “Yep, I spent my winter on skis. I’m fit, but I’ve been on skis.”
Campbell: Yeah, it really depends on how hot it is, for one. The heat will really change things a lot. If it gets really hot, then I’ll probably suffer a little bit more just because I haven’t done any acclimation. Once the summer gets going, it’s not as big of an issue. At the moment, that’s probably my bigger concern although it doesn’t look like it’s going to be brutally, brutally hot. So the first thing is just keeping the core temperature down and keeping it as manageable as possible as much of the race as possible. From there, I don’t know, the running part doesn’t really worry me so much. I do expect to have rather tired legs after about four-and-half hours, but I’ve also just run for four-and-a-half hours, so everybody is going to have tired legs by then. I know that it is early season for a lot of other people as well. There are a lot of people who are in a similar situation as me. We’ll see what happens with the legs as the race goes on. If I start to feel a bit tired then I feel tired. It is what it is. The idea is to stay relatively… conserve as much as possible especially through that first really long climb. It’s really easy to burn out quite early here. Then I’ll make sure to have some legs for the really long downhill. That’s when it starts to heat up a little bit later on in the day.
iRunFar: That was going to be my next question. Given the field—obviously there will be some dudes that just go out as that’s Transvulcania style at this point—are you going to give chase, try to stay in contact, or just do your thing and see what happens up on top?
Campbell: By nature I’m a bit more of a front runner. I like to be up near the front of a race. I think given my current fitness, that probably wouldn’t be the smartest strategy I’ve ever used.
iRunFar: I might still do it.
Campbell: Yeah, can I overcome my natural urges? You’d think after 20 years I’d have finally learned, but…
iRunFar: To be continued on the ethics and morality debate, right?
Campbell: Yeah. Last week when I ran the 50k, I felt pretty strong through it. I was able to go run three hours the next day after the 50k. My legs actually feel like they’re in pretty decent shape right now. It’s not that bad. I’ve been doing it long enough that my body kind of knows what to do.
iRunFar: You might just take it out.
Campbell: No, I realize the guys in front are going to be really, really hard, but I’m mentally prepared to be in 10th to 20th through the first, maybe through El Pilar, and then see how I’m feeling at that point. I just don’t really know. You can’t really control what other people are doing. I know what sort of a pace I can manage. You know the race will take, if you’re having a good day, somewhere between seven and eight hours. I’ll be making sure that that’s in my mindset. I’m going in with a pace I can sustain for that long.
iRunFar: Okay. Good luck to you.
Campbell: Yeah, thanks. I look forward to seeing you out there. As I said, it’s such a cool opportunity to be able to come to places like this. I don’t take that for granted. Yeah, it’s pretty magical to sit here sipping a coffee in this hardship life.
iRunFar: On that note…
Campbell: My one complaint was that there was too much food at the buffet. Life’s really hard.
iRunFar: “How do I manage to not eat a half kilo before race day?”
Campbell: If it’s a half kilo, it’s okay. Hopefully eight hours of running on Saturday will help me deal with that.
iRunFar: Work it back off.
Campbell: Yeah, I look forward to seeing you out there. Best of luck with your race coming up as well.
Campbell: Have you been telling people about that a bit?
Campbell: I think you should. Where are you going?
iRunFar: I’m running the Trans Atlas Marathon in… oooh! We’re getting a plug for the Trans Atlas Marathon. Mohamad [Ahansal], hey!
Campbell: How long is it?
iRunFar: It’s a six-day 280k stage race in which you don’t have to carry all your stuff. You just get to carry a day pack for the Atlas Mountains.
Campbell: That’s amazing! Have you been in those mountains before?
iRunFar: I’ve driven through them a couple times. I haven’t been on a trail yet.
Campbell: Okay, well excellent! That sounds like one heck of a way to knock them all off.
iRunFar: I’d better start training though.
Campbell: Will you get to run at all this week while you’re here?
iRunFar: Maybe once or twice.
Campbell: How are your legs going to handle that then?
iRunFar: It will be… yeah… like you said, everybody feels pain after about four hours, don’t they?
Campbell: Exactly, yeah.
iRunFar: I’m looking at it as Hardrock training. I’ll try to get through the week, have a good time, see some really remote parts of the Atlas Mountains, and not get injured. I’ll bounce back and hopefully be fit for Hardrock.
Campbell: Excellent. Cool. Sounds like an amazing experience. Good for you for doing that. Sounds like an adventure!
iRunFar: Yeah, definitely an adventure. Thanks, dude!
Campbell: Cheers! Thank you.