Catching Up With Ruby Muir

Catching up with New Zealand trail runner and scientist Ruby Muir.

By on January 25, 2021 | Comments

Ruby Muir is just back from a visit to New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. It’s only a two-hour flight from where she currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, but it must feel further away. The Chatham Islands are a group of 10 islands across a 37-mile area, with just 600 people living there. Muir’s husband of five years, Kristian Day, grew up on the islands before leaving for high school. “It was really interesting, with my research,” Muir shared. “I found a lot of shark’s teeth fossils just walking on the beach.” She boasts of a giant crayfish with a promise to send a picture, and says, “The seafood is amazing on the Chathams, which is wasted on me as a vegetarian going on vegan, but the locals and Kristian’s family have lived sustainably off the ocean for as long as people have lived there.”

Like her husband, Muir’s living situation has changed too as she’s grown and aged. She grew up in an off-grid house that wasn’t road accessible. I ask if there’s some nostalgia for that base, but she’s okay. “My sister lives there now, with my niece and nephew. It’s a great place to be a kid and a lot of my identity is there, but Wellington has cool access to the outdoors, culture, and other runners. I have lots of runners to train with now,” she said with a nod toward her Wellington Scottish Athletics Club. “We’re surrounded by native bush in Wellington. We can’t see any neighbors. I’m not missing anything.”

Ruby Muir and a Chatham Islands crayfish. All photos courtesy of Ruby Muir unless otherwise noted.

That training group has helped push Muir, age 29, to a 16:20 road 5k best, and a win at the country’s 2017 cross-country championships. She was second at the Kepler Challenge 60k in New Zealand in December of 2020, a race she’s won seven times. “I’m still chasing the course record. I got within 90 seconds one year, but there’s been a couple of different courses,” she smiled. “I love the South Island’s mountains.”

Muir’s in Wellington now for school, pursuing a master’s degree in geophysics with a focus on climate studies. She finished her undergraduate work in 2019 and received her degree, by mail, in 2020. “There’s a lot of funding for disaster research in New Zealand, and I’m really interested in climate research,” Muir pepped. “We’ll look at a lot of glaciers and try to recreate them at past times. I like working on issues that I genuinely care about,” she said of her motivation. Muir’s working in the hospitality industry this summer–the New Zealand summer, that is–and Day is a teacher. “We flipped; I supported him while he was going to school earlier,” she said. Years earlier, she worked at a home for disabled children. “I worked there for five to six years before study. It was really rewarding, but frustrating. I was in middle management and we were short staffed, and your mental health, you take that work home. I did learn a lot of patience and empathy though,” she reflected on the experience.

Ruby ‘graduating’ from university at home after receiving her degree by mail in 2020.

In the early aughts, Muir was winning trail ultramarathons in Vibram Five Fingers. I ask, and she looks away with a sheepish grin, before explaining. “I was at a race and I really just locked my shoes in the car. It was right as barefoot running was growing, but it was not a deliberate choice. People started giving me these shoes, and they’re really good on trails,” she insisted. I knew Muir had dealt with injury in recent years, and she again does a face shrug at the memory. “Well, I’ve had three major injuries,” she revealed, before recounting a fall and torn quadriceps muscle at the 2014 Skyrunning World Championships. “There was no one around, so I got up and kept running, but I took a long time off and I’ve got really good mobility,” she said with surprise at the positive outcome. In 2015, she had surgery on her iliotibial band, and two years ago she endured another long-term injury. She’s had two surgeries through this stretch. “I’ve got orthotics now; I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I’m not that passionate about any shoe,” she said of her kicks. Her footwear’s changed, but her running really hasn’t. “Theoretically I would do all of those extra things, but I really only do rehabilitation when it’s a crisis.”

Ruby and Kristian Day’s wedding day.

Her Facebook page reads, “Unenthusiastic social media user so do not expect any updates. At all,” and indeed the fan page has gone updated since 2016. “I’ve got no agenda. I guess we never really stop what we are doing in order to take photos of it,” she explained. “I mean, I’m not outright against social media, but I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like to be a product as an athlete. You see some put up a stream of inspiring messages but that doesn’t always make others feel good. I don’t want others to feel like they know me through social media. There can be some good points to it, but it’s all right to be a private person too.” Earlier in her career, Muir turned down sponsorship opportunities that would’ve expanded her social-media look, but she also wasn’t ready to leave New Zealand as a base. “It’s a great country, but I do want to explore other places too. I’ll go to one race and then come back,” she said, as opposed to doing a full international series. “I’m not trying to launch a new career. I’m still doing a lot of races and running. The road scene is really strong here.”

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Ruby and Sage Canaday after winning the 2013 Tarawera Ultramarathon. Photo: iRunFar

Ruby at the 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathon. Photo: iRunFar

Justin Mock

Justin Mock is the This Week In Running columnist for iRunFar. He’s been writing about running for 10 years. Based in Europe, Justin has run as fast as 2:29 for a road marathon and finished as high as fourth in the Pikes Peak Marathon.