A relative newcomer to the trail-ultrarunning scene, Jazmine Lowther had us on the edge of our seats following the 2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k, which she won, shaving just one second off Beth Pascall’s stout course record of 10:01. She went on to place fourth at CCC later that year, and next week will be joining a stacked women’s field on the start line of the 2023 Transgrancanaria 129k. Lowther, who was initially self-coached, has been on a learning curve with her training. Now, like many other elites and ultrarunning coaches, she is leaning away from fatigue-inducing long runs and toward a structure of regular shorter sessions. I caught up with her to learn more about her training, hear first-hand the story behind these great results, and her aspirations for the racing year ahead.
Jazmine Lowther grew up in the small ski town of Nelson, in British Columbia, Canada, and has been active and a lover of the outdoors her whole life. She told iRunFar, “As a kid, I ran cross country. I was very into running at an early age and seemed to have a knack for it straight away. I think it was a combination of a competitive personality as well as the love for running.”
She enjoyed success as a cross-country runner underage, but as the sport of trail running was still not yet on her radar, she turned to track racing as a means to progress within the sport. She said, “I found it quite boring, and it actually scared me away from running. So, I dropped it and picked up playing a lot of soccer. I also did a lot of dance — classical ballet, jazz, modern — so I was a highly active teenager.”
Lowther attended the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, during which time she continued running, but more as a casual way to keep fit than with a sporting focus. Still forever exploring new sports, she said, “I became quite enamored with rock climbing in all of its various forms — bouldering, sport, trad, and Alpine climbing. I was really getting into different, mountainous adventures.”
She continued, “[I did rock climbing] just for fun, but I did get to quite high levels. I was quite a strong climber, definitely in sport and trad climbing. I think to get to the next level, I would have had to quit my job or at least have more flexibility.”
In 2019, while still just running casually amongst several other activities, Lowther signed up for a 50-kilometer race in her hometown. She hadn’t done any specific training and was still relatively clueless about how to prepare for an ultramarathon. She said, “I was crazy nervous but ended up loving it and placing first and third overall. From that moment, it sparked this curiosity of what I could do if I actually trained for running. So, after that, I was full-time into running.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Lowther couldn’t delve straight into a season of racing in 2020, but she said, “I did a few fastest known times — one was Mount Temple, in the Canadian Rockies, and Black Tusk, in the coastal mountains of British Columbia — and just grew a love for running trails in mountainous places.”
In 2021, with plenty of training but not much racing experience under her belt, she could finally dive into the competitive end of her newfound sport. She said, “I still only had one race under my belt. I was learning so much with every race. I did Sinister Seven 50 Mile [placing second]. I was still learning how to pace, take on fluids, and deal with heat.” She continued, “Then I did Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in the fall of 2021. I was incredibly sick for that race, but I think for me, just being able to finish a 100 miler and experience it was amazing.”
For Lowther, 2021 was a year of exploration — figuring out how to race and finding her groove within ultrarunning. The following year, in 2022, she began to refine her craft and surprised even herself with what she managed to achieve.
Her racing year started with a third-place finish at the 2022 Chuckanut 50k in March, followed a month later by the Canyons by UTMB 100k — a race which she dominated from start to finish, ultimately shaving a nail-biting one second off Beth Pascall’s course record. The course record was not something on Lowther’s radar going into the race, and she admitted, “I was aware of [Pascall’s record], but I was very lucky because I thought I had a bit more time to finish. I had memorized the time incorrectly!”
Rather than aiming for Pascall’s 10:01 record, her primary time target in the race was to match or best Abby Hall’s 2021 winning time of 10:34. It was about halfway into the race that Lowther realized she was well ahead of her initial target. She recounts, “I realized when I got about 50k into the race that my time was almost on par with my Chuckanut 50k time — I think it was around 4:20. So I knew I was well ahead of my A goal. And then, nearing the finish, it started to dawn on me that I could have a shot at the course record.”
The final section of the Canyons route — which departs from the more runnable Western States Trail — proved challenging for all that day, and Lowther recalls, “Of course, the last 10 kilometers of the course was covered in horrible slushy snow, rocks, and logs — it was ankle-rolling and just very challenging to put any speed down!” She persevered and said, “I tried to put my last ounces of energy onto the trail and was able to be basically on par with Beth Pascall’s record.”
Lowther secured a Golden Ticket into the Western States 100 from her victory at Canyons, but unfortunately, an injury stopped her from making it to the start line. A sharp pain presented in her foot not long after Canyons and persisted until she could no longer ignore it. She said, “There were concerns that it was a stress fracture. It turned out it wasn’t. It was inflammation and a compressed nerve. I had almost six weeks off running.”
Lowther was back running by June but not on time to sufficiently prepare for the Western States 100. She said, “It was unfortunate, but I was overall thankful in the grand scheme of things to still be running.”
For Lowther, the cloud of missing out on the Western States 100 had a silver lining in the form of the chance to race the CCC in August — arguably the most competitive trail 100k in the world — from Courmayeur in Italy, through Champex-Lac in Switzerland, to finish in Chamonix, France.
She said, “I realized I can go to the CCC and thought, This is an amazing fallback. I had goals of doing UTMB in like three years, so the fact that I could go and do one of the finale races was an amazing opportunity. I started working with a team of physiotherapists and kinesiologists, so I had their support and was able to pull off six weeks of solid training.”
The depth of competition in the women’s field at CCC was different from anything Lowther had ever encountered before, and she said, “I can’t even describe the experience. It was a complete other level of competition. Every second counted … The entire time I felt like I was on someone’s heels, but someone else was right behind me. It was the most intense race.”
Following lots of back-and-forths — during which she alternated between third, fourth, and fifth places — Lowther eventually finished fourth in 12 hours and 12 minutes.
Reflecting on the experience, she said, “I learned so much, even about how to work the aid stations, and I definitely had room for improvement there. It was really cool to see the women’s field that year. The times are now faster than male times a few years ago.”
She said about the route itself, which follows the second half of the iconic Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail, “I had this idea that the UTMB races are all running over mountains. And they are, in a way. You run over many mountain passes. But you also come down into towns and through urban areas, so it was a really cool mix of feeling connected to the different towns and communities and hearing different languages, as well as getting up high over the mountains. It’s actually got a nice mix of European cultures and great mountains as well.”
Post-CCC, although Lowther was keen to race again, she suffered a minor injury, as well as a bout of COVID-19, and some other minor illnesses, which meant training had to take a backseat for a time. She added, “Also, I was moving and changing careers. I certainly had a big hankering to do another race but had to be patient for the right time.”
Lowther had been working full-time as a biologist in land rehabilitation but found that training full-time alongside working regular hours was becoming unfeasible. She said, “It felt unsustainable to be doing both. So now I’m working as a freelancer, professional athlete, I’m coaching runners, and writing for running magazines, with a focus on environmental issues and women’s health.” About her shift in career, she added, “I think the main thing is to have more flexibility. It’s been a bit of a leap, but hopefully, it will work out, at least for the next while!”
As for the 2023 racing season, Lowther will be racing the Transgrancanaria 129k in late February and said, “It looks really beautiful — mountainous as well and a solid distance. I’m excited to start the year off with that.” Next on her agenda is the Canyons by UTMB 100 Mile in April, which is now a UTMB World Series Major, which means a top-ten placing would earn her a spot at UTMB, which she also aspires to run this year.
She added, “June is still to be determined, but I am hoping to do Worlds [Trail and Mountain Running World Championships]. I’m still waiting on the selection. If not, I’ll have a fallback — maybe the Broken Arrow Skyrace — or something else shorter and fast, a little bit out of my comfort zone.”
From her early days of very haphazard training, Lowther has learned a lot and was successfully self-coached for both Canyons and the CCC in 2022. However — in an effort to continue to improve as well as train in a sustainable way — she has begun working with coach James Montgomery of The Run Project. She said, “It’s been a learning experience. I’m still a little bit like a wild stallion that’s getting pulled back! We’re honing in on quality training, lots of my weaknesses, and I’m learning a lot.”
When asked what a typical training week looks like, she shared, “Right now, I’m training in winter, so it’s quite snowy. I’m aiming for about 140k per week. Typically, Monday is a rest or strength day. Tuesday, I’ll have maybe a speed session in the morning and an easy run in the evening. Wednesday, I might do two easy runs for recovery, and then Thursday, I might do a hill workout and then an easy run later on. Friday, a recovery run with some strength training, and then Saturday would be a long run, with some intervals in it, for race preparation and specific things like that.” Sunday, she keeps open for skiing and adventures.
In terms of how her training has evolved, from self-coaching to working with a coach, Lowther said, “I guess what’s changed the most is that I’m doing more doubles. I’m shortening the length — in terms of distance and duration — of the runs and will do an easy recovery run in the evening, whereas before, I would have done it all together. I think a lot of the research coming out is supporting what my coach is recommending for me. It’s been good — getting used to something different.”
As elite athletes and ultrarunning coaches are moving away from huge long runs in training, with the science now favoring regular shorter sessions with adequate recovery in between, Lowther muses, “I still see some people doing it [running very long training runs], and I wonder did that contribute to some of my injuries. Probably, yes. And I do feel that a lot of my chronic minor injuries are going away with this structure. It’s easier on the joints, and you’re able to get in a lot more quality into your workouts.”
My biggest takeaway from speaking with Jazmine Lowther is how open to learning she has been throughout her ultrarunning journey so far. With so many lessons from her previous races and a fresh new take on training for 2023, we’re likely to be seeing a lot more of her name on the pages of iRunFar this year and beyond.
Call for Comments
- Have you seen Jazmine Lowther in action?
- What are your thoughts on her new approach to training? Do double runs work for you?