Katharina Hartmuth Post-2023 Trail World Championships 80k Interview

A video interview (with transcript) with Katharina Hartmuth after her second-place finish at the 2023 Trail World Championships 80k.

By on June 10, 2023 | Comments

Germany’s Katharina Hartmuth says she surprised herself in taking second at the 2023 Trail World Championships 80k. In this interview, our first with Katharina, she talks about her life outside of running, how she got into ultra-trail running, what it was like to lead a world championships event for part of the race, and how she managed a positive perspective through a long day of intense racing.

For more on what happened in the race, read our 2023 Trail World Championships 80k results article.

Katharina Hartmuth Post-2023 Trail World Championships 80k Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Katharina Hartmuth. It’s the day after the 2023 Trail World Championships 80k. Congratulations, Katharina on your second-place finish yesterday.

Katharina Hartmuth: Thank you very much.

iRunFar: Walking to this interview you didn’t look tired or sore at all. How are you feeling?

Hartmuth: I’m feeling quite good actually. So obviously I am a bit tired. Also it got quite late yesterday because I had to wait for doping control and everything. But I feel actually quite good. Yeah.

iRunFar: This is iRunFar’s first interview with you. I’d like to learn a little bit about you. You’ve been racing ultra marathons for a few years according to your results. But how did you find running and then ultra trail running?

Hartmuth: Well, I think I always liked running.

iRunFar: Okay.

Hartmuth: But usually I just like shorter runs for fun. And then, like a few years back, I came to Switzerland. And I always love being in the mountains. And then I heard that there are these races where people run up the mountains actually. And I was intrigued at the first moment because I was like, Oh, that’s a bit crazy. And then I think in 2016, I did a half marathon. It was half street and half on the mountain. And I quite liked it. But it was way too short for me. I wanted a longer race because it was over so soon. And then yeah, I got into the ultras because they’re just longer.

iRunFar: According to your results you’ve actually raced a couple times here in the Innsbruck area. So I think maybe you had some one-up on the competition in knowing what the trail and the conditions would be like?

Hartmuth: Well, I mean, I’ve raced here before but on different trails. But I came here two weeks ago to check at least the first part and the last part of the course. Because back then it was not clear if you would run the original loop or now the alternative one. And I couldn’t test like the middle part of the race because of all the snow. We had so much snow in May and in April. But yeah, I knew what would be there in terms of the track.

iRunFar: We were talking a little bit before the interview. You’re a climate science PhD student, very soon to defend your PhD thesis. Could you tell me about what you do in academia?

Hartmuth: Yes, so I studied, basically I came to Zurich, in Switzerland, to study Earth Sciences. And then I did my Master’s in Atmospheric and Climate Science, and then my PhD. And it’s about Arctic climate change. So quite an important topic. And I quite like it because I mean, as much as I love doing my sport, it’s really important for me to have something else, something that, where I can use my brain and don’t need to use like, the rest of the body. And yeah, I really like doing it. And now, yeah, I’m finished with my PhD, but I’m glad that I can continue to work in that area.

iRunFar: And we were talking before this interview, you really are defending your PhD thesis in a week and a half. So you’re converting from this important experience, to that very important experience.

Hartmuth: Yes, I do. It was not planned like that. The defense came first. And then there was the invitation for the world champs. And obviously, I could not really say no. It’s such an honor to race for a country. So yeah, now I try to juggle it. And obviously I didn’t expect to come second yesterday. So I didn’t expect what would happen afterwards. I just thought Oh, today I will go back to Switzerland and just travel home. And now there’s, yeah. I have a few things to do.

iRunFar: There are people like me bothering you.

Hartmuth: Yeah, but it’s an honor. I mean, I really like to do these things and I try to soak it all up, even though it’s still a bit unreal.

iRunFar: Let’s talk about that unreal experience yesterday. You seemed to run with joy for most of the day. Is that sort of in character for you when you’re in the mountains?

Hartmuth: Yes. Basically, I have to. At the beginning, I looked at the sky and I was like, Oh, it’s just such a beautiful day. I was just looking forward to spending all the day in the mountains. And I knew that the trails, I mean, they’re perfect here. It would be a perfect venue to race. And I was just looking forward so much, and with all these great athletes being there. And yeah, usually I just enjoy it so much — running in the mountains — if in a race or not. And I think also in tricky parts, it helps me just to continue smiling. It’s just like a mental thing. So yeah, it really helps. But it’s real — most of the time, it’s real. [laughs]

iRunFar: In terms of the women’s competition, it seems like as we say in English, you were “in the mix” with the competition pretty early on. Did you put yourself out there intentionally? Were you running by feeling? How did that actually turn out?

Hartmuth: Yeah, so it was definitely not intentionally, because when I took over the lead so early, I was like, I just thought it’s not good.

iRunFar: [laughs]

Hartmuth: Yeah, because I don’t like being in the lead. I mean, because when you are in the lead, you have to think, Okay, now I have to stay in the lead. Otherwise, I fail somehow, or people now have expectations. So that was definitely not a goal. I tried to start quite easy because I knew that there was so much climbing involved. So we took the first climb quite easy. I was in a group of other German runners, and we chatted, we basically had a really good time up that first climb.

iRunFar: Aww.

Hartmuth: It was a really good start of the race. But then for me, always the goal is to race by feel. I mean, I try to race in the end if I still can, and if there’s something to race for, but usually on these longer distances, it’s just the best to race by feel. And I was feeling good. And then I ran with a few people from time to time, but yeah. Sometimes I just had to leave them because they were too slow for my feel-good pace. And so I think that was the way, how I got to the top woman basically. It was then quite unexpected for me to be in front so early. It was definitely not my plan.

iRunFar: Yeah.

Hartmuth: It did not really feel good in the beginning to be in front.

iRunFar: How did, like for the middle part of the race, when you were in the leadership position, I think you talked, as we were about to start this interview, that you did have high points and low points there. How did you manage yourself and then manage the competition once you’ve found yourself in that spot?

Hartmuth: Yeah, I think for me, usually it’s really important to get in my fuel. So that’s usually when I have my low points that has usually been the problem, that I haven’t eaten enough for it. I just struggle to eat because it’s getting warmer or whatever. So I tried to get that back on track. And yeah, just carry on. I mean, in the end, the good thing in ultras is it’s always getting better at some point.

iRunFar: [laughs]

Hartmuth: So we just need to carry on and setting one foot in front of the other. That’s usually how I try to get over these bad moments. I mean, I have to admit that yesterday, most of the race I felt good. It was basically this flatter part, the second half of the race where I really struggled. But I had races where there was much more struggle, so I’m quite happy actually that it was only that part of the race.

iRunFar: The race for the women’s podium was tight all the way until the end. It was within minutes. Was there pressure, and if there was, what was it like?

Hartmuth: Well, the good thing is I didn’t really feel pressure because usually I also tell the people they shouldn’t tell me.

iRunFar: Okay.

Hartmuth: I mean, I knew that I was in front, but they shouldn’t tell me how far back the others are. I did expect that it would be close. Because I mean, it’s a world championship. And I knew who was at the starting line. Quite a stacked field. But I didn’t really feel pressure because my goal was to run my race. And of course when you are in front, and then everybody says like, “Yeah! Hey! You can get the medal!” and I was like, yeah, but I didn’t really expect a medal. And I didn’t really believe in that medal until like the last 5 kilometres, when I knew that fourth place was far, far away.

iRunFar: Okay.

Hartmuth: Well, not that far away, but far enough.

iRunFar: Far enough that if you held what you were doing, you were going to stay in medal position.

Hartmuth: Yeah, exactly. But never dared to believe that that medal was actually going to happen. And in my head, I always told me, Hey, top 10. That was my goal for like, a good day. So okay, just keep going and try to stay in the top 10. And yeah, that worked out great in the end, I think.

iRunFar: How did it feel, or can you describe what was going through your head when you crossed the finish line? You were holding the German flag. There, it looked to me like a mix of just total celebration and also relief on your face.

Hartmuth: Yes. It was indeed also relief because, I mean, it was not like the longest race, but in terms of intensity, it was quite intense, also because of the competition of this race. And I suffered a bit in the last two downhills. And I was then just glad it was over somehow. But obviously, I was so happy that I just could stay in that position, and that actually the medal [became a] reality. And then I just also had to be happy because the crowds in the end, it was incredible. The cheering. Yeah, it was really a happy moment, but also super surreal. Yeah, just to be second place. I mean, nobody really expected that I think.

iRunFar: Well, I hope you now have those expectations for yourself. You earned that achievement. I always hate to ask people the day after an ultramarathon what your next race is going to be. But I want to know, and thus, I’m sure the people want to know. What else are you going to race in 2023?

Hartmuth: Well, I’m actually going to do a long-distance triathlon in two weeks.

iRunFar: A long distance triathlon?

Hartmuth: Yes. So let’s see if that works out, but it’s so much cycling. So I hope it’s, I should be fine I think.

iRunFar: Do we mean IronManning, or Ultramanning or?

Hartmuth: IronMan distance, yeah.

iRunFar: Okay.

Hartmuth: And then in middle of July, I think I’m going to do Eiger Ultra Trail again. I did it last year. I won there, so they want me back obviously, to defend my title. And I actually, I really love that race. It’s close to where I live and where I train and I just love that area. And then my big goal is UTMB, but I’m not sure if I am in, because I’m only qualified for CCC.

iRunFar: Okay.

Hartmuth: Maybe they can shift me to UTMB but…

iRunFar: UTMB, we’re looking at you!

Hartmuth: [laughs] Well, let’s see. If not, then I’ll do TDS again, which I did last year. Well, I raced well there last year, but I had so many problems during the race. And I really want to do better. So if not UTMB, then TDS.

iRunFar: Either way is good.

Hartmuth: Exactly.

iRunFar: Well, congratulations to you on your second-place finish at the Trail World Championships 80k. It was awesome to see you race for the first time. It was awesome to see you achieve second place.

Hartmuth: Thank you very much. Yeah, it was a great race. I’m really happy.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.