After finishing second last year, Kaytlyn Gerbin returned and won Transgrancanaria 2020. In the following interview, she talks about what it was like with so many women going out so hard, how she worked her way through the field, how her overall experience differed from last year, and what it’s like being a role model. And, in a bonus segment, she discusses how body image affected her entry into the sport, affects her today, and how as individuals and a community we can take positive steps on this topic.
Read our results article to find out what else happened at the front of the race.
Kaytlyn Gerbin, 2020 Transgrancanaria Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kaytlyn Gerbin, after her win at the 2020 Transgrancanaria. How are you?
Kaytlyn Gerbin: I’m good. Yeah, a little tired, a little sore.
iRunFar: A little tired, but well rested after.
Gerbin: Yes, I did get a good night of sleep last night.
iRunFar: Very good. It seemed like a hard race from the beginning or a challenging race, were you kind of pushing early?
Gerbin: Yeah, I was and I knew that part of it was Azara [García] and, I forget her name.
iRunFar: Who else was up?
Gerbin: Wait, can we start this over? The Chinese girl, I can’t pronounce her name.
iRunFar: Yeah, Fuzhao Xiang.
Gerbin: Fuzhao, okay. So Fuzhao and Azara were–and actually Audrey [Tanguy], I thought Audrey was up there?
iRunFar: Yeah they were, kind of all four of you were more or less.
Gerbin: Anyway, they set a pretty killer pace from the beginning and I decided to hang a little bit behind them so I could just kind of keep them within reach, but I also was a little bit worried that maybe this is definitely going out faster than I normally would start a race. But I think it paid off, because it helped to know that then I was only a few minutes behind them at all of the first few checkpoints. And that was the better position for me to be in than being 20 minutes back to make a move on them later.
iRunFar: Even if that might be more physically comfortable, mentally it was assuring to know that you were?
Gerbin: And also, I was still kind of checking in with myself and knowing, I feel like this is a little bit fast but one of my goals was to make sure I was kind of comfortably uncomfortable. Because sometimes I get too comfortable and so I was just making sure I wasn’t going to blow up but that I felt, it’s a little painful but I can do this.
iRunFar: And it wasn’t stressful to be in contact but not with them?
Gerbin: No, no. Because at that point I had splits of what I was hoping to run for some of the major checkpoints and I was right around those splits and so I figured if they’re up ahead of that, it’s too early for me to move that early.
iRunFar: And you knew you weren’t being unreasonable with your own estimates of time?
Gerbin: No, it’s always like I like to try and make a race plan and race the course and race a time while also keeping my eye on the competition.
iRunFar: And that’s easier earlier in the race, as well?
Gerbin: Yeah it is, and it’s such a long race and there so many different sections of it. The first 30 miles or the first 50k you’re running through a lot of towns, a mix of more technical stuff but there’s a lot more runnable stuff and I know some people have an easier time pushing really hard on that stuff, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to do the same thing when it gets to the really big climbs in the middle of the course. That’s the part I was really looking forward to. And then still again, then you can be doing really well in those big climbs and that’s when you get to a really hot 50k with mostly descending with also some punchy climbs in the end. So there’s kind of three really distinct portions of this course.
iRunFar: And that middle one is yours?
Gerbin: Yes, that was my jam.
iRunFar: When did you–I assume you caught, maybe Audrey first of those three ahead of you?
Gerbin: So I think I came into Artenara (63km) ahead of Audrey but I actually didn’t see her so I kind of had no idea what happened and my friend Sammy who was crewing me said, “Oh, no, there’s only one person ahead of you now.” I was like, “really?” I never saw. So I almost didn’t believe it, I’m just going to pretend that there’s still two people ahead of me. And then at that point I knew it was just Azara ahead of me, after, like when I came into Tejeda (75km) and stuff, so then I knew I was only a couple minutes behind her in the last while and I actually didn’t get a glimpse of her until we get up to Roque Nublo. And it was right at the point where there is an out-and-back section and just a few switchbacks where you go up right before you get to that out-and-back, and she glanced back and she saw that I was there and I was actually trying to figure out–I don’t know if I want her to know that I’m right here yet, because at that point I hadn’t seen her, I knew she was somewhere close, I didn’t know if she knew that I was close as I was. But I felt like I was an awkward distance away from her at that point, she thought she might finish the full out-and-back and go on before I even got up to that point so in my case it’s almost better for her to not know that I’m right here. Anyways, that’s just how it goes. Then, I ended up catching her after the out-and-back and we actually ran together for a little while.
iRunFar: Did you? And at that point I mean you’re 80 or 90 kilometers into the race, do you say anything to one another?
Gerbin: Oh yeah, no we were chatting and it was kind of like… I didn’t know her before so it’s not like we can say we have a friendship, but I think we formed a friendship a little bit on the trail. When I caught her–we passed each other and kind of gave encouraging glances at the out-and-back and then as I caught her on the downhill then she stepped aside to let me pass and I’m kind of like, no, no, vamanos, vamanos, let’s go. So then we ran together into Garañón aid station and actually I think I was hoping that we would run together for a while after that, I think she was too, but then we ended up getting into the aid station right as the marathon distance was starting. And so we hear all this noise and commotion and we’re like, wow this is a really exciting aid station. And then we get up there and we see thousands of marathon distance runners leaving the starting corral right as we’re getting up there and so we ended up losing each other and it was kind of just mass chaos after that.
iRunFar: She said you were better at the chaos than she was.
Gerbin: Oh, maybe I guess. Well, you just had to pass, it was the start of a race and I was at the back of it and so we both had to pass everyone.
iRunFar: And it was a tight trail and lots…
Gerbin: Super tight and technical and it was a climb there and so it’s not–like last year I had caught people on the shorter distance races, but everyone was a little bit more spaced out so it’s a lot easier to pass and also I think they know, they’re more aware of another race distance that people are catching them from behind. And this time because the race just started everyone was bunched up; it was just kind of a cattle path going up.
iRunFar: And people didn’t know that you are that you were in another race?
Gerbin: No, but luckily there were a few runners in the shorter distance that would see me coming when I would just ask to pass and every once in a while someone would be like, “Oh, she’s in the long distance,” and then they would start shouting up ahead to people, “Hey, lady coming in the longer distance to pass,” so that was really helpful.
iRunFar: So, if they didn’t know, they didn’t know. But if somebody knew, people were being super…?
Gerbin: People were super kind about it and I definitely felt… I don’t know, it’s a weird feeling and asking people to step out of your way to pass.
iRunFar: But apparently you were more assertive and that kind of made a separation in the race.
Gerbin: When I finally did catch her, because she left that aid station before me, she had crew to help her there. So I had to go in and find a drop bag and it was kind of chaos there. So she left and I actually thought at that point, “Oh crap, I might have just lost this race now,” because I didn’t know where she had–like how far ahead of me she was at that point, but I worked to catch her and then she set off ahead of me and now we’re in this chaotic mass of thousands of people that we’re trying to pass on a singletrack. I thought maybe she had, who knows really….
So I’m like, “I lost contact with her, it’s going to be so hard to see where she is now because there’s so many people, I can’t even find her.” But then I did actually end up catching her, and then it was nice–for a while we ran together and kind of passed people so then we could have two people passing at the same time. I kind of continued doing that and could hear people right behind me so I actually thought she was right behind me that whole time. Then I got onto a little bit more open section where I could turn back. And I looked back and I didn’t see her. But again there are so many people that I figured she was kind of right there.
iRunFar: So was there any point at which you knew you had a little bit?
Gerbin: No. I figured maybe I had put a minute or something on her then but I was still…
iRunFar: By Ayagaures (110km), or?
Gerbin: At Ayagaures, I knew that she didn’t come into the aid while I was still there, so I knew I left at least before her there, but I didn’t know how much time I had. And it still–at that section at Garañón aid station, we were just talking about with the marathon distance, there’s still 26–basically, it’s a 50k from there but still a lot of race left. So there’s just so much that can happen, even leaving Ayagaures, it’s about a half-marathon distance after that and it’s hot and it’s super rocky, you’re running through this dried-out riverbed for a while. And so there’s still a lot of time people could make up there.
iRunFar: And I know a couple guys in the men, men in the overall race passed you in that last maybe 20k. Were you feeling alright or was it just like they raced too good of a race?
Gerbin: I actually had a really rough patch in the last–from Ayagaures to the finish was a tough one for me.
iRunFar: But not catastrophic?
Gerbin: No, but I think I made some mistakes maybe with fueling and water and the heat and just the fact that I was pushing so hard earlier on. So I hit some low points and definitely had to slow down a little bit through there and was a little bit worried. But I was able to hang on, So yeah, a few people passed me but again it’s hard, actually at that point I didn’t know that I was in 10th and I kind of wish that I had, because that would have maybe given me a little bit of extra juice.
iRunFar: Because they weren’t very far ahead of you.
Gerbin: No, no, no. And I noticed one guy, I just kind of stopped on the side of the trail for a second and a little bit of dry-heaving action and this guy passed me and I saw that he was in the long distance, too. But at that point I didn’t–he didn’t say anything to me and I didn’t know that he was passing into 10th place. But that would have been really awesome but either way I’m still really stoked about the day.
iRunFar: Yeah, and how did it feel to come across the line in first?
Gerbin: Just incredible. I’ve been really working hard for my training and planning and race prep and stuff for this race. Especially after running last year and we talked about it in my previous interview that I managed to pull a strong finish, but I actually had a pretty rough day and I felt like my race yesterday was really what I came here for. It wasn’t a perfect race but that’s good, that means I have some things to improve on. But I think I had my kind of day out there.
iRunFar: You weren’t fighting through problems and issues the whole way?
Gerbin: No, no. I felt strong and controlled and able to really enjoy the course and the competition and stuff.
iRunFar: What do you have coming up next?
Gerbin: I’ve got a ski trip.
iRunFar: That’s awesome.
Gerbin: I’m going to take a little bit of downtime from running for a bit and then I’m going to do UTMB later in the summer and kind of have to figure out what’s happening in between now and then. I was hoping to do Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji end of April, but I think travel right now is getting a little crazy so I’ll just kind to assess.
iRunFar: I think there’s a lot of that, I talked to Fuzhao and might be that or it might be Madeira [Island Ultra-Trail] for her.
Gerbin: Yeah, so we’ll see what happens. People are asking me a little bit about this before this race and I just need to get one race done.
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah but that race is done. But you’re also the kind of person who seems like you could just have an adventure in between.
Gerbin: Yeah, my plan for this year is to actually set some time aside for a proper mountaineering season. So I’m going to take May and June off of racing. That may change, but my plan right now is to take May and June off of racing so I can do some good mountaineering.
iRunFar: Anything you got your eyes set on?
Gerbin: I’m climbing Denali with some other girls in June, and, then, probably will do some fun stuff leading up to that.
iRunFar: Cool. I was thinking of this last evening, do you see yourself at all as a role model? I was thinking, I have two young nieces, just being someone who’s so strong and confident. And physical strength too, its not just.
Gerbin: I mean, that’s awesome, actually yesterday as I was leaving the finish area and walking back to the car there was a little Spanish girl who was eight years old and her dad stopped me and asked if they could take a photo with me. And I was chatting with her a little bit and she was kind of shy, but then really excited, she likes running and she has run some races and she’s really excited. That was just such an awesome experience and I think if I can help inspire other women to go and do hard things and put themselves out there, that’s awesome.
iRunFar: It doesn’t have to be just running, it can be skiing and mountaineering.
Gerbin: Yeah, I think there’s definitely, in trail running I think there are some really positive changes with women participation in the sport and women’s competition in the sport. I think there are races that are starting to make strides toward making that a better experience for women and so one of the things that this race did which was awesome is they let the women start in the front. They brought all the women to the front of the race and so I have never seen a starting corral empty ahead of me with just, lined with photographers, it was such a cool experience and I didn’t even know what that kind of feeling is like. So I think to get that, that’s pretty cool. I think changes like that are a really good thing, but then also especially in mountaineering and outdoor sports in general and in anything in the mountains, there’s a long ways to go.
iRunFar: But even small things. Like it might seem like a token but lining women up in front.
Gerbin: All the small gestures make a big difference and I think there are a lot of women who want to be doing that sort of thing, whether it’s going on a backpacking trip or going and climbing some mountain or taking a step forward and being a little more competitive at a race or something. And I think a lot of times they just need someone else to grab their hand and pull them up into it. And so I hope, I’m hoping to do that with some friends. I have a few plans to do that and stuff this summer but I think it doesn’t, I mean, anyone can do it so especially if people, I don’t know, I have friends that are interested in this kind of thing. Invite them along.
iRunFar: So it’s like on a personal basis, it’s not just…
Gerbin: Yeah, groups of friends and I can’t tell you how many times I see guys out mountaineering and I can almost guarantee they have a wife or a girlfriend or a friend or someone at home who would like to do it, but maybe isn’t quite ready for that intense of a trip. And I would love to see more of those people getting invited along to those things.
iRunFar: Facilitating and bridging that gap. It’s not just women leading women; us guys can do it, too.
Gerbin: Yes, absolutely.
iRunFar: Awesome, well that’s a good takeaway Kaytlyn. Thank you so much.
Gerbin: Thank you.
iRunFar: Alright, so Kaytlyn, we finished up our interview and then we were chatting and I mentioned that I talked to my sister after the race that it’s great to have role models like you in the sport. People of different strengths, literally and figuratively. And that I got a picture of you coming into Tejeda, coming downstairs. And you’re just strong, like physically. What is it like being a strong woman in this sport?
Gerbin: Yeah, I mean thank you for saying that and I definitely think that women have lots of different body types and that’s natural and it’s really awesome and it should be celebrated more and I think especially in running, this is something that people have been talking about, we’re talking about this, there have been role models of strong women especially in ultrarunning over the last decade and longer. But there’s definitely been a resurgence of people talking about female athletes and struggles that especially female athletes go through and I think it’s really important that there’s starting to be more open dialogue about this.
I know even for myself, especially now after some big race like this, I love my body. I really respect what my body can do. I know it’s strong and I know it can get through some really hard stuff, but I do still think it’s important for people to know even me, especially when I was starting running, before I really had that confidence in what I looked like, I don’t look like a lot of other fast runners. And especially since I didn’t grow up as a runner. I didn’t run in high school. I didn’t run in college and so sometimes standing on the starting line and looking over and just seeing what other body types are there, that’s something that I definitely kind of had to intake and process for myself. It’s taken awhile to get to the point now where I feel like I really feel like I respect my body for what it can do not necessarily for what it looks like. And I think everyone has their own personal relationship with that dialogue amongst themselves, but I do think that it’s really awesome that people are starting to talk about that a little bit more and respect that.
iRunFar: When you were getting into the sport and stepping up to the starting line, was it confidence or was it just that you just didn’t feel like you belonged there?
Gerbin: It definitely was more along the lines that I wasn’t sure that I felt like I belonged, because I didn’t feel like I looked the same way. And I mean, I think I’ve been fortunate that I’ve generally had–never really had a serious struggle with eating or nutrition or even body-image stuff, but I do think it’s still so easy to draw comparisons, especially with social media and especially when you’re photographed next to people. And everyone looks different and that’s awesome and that’s good and cool. It’s just so easy to draw a comparison that is very superficial based on how someone looks and how you look to someone and, of course, we all always see what we want to see or see what society pressures us to see. So, it’s really easy to see our flaws and I think just learning to find a way to respect what your body can do for you is really important, but it’s really hard.
iRunFar: So initially, in those first years you are coming to run, how did you move past that? Because that could have turned you away completely.
Gerbin: That’s a really good question. I don’t know, I think finding ways to focus on the positives and then thinking about what your body can do for you and recognizing, wow, I just went on a really hard 10-mile run. It does not matter what I look like, my body just did that. And I think that something that hopefully everyone can find a way to relate to and just celebrate the strength of things. Whether it’s running or being on a beach, I mean we’re on a beautiful island with people in swimsuits everywhere and I was saying to you too about this, I was just in Costa Rica and the girls I’m with are awesome so I don’t want…
iRunFar: …It’s not critical of them.
Gerbin: It’s not critical at all, but the first day we got there we’re on the beach, everyone wants to go on the beach, everyone puts their swimsuits on. And like I actually, even now, had to do a swallow, take a deep swallow for a little bit, I mean, they’ve got perfect beach bodies. But I say ‘perfect’ in quotations, because that’s what we’re talking about here, just realizing, look I’m strong, I’m an athlete, I’ve got an athlete’s body and I’m happy with that. I’m just going to embrace that for what it is, but I think that’s definitely something that even when you learn to love and respect and trust your body I think it’s still something that you have to kind of–at least for me, I find I still have to remind myself that this is, it doesn’t come easy and I think especially as you said with social media and photos and stuff, it’s really easy to draw comparisons.
iRunFar: We can’t really eliminate that part of life right now, so how does a female runner or a runner because we guys think about…?
Gerbin: Oh yeah, it’s not just females.
iRunFar: It’s not about eating disorders necessarily or body issues, but you can kind of feel like an imposter. “I don’t have the right body type, I should do another sport.” How do we, where do we draw those positives? Is it running that 10-mile run and feeling strong?
Gerbin: I think there’s a lot of little things that can be done that will just help and I think opening the dialogue is a really good step toward that. Whether that’s you and I talking about this right now and me admitting that yes, I have compared myself to other people and that’s hard. Or talking about it with your friends and really encouraging people about their strengths and what things that they can accomplish, whether it’s running, work, career, families, balancing stuff. There are so many different amazing things that we find ourselves able to do when put in that position, I think those kinds of things should be celebrated more. And I also think it’d be great to start hearing more stories from women who aren’t necessarily at the front of the pack but who are balancing their work with raising three kids at home and still getting out training and maybe they are not on the podium spot, but they had a really strong finish at a race. I think it would be awesome to hear more stories about people like that, because I know there’s a lot of women who are in that position. And the same with different body types, too. I think the more we can start to showcase and celebrate strong women, then I think that’s an awesome way to start setting an example for people.
iRunFar: Thank you Kaytlyn, I really appreciate you sharing that.
Gerbin: Thank you.