Catrin Jones is definitely a name we’ll be hearing a lot more about if her recent form is anything to go by. The Victoria, British Columbia-based speedster blitzed the Squamish 50k a few months ago, finishing third overall. I chatted to Catrin about growing up in Canada, her swimming career, and her transition to becoming a damn fine runner both on-road and off.
iRunFar: So Catrin, you live in Victoria. Have you always lived there?
Catrin Jones: No, my parents emigrated from Wales in the Seventies. It was supposed to be a two-year contract and it was between Quesnel, which is a small mill town in the interior of British Columbia and a town or city in New Zealand. Somehow they ended up in Quesnel, much to my mother’s dismay! She wasn’t too excited coming from being so close to their family in South Wales to Quesnel, which is a nine-hour drive from Vancouver.
iRunFar: Wow! It must have been a pretty big upheaval in their lives?
Jones: Yeah, Quesnel is a bit of cowboy town. It’s nice, but it’s pretty far out there and they get real winters. For them, that was pretty shocking.
iRunFar: Was it a job opportunity that brought them there?
Jones: Yeah, my dad is a medical doctor and he wanted to explore the medical system in other countries. They ended up in Quesnel and my brother and I were born there. They ended up not moving back to Wales. They tried a couple of times but they preferred the workforce in Canada and the lifestyle, too, I think. I was born in Quesnel in the interior of BC, so I did grow up in proper winters there. [laughs] Then in ’86 or ’87, when I about seven years old, we moved down to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island which is about an hour and a half from Victoria. That was more like British weather so it was more comforting for my family, more normal. [laughs]
iRunFar: Cool. You were old enough that you remember the tough winters in Quesnel?
Jones: Absolutely, yeah. I loved it! When you’re a kid, you know, there is nothing better than snow! Just being bundled up in your snowsuit. I do recall my dad having to climb up to one of the windows to shovel snow because we had had massive snowfall. I have memories of that.
iRunFar: Did your parents embrace the winter lifestyle, too? I know they wouldn’t have skied or anything like that in Wales, [laughs] but did they start when they got to Canada?
Jones: They did, yeah. They tried to embrace the Canadian lifestyle very quickly. They started skiing, both cross country and downhill. I think my dad preferred it more than my mom. So skiing was a big thing and I did learn to ski when I was probably four or five but I never really kept up with it. I did ski a little bit on and off but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. Downhill skiing wasn’t really my thing. That’s why I liked cross country!
iRunFar: Was it tough moving from there to Nanaimo? I guess being seven, you were a little more flexible and didn’t mind so much?
Jones: Yeah, I was going into grade one and it was couple of months after school had already started so it was a bit of a switch but I was lucky in that I had instant friends. I moved to a really incredible neighbourhood. There were kids my brother’s and my age all around and it was a fantastic place to grow up. The houses backed onto a wooded area and we’d spend hours on weekends and after school just playing up in the trees and rocks. It was pretty incredible where we ended up, we were very lucky. I’m still friends with all those people today.
iRunFar: That’s great. You still live close by, Catrin?
Jones: Well we moved, we moved to a few houses. My dad got used to moving a lot when he was growing up so he had the need to move once in a while! But we stayed in Nanaimo. I stayed there until the end of high school. Vancouver Island has access to the ocean and forest fairly easily, so the environment’s fantastic for that.
iRunFar: Is that where you first got a passion and appreciation for the outdoor life, too?
Jones: Absolutely. Like I said, when we were kids, we spent so many hours in the forest. We all had our own place that was our little ‘home’ in the woods and we’d each have our own little section. I loved that time outside and appreciating the surroundings. There are tons of deer in that area, too. On Vancouver Island, we’d go all over the island, up to Tofino, seeing black bears and whatnot. We’d go on hikes with my family up to Whistler in the summers, too.
iRunFar: Wow, it sounds like your parents really got into the lifestyle.
Jones: Yeah, they did. They’re both fairly active individuals. Because Vancouver Island’s climate was so similar to back home in Wales, that helped, too. I mean, a lot people on the island are active. It’s a pretty healthy place to live with a lot of runners, cyclists, lots of hiking. The Strathcona Park on the island is amazing for hiking.
iRunFar: Sounds incredible. For you, swimming was your main interest though, right? When did that start?
Jones: Yeah, other than going to school and spending some time with friends, I was definitely a full-on swimmer through and through. My brother started swimming when he was younger and, when we moved to Nanaimo, I was doing dance and learning piano, too. But I started following my brother’s footsteps and decided to give swimming a try. I made some good friends and it was just for fun at first. Then, when I was 10, I’d been swimming for a couple of years by then, something changed in me and I became way more committed to the sport and way more determined–just very dedicated to being at the pool. From the age of eight to when I retired at 20, outside of swimming I didn’t do much else! [laughs]
iRunFar: That’s a long time, especially for a sport like swimming where you have to be extremely dedicated to training, lots of early morning starts and after-school sessions, right?
Jones: Absolutely. I was up at 4:45 most days and my poor mother would get up and drive me to the pool. I had three mornings a week plus Saturdays and evenings at the pool. We worked up to 25 hours a week at some points in my career. But when I was 16 and could get my driver’s license, I had mine within a month because my parents wanted out! [laughs]
iRunFar: [laughs] Great. What was it about swimming and about training that appealed to you so much, that made you want to put so much time into it?
Jones: You know what, I’m not even sure! I just loved it. I loved the people I trained with. I had really good coaches for the most part, too. I guess I can liken it to running now. You get this community of people and you work well together and have a focus. When you’re younger, you have a lot of energy so I was channeling that energy in a positive way, I think. I was really determined, too, very competitive. I did well. I started early at a junior national level and then moved up to a national level at a pretty decent rate.
iRunFar: It seems like a lot of young people, when they reach their teens, find it more difficult to keep the interest in the intense commitment needed for swimming training–I guess other sports, too. It didn’t seem happen you but was it something that ever became an issue?
Jones: No, I think I went the opposite! [laughs] I think, again, because I had really good people there and I loved being active and pushing my body. I was very hard on myself as a swimmer–I trained so hard. I was there before anybody and would stay later than anybody, so if I didn’t perform well I would get very frustrated. I had no desire to hang out like other teenagers were doing. I loved the routine of getting up first thing, swimming, rushing home, going to school, finishing school, and going straight to the pool again. I loved it!
iRunFar: Was there any running at all then, Catrin?
Jones: If you had of asked me to be a runner at that time I probably would have laughed. However, we did some cross training and I remember in elementary school we always had track and field days. I was horrible at sprinting–I couldn’t get going. It was mandatory to do track and field days so I’d often enter the 800, 1500, and usually do the cross-country race. I’d usually do really well, particularly the cross country, but never thought much of it. I remember coming second one time off of no running at all. Even in grade eight in physical-education class, I was running with a friend and the teacher stopped me at the end and said, ‘Why are you not on the cross-country team?’ And I laughed at him and said, ‘I’m a swimmer, not a runner!’ He was like, ‘Can’t you come run as well?’ And I just said, ‘No!’ I had no desire. Maybe I should have, though! [laughs]
iRunFar: You did start to finally run when you finished with swimming, right? When you were about 20 years old?
Jones: Yeah. I just wanted to keep my fitness up and I didn’t want to spend as much time in the pool. I started running a couple of times a week. At the time, my mom was running. She’s a social runner, so I would go out when I was visiting them. I’d run with her and also my dad who had run a marathon and a half marathon in the past. They both had running in their background as a fitness thing. I thought I’d give it a try as well.
iRunFar: It was something that you started doing to fill the void that was left from not swimming?
Jones: Absolutely. I spent so much time in the pool so I needed to fill all those 20 to 25 hours a week doing something else.
iRunFar: And was it a conscious decision to step away from the swimming, Catrin?
Jones: Yeah. I’d had a few injuries and I was physically and mentally done with the sport. In retrospect, a part of me wished I had kept going because I only did two years at university. I had just had enough and was ready for a change.
iRunFar: How long did it take for running to be as big a part of your life and as big a passion as swimming had been?
Jones: Well, when I was in university, I spent every summer as a tree planter. I don’t know whether you know much about tree planting, but it’s very physical labour. You’re out for up to 12 hours a day sometimes. You’re living in a tent in the mountains and you’re dealing with bugs and bears… and some very interesting characters, let’s put it that way. That part of my life definitely introduced me to having more of a passion toward the outdoors. I spent every waking hour out there, in all conditions. I was a strong tree planter, too. I kinda’ likened it to endurance sport in some ways, too. The harder you worked, the more you made. So I worked really hard to get more money!
iRunFar: It’s a good incentive! [laughs]
Jones: Yeah, it really was! Once in a while, on days off, I’d go for a run but it just felt so terrible when you’re tree-planting for that many hours. So, I was eight seasons as a tree planter all over British Columbia. I’d do it between university–summers–and then once I finished my degree I started doing it more full time, interspersed with travel. That was a transition between one passion and another, tree planting became my main passion for a long time. So I didn’t fit any regular running in there. On my off-seasons, I would start running again but it wasn’t until I started massage-therapy school that I started running more regularly. That would have been the end of 2005. So then it was 2006 that I decided, randomly, that I would enter a marathon.
iRunFar: Cool. That was a road marathon, right?
Jones: Yeah, it was a road marathon. A good friend of mine said she was training for one and I thought, Oh, maybe I should do that, too! [laughs] I think my mom had done one at the time and my dad too, so I thought I would just add to the family tradition and do one marathon in my life!
iRunFar: Was it a local race, Catrin?
Jones: It was the Victoria Marathon. I had actually moved back to be with my now-husband and finish massage-therapy school here. So I just decided that, if I was going to be living in Victoria, that I would do the Victoria Marathon. I had no idea what to expect.
iRunFar: So… how was it?
Jones: It wasn’t bad! My first marathon was 3:18. I had started working at Front Runners, a local running store here. I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me into running and making me a better runner because I was always asking them questions and finding out about races. But my first marathon was wet, windy, and blustery. I remember finishing with pain but with a big smile on my face! [laughs]
iRunFar: Do you think there is anything, mentality-wise, that you carried over from swimming into your running?
Jones: I would say yes, for sure. I was a distance swimmer and the time that you spend in the pool–hours upon hours of workouts–then moving into tree planting, which, again, is more endurance–you have to constantly move and use your body and you’re out there for hours. It’s a mental game in a lot of ways. I think both of those things definitely moved me into more endurance running. I don’t know if I even have any fast-twitch muscles in me! [laughs]
iRunFar: After that first marathon, how did your running and racing progress?
Jones: I guess I just got the bug! After one race, I just wanted to do more. I started to learn how to train a little bit, it still took me a while to figure that out. I was working with Jim Finlayson, who is my coach and friend here, and he started giving me some pointers. He’s now my full coach, trying to guide me in the right direction! It was in 2010, when my husband and I moved to Switzerland, I didn’t have the option to work a lot, so I just started running more. That time over there, when I had hours to fill, was when I focused on running. The place where we lived in Switzerland was incredible, you could run along Lake Geneva or straight up through the vineyards and terraces up into the hills behind us. It was amazing.
iRunFar: Was that when you started running on trails and in the mountains, too?
Jones: I did my very first mountain race there actually, yeah. In retrospect I wish I’d done more of the trail races there because there are so many and the Swiss put on amazing events, even the little ones. I was kinda’ nervous when I did the race because I thought I wouldn’t be a very strong uphill runner–because I didn’t have any idea and it was intimidating. The race was from one thermal bath in the village to another thermal bath up in the mountains, so that was a 10k race with about 800 meters [2,625 feet] elevation gain. I absolutely loved it. It was so interesting to see how my body felt going up the hills and I finished more refreshed than I expected to with all that elevation gain.
iRunFar: It turns out you weren’t a bad uphill runner after all. Did that surprise you, Catrin?
Jones: It did. Now, I’m still strong on uphills but I am definitely lacking the technique for running strong on technical downhills. I still gotta’ work on that. But I loved the uphill. It was just a different kind of pain. [laughs]
iRunFar: You’re involved with Arc’teryx these days–which comes from a full-on mountaineering and climbing background. How did that partnership come about?
Jones: I had begun to try and seek out sponsorship, to see if that was possible. It felt like a strange thing to have to look for. I had no idea. In swimming, you don’t look for it unless you are one of the really top athletes. You just don’t have that option, really. Anyway, I had thought about different companies that I would want to run for and had applied for a couple of running companies but I wasn’t too keen on them. Then, I was thinking that Arc’teryx was based in Canada, in North Vancouver, and I liked the idea of that, that they are a local company. I liked their products and also their attitude toward their products and the community and sport. I knew about Adam Campbell for years but I had recently met him at the marathon when he ran his marathon in a suit. [laughs] So we started chatting. I also have a friend who works for Arc’teryx and I had asked him a few questions about what the company was like and if he knew anything about sponsorship with them. Totally separate to that, Adam then contacted me and said, ‘Hey, Arc’teryx is looking for a female runner and I think you would be perfect for the team. Are you interested?’ So it just kind of went from there. They are an incredible company and I’m very pleased to be working with them for many reasons.
iRunFar: Since you hooked up with Arc’teryx, are trail and mountain races your main focus, Catrin?
Jones: It’s going toward that. I still race a lot on the roads. I just did Victoria Marathon again a couple of weeks ago. [Catrin won in 2:43.] I still really like running roads but I’m finding that the change of terrain and the places that you can explore trail running are pretty incredible. It’s so different from roads. I do still love both and I think I will continue to race both but I would really like to start moving a bit more toward mountain and trail running over the years.
iRunFar: I guess your big breakthrough in trail races was the 50k at Gary Robbins’s race at Squamish a few months ago, right? You crushed it!
Jones: I went into that having not run on Squamish trails. I knew it was going to be tough. I had also done a huge workout the Wednesday or Thursday before while training for a road marathon. [laughs] I had done the Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March but that was quite a different course in terms of technical aspects. [She finished second to Stephanie Howe.] But I was pretty excited to be out there, I loved it. It was scorching hot, too, good conditions to race in the first time actually, just to get used to it. I finished with a smile and am excited to do more.
iRunFar: You finished the Squamish 50k in third overall though, right? You had an amazing race!
Jones: I can’t even remember! [laughs] You know, I really think if I was a little more rested. Like, when I finished, I felt like I had too much in me still. I didn’t know the course or what to expect so I didn’t want to blow up after half way. I was quite conservative about how I raced it, especially the first half. So by the end I was like, ‘Okay, I can start pushing a little bit more.’
iRunFar: Fantastic. I guess your season is winding down now for the winter. Have you looked to 2014 yet? Are there any trail races that take your fancy for next year?
Jones: I haven’t set anything in stone yet. Traditionally, I’m kind of last minute but I’m going to try and plan a bit more. There are a lot of races out there and it gets a bit overwhelming to see how many there are and how many I’d like to do. The most local one would be Chuckanut 50k. But ideally I would love to get in the Jungfrau Marathon [in the Swiss Alps]. I was going to go this year but it just didn’t work out. That would combine my two passions, half on road and half on mountain. It’s hard to say what will come up for next season but hopefully I’ll find some good stuff!