Scottish mountain and road runner Robbie Simpson will debut in ultramarathons at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile Championships. In our first interview with Robbie, he talks about his history with mountain running, track and field, and road running; how he recently became interested in racing the 50-mile distance; and how he’s mentally and physically prepared to race for 2.5 hours longer than he’s raced before.
Robbie Simpson Pre-2019 TNF 50 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Megan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Robbie Simpson. It’s a couple days before the 2019 The North Face 50-Mile Championships. Good morning, we’re in the Marin headlands of California.
Robbie Simpson: Hi. Nice to be here.
iRunFar: Nice to meet you, this is your first time racing an ultramarathon. This is also your first time in the United States?
Simpson: Yeah, so it’s all pretty new actually. New experiences to have, but hopefully good ones I think.
iRunFar: All right, so I want to start things off with talking about you and your background with running. This is iRunFar’s first interview with you, this is your first time coming into the ultra distance, but you have tons of experience with running. Mountain running, road running, track and field?
Simpson: Yeah, I’ve been running for about 15 years. You know starting off with the shorter distances. Actually, started off mostly with mountain running.
Simpson: Yeah, I mean I did track when I was like about 13 or 12, 13 years old and then I got a bit bored of that and then already by 15, 16, I was doing a lot of mountain running. Yeah, and then after that I got a bit, well I kind of went into road running maybe 23 years old or something. Did a couple of marathons.
iRunFar: Now talk about where you were raised, you said you live outside of Aberdeen, is that where you started mountain running?
Simpson: Yeah, so the northeast of Scotland, that sort of area, we’ve got some nice hills, not really big mountains. But yeah it’s great for running so when I was younger, like the town I lived in we didn’t have like a proper track or anything or you know, that many roads so I just ran in the hills and I ran on the kind of, you know, nice forest paths.
iRunFar: And what has sort of turned your sights more to – because you spend a lot of time focused on mountain right, shorter distance, steeper ups and downs. What made you turn your focus to that?
Simpson: To mountain running, well I just enjoyed it really. I like getting out you know just on the hills on my own. The runs at home are great like that, like you can run for hours and not see anyone. So I just enjoy doing that and you know, running around in circles on the track wasn’t my idea of fun, but also when I was a young I couldn’t do very long races either. I could only run up to about 6 miles, you know 10K, so I thought well the mountain races are good for that, you know even a 6-mile race is actually quite tough, so I did quite a lot of those. It went pretty well, the problem was I did too much of that really and not enough flat running so I lost a lot of speed so then after that, that’s where I went back into road running again.
iRunFar: And you said a moment ago that was in your early- to mid-20s is when you started doing some road running?
Simpson: Yeah, so I did some before just local races just for a bit of fun, but then I started training more seriously for it because I needed the speed in my legs even for mountain running. But then I found I quite enjoyed it as well, the sort of mixture.
iRunFar: And so fast forward now to 2019 and I think if I understand it right you had been tempted by ultramarathons for a little while and you had been weighing doing this one, The North Face 50 or Les Templiers in France?
Simpson: So I bumped into quite a lot of the American guys in Switzerland. Actually in the summer so Sage Canaday and Matt Daniels and they were saying, you have got to come over and do this 50-mile race and I was thinking, well you know I’ve never done anything longer than marathon, so I’m not sure that travelling all the way to California to try out is a good idea.
iRunFar: A six-hour run.
Simpson: Exactly. And you know it’s a competitive race, it’s a really tough one so I thought let me just try, I’ll attempt it, it’s closer to home, I can just turn up and see what it’s like, but then obviously that got cancelled kind of last-minute and I thought, hmm, I still want to do one before the end of the year. I’ve done the training so yeah, I’ll just go to California and have a go.
iRunFar: Have a go. So here you are, you arrived a couple days ago and you actually had your first run on the course just a few minutes before we’re doing this interview. What do you think?
Simpson: Yeah, it’s unusual, it’s really nice, it’s dry trails, quite smooth underfoot which is good. Lots of small climbs. So it’s nice, I think it’s a varied course, it’s fast, I think it’s going to be great like I don’t know how well I’ll do but certainly I think I’ll enjoy the course in the way it is I think it’ll be quite nice to run. Like there’s not one big climb and one big descent, there’s not too many flat sections so you can, I think just run uphill quite hard, recover on the downs and yeah, just hopefully it’ll be good for the legs kind of that it is so varied.
iRunFar: So that is something though that some people have called challenging about this course is that you never get to find a rhythm. You find a gear for one climb and then all of a sudden there is a descent to do, have you – like mountain running in my mind, you’re never really finding a rhythm because you’re just all of a sudden at the top of the hill and bombing down again. I kind of think that that can be something that benefits you?
Simpson: Yeah, possibly. I’ve been used to running races with lots of uphill and downhills and certainly where I train I’m on similar terrain to this. I don’t have a really big mountain nearby, so I have to do lots of smaller climbs and descents. Getting used to uphill, getting used to a downhill. Although I do also quite like when it’s just a big long uphill and you can get into a rhythm then. Yeah, I think it will make the time pass quicker as well and it should be better I think just because you can focus on one hill, it won’t last too long, get it done then look forward to the next one.
iRunFar: Now one of the things that I love about ultrarunning is that so far there are many ways to train to allow people to perform very similarly on race day, so I’m very curious how somebody like you with lots of road running, to the marathon distance background and up to the marathon distance on the trails background, how somebody like you prepped for your first ultra?
Simpson: Yeah, it was a bit experimental. To be honest, I only really decided to do an ultra probably the middle of September so until then I had just done my regular training, but I do quite a lot of mileage just as part of my normal training routine so for this I just added on, on the weekend a longer long run. Up to about four hours. I did them most weeks and then I did the same kind of thing during the week like I would do one or two flat workouts and then run on the hills, as well. Sort of mixed into that and then the long run. And I added in a few specific up and down hill sessions as well. But it wasn’t a massive training block I’m just kind of hoping that the fitness from the summer, you know the sort of more mountain training I’ve done will help with this and then sort of the longer runs will make sure my legs can keep working. But, you know it’s still, it’s hard because I haven’t raced anything this long and I can’t be 100% sure that my body is going to be fine for six, seven hours. So I just have to trust that it will be okay and that the fitness and the training will work.
iRunFar: One last question for you, we were talking off camera before this interview about the obscene amount of sugar that might go into fuelling you on race day. What is your nutrition looking like for Saturday?
Simpson: It’s going to be unusual, I’m used to doing races up to three hours, I still take gels and energy drinks, but it’s just the amount that you have to take, I’m just thinking, okay in a short race I need this much but for a long race there so much sugar, so many gels. Yeah, it’s going to be nasty, but I’m just hoping that I can just keep going. Up to three hours has been fine, so I just keep doing the for another three hours. Hopefully, my stomach’s going to be all right.
iRunFar: And your body will metabolize all that sugar and you will hardly notice that it has gone through your body.
Simpson: Exactly, yeah, it should be fine.
iRunFar: So standard running nutrition?
Simpson: Yeah, I think so. I’ve got some energy drink sachets I’ll use, I’ve got some gels, I just have to check out what I can get on the course and if I can pick up some bottles but all have a few different options like all have some gels with me and worst case I will have them with some water. And just try, I think just try to drink a lot because it’s a lot drier here than at home and I think that it’s not that warm, but I will be sweating quite a lot I think running at that kind of effort. So I just need to drink a lot and eat a lot of sugar.
iRunFar: Keep putting the sugar in.
iRunFar: Okay Robbie, welcome to ultrarunning, welcome to US, and we wish you the best of luck.
Simpson: Thank you.
iRunFar: We’ll be chasing you through the headlands on Saturday.
Simpson: Cheers, thanks very much.