New Zealand’s Ruth Croft hit it big with her second-place finish at the 2019 Trail World Championships. In this interview, Ruth talks about being patient early before pushing later on, how she had to fend off late-race cramping in the hot afternoon, the challenges of traveling internationally from New Zealand to race in Europe, and where else she’s racing this year.
For more on what happened at the race, read our results article.
Ruth Croft Post-2019 Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Ruth Croft. She just finished second at the 2019 World Trail Championships. Congratulations! How does that sound, second place?
Croft: I was happy with how it went, because I wasn’t expecting it mid-way through the race.
iRunFar: Okay, take me straight to that spot. Did the race start out a little rough for you?
Croft: I felt like everyone started out really, really hard. I was back at 12th or maybe 10th place at 16k. After that I tried to add some gas, but I didn’t feel like I was catching people. The splits were always saying they were about two minutes ahead. It wasn’t until about the 34k mark that I hit a split of one minute behind fourth, third, and second.
iRunFar: When we saw you at the road crossing at 10k in, I think you were just outside the top 10 at that point.
Croft: Yeah, I didn’t want to be up at the front at that point.
iRunFar: You intentionally started a little farther back?
Croft: Totally. I was with Ragna Debats and I didn’t want to be in front of Ragna. I was just going to play it patient until the 16k mark and then reassess things.
iRunFar: Got it. Can you tell us about that 16k point? There’s some interesting technical terrain in that section.
Croft: To be honest, I didn’t think it was as bad as I thought it was going to be. I heard so much about it that in my head, I’d made it out to be super technical. Then I was, “Oh, okay, this is okay.” There were a lot of really runnable sections throughout. I actually really enjoyed the course.
iRunFar: I happened to be perched on the climb out of the 16k aid station, where there were a bunch of people in a funnel [cheering], above the stairs. There was a bunch of runners putting their hands down to carry themselves up the hill. What did you think of how in a couple spots it would go from hands-on-knees climbing to all of a sudden you have to run and hammer it?
Croft: It was good. I thought it was going to be more stoppy-starty, but I think the runnable sections you could get moving in them. I didn’t find there were too many sections where it was really hands on knees.
iRunFar: I felt it was hard to get a read on people in terms of where they were, being with those fans on that climb. There was so much energy. I did think that you looked really calm among all the women. Did you feel calm?
Croft: Oh yeah. It’s a long race and I knew it was hot as well today, so I was hoping that the ones at the front would overcook themselves and I could just come through. Luckily, I was able to in the last 10k.
iRunFar: There was an interesting section from a little after 20k to 30k. You’re circumnavigating the ridgeline that has those wind turbines on it. What did you think of that upper part?
Croft: I was having a low patch there. I couldn’t see any females ahead. There was one French girl, Adeline [Roche], but after that I couldn’t see anyone. I didn’t know how far ahead they were, and when you don’t know and you can’t see… I don’t know, it was hard.
iRunFar: At the couple checkpoints that we had people at after that point on the course, you had picked off a couple of girls at each of those spots. Did you have a sense that you were gaining momentum compared to the field?
Croft: I was [aware] that I was gaining places. It was hard because you had a lot of males in there, as well. I was passing some males as well, but it was giving me confidence, “Okay, the race isn’t over yet.”
iRunFar: It was with 6k to go that you were in second and around 13 minutes behind Blandine L’hirondel, but at the finish, you were just eight minutes back. Did you have a sense of how much time you were carving into the lead at that point?
Croft: I had no idea. The girl that was in first, I thought she was out of reach, to be honest. And she was. I was just kind of focusing on the fourth, third, and second girls and trying to get a gap on them.
iRunFar: When you crossed the line, I couldn’t help but think to myself, She just needed another 10k [and Ruth would’ve won].
Croft: Yeah, I had a real low until the last 10 to 12k, and then was able to get moving. I knew the last 5k would suit me because it was road and flat. I was like, “Okay, here’s where the marathon work will pay off.” I was happy with how it went.
iRunFar: Crossing the line in second place at your first Trail World Champs, that has to feel pretty good.
Croft: I’m really happy with how that went, because I felt pretty rusty race-wise. I hadn’t done any trail races. Well, I did Yading Skyrace, but that was it and it didn’t go so well.
iRunFar: Well, there were other extenuating circumstances there, like ridiculous altitude.
Croft: I feel like a lot of people are starting their seasons so early and have probably fit in quite a few races before now. And when you add in the travel from New Zealand, which was just five days ago, that takes a toll on you, too. I was happy with how it went.
iRunFar: I want to ask about that travel aspect. The race is held in Europe. If you’re coming from North America or Australasia, it’s a huge conversion to get here. How did you feel in the days leading up to the race?
Croft: Really tired [laughs]. Yeah, I was really tired, but you tell yourself you won’t let it mess with your mind. It was 37 hours of travel to get here. I normally give myself five days–I think you need at least that–but even yesterday I was still feeling it a bit.
iRunFar: Aside from tired body and your legs feeling tired, were you sleeping at night?
Croft: I was sleeping fine. I was sleeping like a rock. Just a tired body.
iRunFar: Another question I wanted to ask you is about logistics. You mentioned before that as you were racing the women, you were interspersed with the men. This is a world-championships event and there’s technically two races going on, but the women’s race is mixed in with the men’s race. It’s really different for a man at the front because you know anybody in front of you is your competition. As a woman, if you can’t tell their gender, you don’t know if you’re racing them or not. Did you give any thought to that today, or how to rectify that or make it easier for women to actually race against their competition in events like this?
Croft: I’ve never thought about it, because we’ve never had a women’s race like that. It’s always mixed in, so you don’t really think different.
iRunFar: To me it’s really interesting, because in this race, for the team competition, it comes down to seconds. It’s your cumulative time that’s added up. In the end, it can be a matter of seconds. In the women’s competition, the difference between gold and silver was really close. Every second actually counts.
Croft: Yeah, I don’t know. It would probably be easier if there was just a women’s race. But then it’s good mixing it up with the guys, as well.
iRunFar: There should be neon bibs that you can see from a mile away?
Croft: Yeah, because you’re always looking at their hair.
iRunFar: “Is that a ponytail?” Nope, just a stick. Okay, changing gears, your season is just ramping up. Your next race is the Mont-Blanc Marathon?
Croft: I’ll do Mont-Blanc, yes.
iRunFar: Then how does the rest of your year look?
Croft: So, Mont-Blanc Marathon and then after that I’ll do the Dolomites Skyrace for something different. I want to go back to Sierre-Zinal again, and then OCC.
iRunFar: Does Sierre-Zinal have this magnet that attracts people to it? People go to it like flies [to flypaper] and then they can’t leave.
Croft: I’ve had two really bad races there and then last year was a lot better. It’s just a tough one to nail, and it has a really good atmosphere. It brings people from all kinds of disciplines within trail running and mountain running. It’s a good way to test yourself against different people that you sometimes wouldn’t match up with and have the chance to race. And you’re always thinking of ways to do better.
iRunFar: This will be your fourth time?
Croft: Yes, my fourth.
iRunFar: You really are like flies to flypaper on that one.
Croft: There are some races that you’ll do once and you’re done, but I think Sierre-Zinal is one of those races you can always go back to.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations to you on your second place here. Good luck to you on the rest of your season and I’m sure we’ll see you around on the trails somewhere.
Croft: Yeah, awesome.