After a fourth place last year, Ruth Croft, a New Zealander who lives in Taiwan, is back to race The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships again. Watch in this interview as Ruth talks about what has drawn her back across the Pacific Ocean to this race a second time, how her experience here last year informs this year’s strategy, and what it’s like to train for trail races while living in the metropolis of Taipei.
By the way, Ruth’s interview is part of a pre-race women’s interview show. Check it out!
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Ruth Croft Pre-2016 The North Face EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Dylan Bowman here with iRunFar sitting in for Bryon Powell.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: And I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. We’re here at the San Francisco Running Company in Mill Valley, California. It’s a couple days before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. We’re with Kiwi Ruth Croft. We’re also over-caffeinated. Good morning.
Ruth Croft: It’s 8 a.m. That’s impossible.
iRF-Bowman: Welcome. It’s good to have you back in California.
iRF-Bowman: You’re a Kiwi, but you live in Taiwan, and you spent your summer in Europe, and you went to school in Portland. So you’re quite, quite international.
Croft: You’ve done your homework.
iRF-Bowman: Yes, I did my research prior to sitting in.
iRF-Hicks: His journalism debut.
iRF-Bowman: So you’re back in the U.S. This is your first time back since the race last year?
Croft: Yes, this is my first time back.
iRF-Bowman: You’ve been here for a little while?
Croft: I got here last week, last Saturday. I was in L.A. I went to see some friends. You know Justin Houck? I saw Chris and Alicia [Vargo] in Arizona and then came up two days ago.
iRF-Bowman: Making a little trip out of it?
Croft: Yeah, I don’t like to fly in and race because it takes me about five days to get over jetlag and start feeling normal again.
iRF-Bowman: You’ve had a great year this year. You finished third at Transvulcania earlier in the year which is kind of the European equivalent to The North Face 50 Mile. Then obviously you finished second at [Trofeo] Kima, a notoriously difficult and technical race. You also won a 50k there in Hong Kong. So how do you feel about your season and how that set you up for this race?
Croft: My season, to be honest, I got to Europe and had the opportunity to do some other races. I did Sierre-Zinal and it didn’t really go well. My fitness wasn’t really where I wanted it to be. It had been really hot this summer in Taipei, so I found it really affected my training. I got over to Europe and did Sierre-Zinal. I’d talked about doing Kima before I went up to Europe, but we decided (Jono [Wyatt] is my coach) it wasn’t a good idea because I hadn’t run anything that technical. I didn’t have the chance to train. It’s also a little bit at altitude, so we said, “No, don’t do it.” Sierre-Zinal went bad or wasn’t great. Then I did the Matterhorn [Ultraks] a week later. Then I decided that I had the opportunity to do Kima, and it’s such an awesome race, and it’s only held every two years. So I just decided I’d give it a go.
iRF-Bowman: Do you feel like it set you up for a good race here?
Croft: Those races like Kima and Glen Coe [Skyline] are totally different. You were on chains, you’re scrambling, and so you’re out there for eight or nine hours but not exactly running eight or nine hours. But yeah, I hope it set me up for this weekend. We’ll find out.
iRF-Hicks: You’re back. You were here last year. You’re the returning fourth-place runner. Can you give us a little bit of feedback on your experience here last year and maybe what had drawn you back all the way across the ocean, across time zones, across international date lines to do this all again?
Croft: One, is the timing of the race. It’s a good run to finish the season on. Also, I just felt last year… I don’t know… when you do a race for the first time, you kind of learn a lot about it and what you can do better the next time. I think I took a lot away from last year and hope I can improve on it this year.
iRF-Bowman: What is it you think you can improve? When I saw you in the race last year, I think you were in second on the out-and-back, and you finished fourth. You slipped a little bit in the second half of the race. What happened there? How do you think you can improve it?
Croft: I blew up in the last aid station bad.
iRF-Bowman: A lot of people blow up there.
iRF-Hicks: Before the last climb?
Croft: Yeah, I ran through the aid station, and right after the aid station, I got passed by Ellie [Greenwood] and Larisa [Dannis].
iRF-Hicks: Just on the last climb?
Croft: Yeah, it’s such a runnable course, and I’m not used to that as well. I wasn’t expecting it to be so like that. So I think you start quite fast. I need to be more conservative. Those hills just keep coming and keep coming, and by the end, if you’ve gone out too fast, it just catches up with you like last year.
iRF-Hicks: You took it out pretty hot. You were within seconds of the lead for quite a distance in the race.
Croft: Yeah, but it just pays to be conservative in the beginning and start to try and push it in the second half.
iRF-Hicks: So if we’re seeing you in fourth or fifth place early on, is that where you’re thinking maybe where you want to be? Are you going to try and stay in visual contact? How are you going to approach trying to start more conservatively in this race?
Croft: Yeah, just probably be back a bit further and not be in a rush to have contact with the lead because it’s a long race. Yeah, it really pays to be more conservative.
iRF-Bowman: Speaking of long races, last year you did a couple 100k races. You had an awesome ultra debut at Tarawera 100k when you and Ruby Muir had quite a battle. She got the best of you that day. Then you had an astonishing run at CCC last year in 2015 where you won the race in a crazy-fast time. You beat Magdalena Boulet who is sort of a local legend here in the Bay Area. I think you were the only person to actually get the better of her in the 2015 season. Talk a little bit about that year and how your progress has been through ultrarunning.
Croft: Tarawera was my first ultra. I think once I got that out of the way, I figured out my nutrition and all that thing. Then with Europe, I was just lucky. I planned it out really well. I had five-week running block over there before CCC just getting used to training in the Alps. I think in August, everything went really well. It was just one of those races where I felt really good from start to finish. That was it pretty much.
iRF-Hicks: You live in Taipei in Taiwan, which is a gigantic metropolis. I think my question will ring familiar with a lot of people around the world with people who try to be trail runners or who are trail runners but who live with not the best access to trails. Can you talk about your life in Taipei, what your usual running schedule is like? Do you spend a fair amount of time on the roads, or do you get out to trails? What’s it like?
Croft: It’s not like Hong Kong where trails were really accessible. Taipei is not quite like that. It’s tough. I have a couple of training partners, and we train in the morning along a riverside. We go up some hills and that, but during the week, it’s quite a lot of road. On the weekend, we try to get on trails. There’s one national park in Taipei, but even so, it’s not trails. It’s like cobbled steps.
iRF-Hicks: With green things around you?
Croft: Taipei is pretty green. Of course, it’s not ideal for training, but you make the best of what you’ve got. The hardest thing for a lot of runners coming from Asia is just the heat in the summer which is what I’ve struggled a lot with this year. You’re constantly in humidity. We had a 50k in Hong Kong, and it was 90% humidity. You’re just losing so much water. I found I’d get into work at midday and have this massive headache because it’s so hard to replace all that sweat. Also, your body recovery just slows down so much. I don’t know. It’s not the best, but I’ve got a lot of support from Garmin and a lot of different training centers. I make it work.
iRF-Bowman: Like I mentioned, you have a background running on the track and cross country. You went to University of Portland, so you have a lot of experience doing faster, shorter stuff. You’ve proven that you’re also great in the more technical mountain courses. You obviously have skill on the faster, flatter courses. Do you have a preference between the two? This course here is sort of in between—it’s relentlessly hilly, but super fast. Talk a little bit about your opinion of those kinds of courses.
Croft: I definitely prefer something like CCC where there are some really runnable sections but also some technical sections. To be honest, I find The North Face for me is quite fast, and I don’t really enjoy when you don’t have that break up of hiking and stuff like that. Then if you go to Kima, it’s the opposite and it’s way too technical. I enjoy it, and it’s awesome to do, but I didn’t feel like I was comfortable and could really relax.
iRF-Hicks: Last question for you. You’re a brand new Scott athlete. What shoes are you wearing on Saturday?
Croft: I’m wearing the Supertrac RC.
iRF-Hicks: This is a shoe not a lot of people have seen yet. Can you describe it?
Croft: I’ve worn it at Kima. It was awesome on rocks and all surfaces if it’s slippery or if it’s dry. I don’t know. I’m terrible at speaking about shoes.
Croft: Right, really good traction.
iRF-Hicks: The shoe is all about the traction.
Croft: Yeah, it’s pretty lightweight as well.
iRF-Bowman: Good luck. Hopefully you have a better experience than the last 10k of last year.
iRF-Hicks: May the final climb treat you well.
iRF-Bowman: The weather looks favorable, too, so it should be a good one.
Croft: Yeah, thank you.
iRF-Hicks: Good luck, Ruth.