Relentless Endurance Race: Interview with Katherine Welch

This weekend’s Relentless Endurance Race is organised by Katherine Welch, an American doctor from Chiang Mai. It is a 6, 12 or 24hr timed ultra event; raising funds to benefit Relentless, a project addressing health and human trafficking issues, from prevention efforts to the after-care of trafficking survivors

RER 2015

Katherine herself is an accomplished ultra runner and at the start of this year won her 3rd TNF100 title in Pak Chong, Thailand. After winning the inaugural race in Ampawa in 2012, her first competitive 100k event, Katherine won again in 2013 when the race moved to the Khao Yai area of Thailand and regained her title this year after injury prevented her from participating last year.

Passionate about running and health issues, we asked her a little about what drives her to succeed in a tough, competitive field. Not just running… but Ultra Running.

When did you start running and how did you first get into trail running and ultra races?
I started running when I was a young girl. My dad got into jogging and I’d beg to go with him – he let me go sometimes, just for a bit. Then he’d go out again for his real run. I ran track – sprints and middle distance through college. I used to think that 5 kilometres was long distance!

RER 2015

I didn’t start long distance running until I moved to Thailand in 2000. I was living in rural Thailand and there was nothing but rice paddies, rubber plantations, and small villages to run around. When I was running up to three hours I thought, I bet I could run a marathon. I had no idea how far I was going I had no idea how to train. My first marathon was the Bangkok Marathon and my time was 3:42. After I got bored with marathons and weary from the pressure to PR EACH time, I started running ultras for fun: new distances and no pressure or expectations. I found that I really enjoyed going further and longer and harder!

How much running can you fit in to your busy weekly schedule?
When I’m home, I can actually run quite a bit. I only have to care for myself – I don’t have a family or even a pet to care for. Just me. One just makes time for what one must do to feel healthy and wholesome. Sometimes I still need to wake at three am to fit in the training I need to do, but at least I’m not bothering anyone at that hour. I frequently travel for work and this is when it gets challenging as when I’m trying to explain to my host that you need to find a place to run… for 2 or more hours. Sometimes I’m stuck with doing endless loops – but that’s good mental training as well.

What other sports or activities do you do that compliment your running?
I started Cross Fit January 2014 as I was recovering from my back injury. I wasn’t even back to running yet, but the coaches worked on modifying the workouts to fit my limitations. Now I’m full strength. Cross Fit has definitely helped my running in that I’m stronger all around. I also like to swim for cross training. When I want to ramp up my miles without putting too much strain on my body I do pool running. I did A LOT of pool running when I was injured.

How do you prepare in the 48 hours before a race?
I eat and sleep as well as I can. I rest as much as possible – I don’t run the day before and try to limit the amount of time on my feet. I review the course and my drop bags. I try to stay light-hearted and not get too nervous.

During a race, what motivates you during those testing moments?
Several things work for me. I think about all the people who have it much harder in life than I do and suffer for much longer – and have no choice about it. Although my efforts do nothing for them, I still push for them and pray for them when I’m running.

I’m always competing against myself and I always want to better my times. I don’t want to leave anything out on the course. I also know that the harder and faster I push the sooner I’ll be done! Being in front and not wanting to lose is also pretty good motivation.

Who is your personal running hero and why?
At the moment, I don’t really have a single hero. I don’t even follow particular runners singularly and barely have time to keep up with what’s going on in the ultra world. As a girl, I was inspired by track stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and of course Joan Benoit-Samuelson, who won the first women’s Olympic marathon.

How much do you rely on nutrition during the race?
Nutrition and proper fueling is one of the key factors in successful ultra running. One of the challenges that I’m still learning is how to fuel in hot weather. Nothing sounds good to eat, and nausea compounds the issue – with about 15km to go I ended up puking most of what I consumed the previous couple of hours. Fueling is also a challenge when aid stations offer paltry provisions, and even run out of the little they do offer.

What simple advice would you give to new trail or endurance runners?
Practice. Practice going uphill and downhill. Practice eating. Cross train. Get plenty of rest. Gear isn’t everything – it isn’t even the half of it – just put on some shoes and go. Most importantly: have fun!

Relentless 2015

Registrations for Relentless will still be accepted up until 6th November by contacting chiangmaiultra@gmail.com. Good Luck to all participants!

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