Claudia Schroegel is a Triathlon & Mental Performance Coach and Co-Founder of running club the AR Collective which was born out of AdventRunning, a festive challenge launched last year that encouraged people to run for 30 minutes a day during the first 25 days of December. Due to such an amazing response to the initiative, instead of shutting it down in January, Claudia and her partner James morphed it into a running club that now has a substantial following. We spoke to Claudia shortly after she had completed the 119km ultra trail course, TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie), a race along the ‘Grande Randonnée’ paths crossing though the Mont-Blanc and with around 7,250m elevation. We wanted to know everything about Claudia’s experience, what drives her to run ultra distances and her tips for those condering one.
How Did You Get Into Running Long Distance?
I have always been very active. I played tennis throughout my childhood and teenage years and always ran in our nearby woods back at home in Germany. Distance, speed and time never excited me much. Like lots of people I started with shorter races, 5ks and 10ks but never really fell in love with shorter, more intense running. The turning point occurred in 2012 when I ran my first marathon in Amsterdam and was totally hooked on long endurance events. Mainly the mental side of things, driven by the curiosity of how to train my brain and how to explore human endurance. From there I fell deeply in love with running for miles and miles in the countryside.
What Were The Highs Of Running An Ultra Like The TDS?
There are so many highs keeping you going for hours and hours. It makes it easy to forget you are pushing up or scrambling down the highest peaks in Western Europe indulging in sights of green ski slopes, epic mountain sceneries, the sun rising over the valleys or simply being able to run at the end of a race are some of them. My highlight though was running for high fives and hugs from our AR team. Flying down the mountain and along the flatter sections into the checkpoint, being pulled by friendship and love. When I saw the guys jumping off the little hill at the checkpoint Cormet de Roselend, 66k into the race, my heart was doing sommersaults. It’s incredibly powerful to see familiar faces and having people caring for you. Words of encouragement go a long way. I guess my picture says it all.
Did You Experience Any Lows During The TDF?
The lows – are the really juicy part of any long distance challenge. A significant low point definitely was the four hour climb out of Bourgh Saint Maurice (at 50k, 2,000m ascent) in the midday heat. The climb in itself was pretty rough. Stopping every now and then to let the stomach settle, the heart rate calm down and the legs ease off from the steep uphill effort. I had all sorts of refreshment/ rehydration cravings, to the point it almost drove me mad not being able to have them. I was throwing tantrums and hating running just a little bit there. A real uphill slog.
The low point happened at around 90k in, Col de Jolie (not so jolie), when I bonked hard during the night and 17 hours into my race. My GPS watch ran flat and I had no reference at which altitude I was at. I lost it around 12k outside the crew support aid station up the mountain with some pretty technical descents. It mentally drained me to my bones, desperately trying to make my way down into Les Contamines. I was so dead tired and could barely make out the trail. I saw a dead cat (this is as bad as my hallucinations got— there wasn’t actually a dead cat), and slipped on roots. It felt forever until there was a safe haven. I found a stretcher in the first aid tent and fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. I have never felt so tired in my entire life, my brain was all fuzzy despite my legs being willing. But nodding off whilst walking was far from ideal on this technical quest. I was gone into deep sleep wonderland for about 30min until I got woken by the volunteers. I had plenty of time before the cut off, around 5 hours. Still a bit hazy but this sudden spark hit me. I straightened my race bib, grabbed my backpack and poles and off on the last 20k I was. The following ascent at Col de Tricot was pretty gnarly, but at that point, so close to the finish, you just toughen it out. Up, up up.
How Do You Feel About Completing This Distance And How Did You Celebrate?
It’s hard to describe how it feels like to have crossed that finish line. To be honest, I don’t think it has really sunk in. It’s a bit like I’m walking through life with the content smile I can’t seem to wipe off my face. Running is so much more for me than just covering a distance or moving from one point to another. The distance, elevation and time became irrelevant. It was never about that. I think I have been searching for a deeper meaning into life (yes, endurance seekers are really like that). I have learned a lot about love – personally my love of running. My passion for moving on my own two feet is infinite and being able to tap into this was a real boost. All I ever wanted was to be in love. In love with the things I do. In love with running. In love with the journey. Ultimately in love with life. Knowing I can.
Claudia’s Top 3 Tips For Running An Ultra
1/ Always run with a purpose. Running and training for mountain ultras requires a huge amount of commitment and more often than not some level of sacrifice. Try and understand what will motivate you to run for hours on end because when things get hard [and they will] this will be the thing that really spurs you on.
2/ Be patient. In this day and age, everyone wants instant gratification; instant success. However, mountain races like UTMB and TDS take years to qualify for and even longer to master. Runners wanting to get involved with this sort of event should aim to build distance gradually and give themselves time to build the physical and emotional strength to succeed. There’s no rush, UTMB and other mountain races will be there next year, and the following year, and the year after that.
3/ Train your mind. Ultramarathons rely on a cast iron mindset and often require the willpower to take one more step even when that seems impossible. The beauty, of course, is that people can train their brain just as much as they can train their body. The key is to become the master of your own mind and to know yourself like no one else does. In the end most runs are won in the head.