Damian Hall is an Inov-8 athlete, co-founder of The Green Runners and author of We Can't Run Away From This (available in all good bookshops now). I've admired his exploits as an ultra runner for a while, and enjoyed listening to him being interviewed on various podcasts. More recently, his work around making running and racing more sustainable has triggered lots of interesting conversations among my running friends. That has led to small changes in my life - an increasing reticent to fly to a race for the weekend and an increased focus on lift sharing for local races. I asked him about his life and work, what his training looks like, and what he has coming up this year. He also gave some great advice about how we can improve our climate impact. Hope you enjoy!
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I was a journalist for about 20 years and now am a full-time coach. Towards the end of university, I felt like I had a choice between doing a PhD in sociology (the sociology of football fandom) or getting into journalism and writing about football that way. It may have been purely ego, but I felt with journalism someone might actually read my stuff. That’s said with the greatest respect to anyone with a Doctorate in Philosophy. I didn’t have any formal training. I wrote for the university magazine and then I started sending ideas off to football publications and writing for them unsolicited. Sometimes I had success, sometimes not. Eventually I was lucky and got a job at FourFourTwo.
I do like Lizzie Hawker’s ‘The Runner’. Books in general? I loved The Lord of the Rings growing up, and Watership Down, which I’ve recently read to my kids. I really enjoyed Catch 22 and Into the Wild.
For many years I loved trekking and big days or multi days out on the hills. I’ve done a lot of the famous treks around the world like Everest Base Camp, the Inca Trail, lots of hikes in Australia and New Zealand. The progression to running happened when I discovered that ultra-running was a thing. A magazine sent me to run The Wall. I just loved it. It wasn’t that different to trekking really..
There’s something special about 100 miles in the mountains. Often for me that’s within 24 hours, so you get a full night and a full day. Once you go into two nights it’s all about sleep deprivation and hallucinations, which is quite fun too.
My normal training week is usually 6 days of running and 6-8 runs. Then 2-3 strength work sessions and maybe some cross training. I have a set rest day, usually a Sunday. I’m coached by David Roche. I approached him about 3 years ago and he’s great. My coaching business is my work now and I can arrange that how I want so it’s pretty easy to fit my own runs in. I’ll head out for my first run at 9-10am. When my children were younger it was more difficult, and I had to run earlier.
My favourite place to run is Snowdonia – big mountains and not that many people around. It always seems to look a bit different every time I go, with lots of drama. Most of my running highlights have involved running with friends – new or old. Breaking the record on the Pennine Way in 2020 was quite special. That felt like a massive team effort with lots of people helping me.
Domestically my favourite event has to be the Spine Race, although I love the Highland Fling as well. Internationally, the Tor de Geants. My best performance internationally, I suppose, would be UTMB in 2018 and domestically the Highland Fling in 2016. My worst performance was at the UTMB in 2019. I’ve had two DNFs (did not finish) in races (three if you include the Barkley, though I wanted to go on!) and that one was a mental DNF. I was badly under fuelled and lost all motivation and just wasn’t interested or excited about continuing on. I’m still ok with that decision because that’s how I felt at the time, but paradoxically it’s disappointing too.
I don’t really have a llife philosophy, but I like the mantra can be summed up as ‘If in doubt, tell the truth’. And ‘Low mood, eat food’, of course.
I do brain training for races. I’ve worked with a sports psychologist and one of the classic things is gaining confidence from your own running background, what you’ve achieved and how your training has been. Thinking of your why is another thing. You can do a What If? sheet and think about the things you’re worried about the most and what you will do if each of the things happens and what you can do to prevent them, too.
My favourite shoes are the Inov-8 Trailfly G 270. I wear those all the time really. I have 2 or 3 pairs on rotation. I’ve made a real effort lately to make my shoes last. I use Pair Ups, a company that send out patches and glue to help repair daps and make them last longer. My current shoes are probably from 2019 - 2021. I can easily do 1000 miles or more in a shoe now.
My worst injury was an Achilles issue. It was one of those frustrating injuries where you could still run. Annoyingly I had a really important race for GB, the Trail World Championships coming up, and UTMB, in 2016. Doing those events probably didn’t help, even if I was determined to do them, and I took 6 weeks off in the end. Strength work often helps with prevention and management. I do lots of that.
The big race this year will be the Tor de Geants and I’ve got a B race coming up in July called the Cervino Matterhorn Ultra Race, a 100 miler and similar terrain and altitude to the Tor, so it should be good prep .
My motivation comes from being terrified about climate breakdown and the state of the planet we’re passing on to our children and their children. I’m motivated by trying to combat that really.
Kilian Jornet is very inspiring. I’m inspired by people who use running as a platform for their ethics, such as Jasmin Paris, Jim Mann, Dakota Jones and Clare Gallagher.
There’s a decent awareness about waste at races, particularly plastic waste and free clothing and race t-shirts. They are a bit of a tragedy in that they’re often not wanted. However, the elephant in the room is race travel, especially if there are flights involved. Over 90% of a race’s footprint will be from participant travel. Firstly, its useful for races to inform people of that and it’s important for runners to question how important it is to do that particular race if flights are involved and then think about how they can best travel there realistically. Ask yourself if you can stay longer and make more of the trip. That’s the checklist I go through.
To have a large scale, low-impact race you’d have to ban flights. That does happen in cycling. The other thing to think about is car sharing. Four people in a car is equivalent to a train so that’s pretty good.
Some brands are better than other in terms of sustainability, but really it’s about buying less, making it last and for brands to stop bullshitting and greenwashing.