Meet the runner - Kate Carter
Kate is a writer, editor and presenter. She is also an incredible runner who is passionate about all things running-related. I knew about her running exploits through the much loved (and now sadly defunct) Monday Debrief on the Guardian website and have continued to follow her progress. One of my favourite interviews to date. I particularly loved the shoe review and the story about the giant squirrel.
How did you start running and why did you keep going?
I started running when I was on maternity leave with my second daughter, about 8 years ago. I had absolutely no fitness, and definitely no love for running whatsoever - I actually hated it - but it was really the only exercise I could fit around kid stuff, from my front door and back again. So I started with Couch to 5k. Couldn’t run to the lamppost on the corner of my block to start with, and that’s about 50m… I kept going because, much to my surprise, I found I did like it, and saw improvements pretty fast. Plus: time to yourself. With two small children that was pretty much my definition of bliss.
Do you have a coach and how did that relationship come about?
I do. When I got into running seriously and ran a half decent half marathon (for someone following no plan whatsoever anyway) I decided it would help - oddly, for someone who doesn’t like being told what to do in any other sphere whatsoever, I like being told what to do when it comes to running! I now work with Tom Craggs, and he’s absolutely brilliant.
Kate and Tom Craggs
On a daily basis what motivates you to get out the door?
I think it depends on the day. Sometimes it’s simply just to clear my head, to feel better after a bad night’s sleep or shift some stress - I know it will always make me feel better, however little I feel like it before I leave the house. But on a performance level, it’s the desire to keep improving. That gets me to the track sessions, or the harder runs. I am a big believer in the idea that every run has a purpose, it’s just sometimes the purpose has nothing to do with running per se.
How do you schedule your running around family and work?
When I was based in an office, at the Guardian, I used to run commute a lot. That was 10 miles door to door, so a pretty good chance to do some harder runs or intervals, or just lots of easy miles. It didn’t take a huge amount of time longer than the tube either, so very time efficient. Now, because I work from home, there’s usually a window in the day I can find. I think I’m pretty ruthless in carving out time and prioritising it. Not, I hasten to add, at the expense of keeping the kids fed and watered… just that I am pretty good at not faffing and wasting time: if I have an hour and only an hour, I’ll damn well be running for 59 minutes 59 seconds of it, if I can.
Do you have a running or a life philosophy? Are they different?
That’s an interesting question. I think my running philosophy is all about both the idea of every run having a purpose - as mentioned above - and then more practically, on polarisation: take the easy really easy, hit the hard really hard. I’m not sure that applies to the rest of my life! I am very competitive when it comes to running - not with other people really (or not with people who I have no hope of being competitive against, anyway!) - but mainly with myself. I push myself pretty hard, I think, considering I’m just a club runner with absolutely nothing riding on the result. Not sure I do that in the rest of my life. Perhaps I should!
Kate and Haile
I was a real fan of the Monday Debrief at the Guardian. How did it come about? Do
you miss writing it?
That was a happy coincidence of timing: funnily enough, I’d suggested a running blog before I even ran myself, but then raised it again when I was getting seriously into it and happily one of my bosses had at that point got into it too, so gave it the go-ahead. I really miss writing it, and I really miss the community! I’m still in touch with some of them on Strava and other social media. The one that always stays with me is the blogpost I wrote after a disastrous London Marathon. I was on fantastic form going into it, gunning for sub 3 - it seemed like the stars were all aligned for it to happen - and then it all went horribly wrong. I wrote what was probably a dreadfully self-pitying post - I honestly felt like I’d let everyone in this supportive community down - and the comments started rolling in, and they were all just absolutely lovely. I spent most of the day sitting at my desk in tears. It’s still online and I still find it hard to read!
What are you working on at the moment?
Lots of different things - I present on The Running Channel on YouTube, write regularly for Runners World, I have a monthly column for World Athletics and more. Hopefully a bigger project coming soon too….
What has been your favourite race in the UK and internationally?
London Marathon is always special - the atmosphere is so crazy. I actually don’t think I’d ever “race” it again, it’s too much fun jogging around soaking up the atmosphere. Especially in a panda costume … I did that last year (2019) for a Guiness World Record. Internationally - I really love the RunCzech series of races. My mum is from the Czech Republic so I do feel a special connection there. The other two I’ve been lucky enough to do that will always be top of my list are Tokyo Marathon (got Doms in my face from grinning so much) and Seawheeze half in Vancouver. Though just last week I ran the Farnham Pilgrim half marathon and it was utterly glorious. I guess we forget sometimes how lovely England can be, and the joy of being able to do races again in stunning scenery was a proper endorphin hit.
Where and what was your best performance? How did you achieve it i.e. training,
That’s an interesting question because I think best doesn’t necessarily always mean fastest… My second ever marathon was New York, and the weather was horrible. Sub zero temperatures, howling headwinds for 21 miles of the course.. I ran a PB of 14 odd minutes (from 3:25 to 3:11) and I’m still not sure entirely how. Perhaps I just didn’t know any better yet? Tom Craggs - who is now my coach - actually paced me for that, first time I’d ever met him! But I guess in terms of pressure and long term goals, it would be running 2:59 in Seville. That took a fair few attempts, and a deliberate decision to go “below the radar” and not tell anyone about it. Tom talked to me beforehand about how even the very well-meaning pressure from people who followed the Guardian blog, or stuff on Strava, or whatever it is.. it can become pressure in your head.. So we decided I just wouldn’t tell anyone I was doing it. Barely told a soul until I crossed the line and had done it. I also did that off a pretty short block of marathon-specific prep - only about 8 weeks. Perhaps that also helped. Less time to stress about it!
What are you running goals for the future?
I am really loving shorter races - 5k and 10k - at the moment and the intensity of training for them. Hitting the track hard and backing right off for easy runs is nice. I’ve lowered my 5k PB twice in the last month so I’m still getting faster even in my 40s - hopefully that will keep happening! I absolutely love track work and running fast, that feeling of hitting paces you never have before.. it’s addictive. Far more of a high for me - at least at the moment - than those long run sufferfests.
What does an average training week look like? Do you work off one-week blocks or
Tom usually sets about 2 weeks on Training Peaks though adapts if things change, of course. I run about 60 miles a week, usually track on Tuesday and Saturday, something tempo-ish on Thursday. My “long” run isn’t particularly long at the moment though, which is why I can do track on Saturday too. Wouldn’t do that in marathon prep!
Do you do any strength or conditioning work? Yoga or Pilates?
Yes quite a lot actually - mainly because of lockdown! My gym was brilliant at online Zoom classes. Now I’m back in there and doing weights too. I do about three strength and conditioning classes a week, a couple of core/ pilates ones too. I actually really love that stuff at the moment. Nice to do something different.
Do you have regular physiotherapy or massage?
Not regularly but I do have an amazing masseur who comes to the house and has rescued me from many a niggle!
Have you had any injuries and how have you resolved them?
I’m very lucky that I’m fairly injury-resistant. I tore a calf muscle back in about 2015, and again last December - those are the only real injuries I’ve ever had.
Do you have a favourite pre-race meal? What about after the race?
Toasted bagel, peanut butter on one half, marmalade on the other. I’m all about the carbs! Afterwards, I always think I’ll be hungry but it often takes me hours to want to stomach anything. Absolutely love a Franco Manca pizza though!
Any races on your bucket list?
I want to do all the RunCzech races, so a few to go there, including Prague marathon. More track stuff too. After that Farnham Pilgrim race I’d also like to do more of the Surrey hills and North Downs Way, though no ultras, thank you very much!
Any disaster races or training sessions?
My friend, and former colleague, Adharanand Finn (of Running with the Kenyans fame) once said something to me after I was whinging about a terrible run. “But you did it anyway” he said, “Those are the ones that make you a tougher runner”. Though thinking about it, I’m not sure the time I ran the Royal Parks half with what turned out to be proper gastroenteritis was a wise idea. Being overtaken by a giant squirrel was an all time low…
Do you take any supplements? Have a special diet?
I’m vegetarian, but find it quite annoying when people’s response to that is “But what about protein?” I get plenty without disgusting protein powders (I hate all of them). I just try to eat plenty of good things, as well as the odd treat. Only thing I take is Vitamin D (which everyone in this country should, and hardly anyone does) and sometimes a vegetarian version of Omega 3s.
How has coronavirus altered your running? Have you found it difficult to be
motivated? Any races planned?
It’s funny, I would have thought it would because I am very target-focussed. But actually, at the start, I really needed the running to stay sane. And then I started feeling really good, and hitting good paces, and that became an end in itself. Then races are slowly happening again so now I’ve got proper motivation. I was absolutely terrified before my first race back though, the 5k in Milton Keynes. Had forgotten that pre-race dread!
Who inspires you in running?
Lots of different people. I’m a big athletics nerd so I love watching the pros on TV, can’t beat a Friday night Diamond League and a glass or two of wine. Though my favourite athlete at the moment is Mondo Duplantis, and I ain’t taking up pole vault any time soon! I’d say that often, its the people close to you who are really inspiring - those you know in real life hitting times that make you think “hmm, maybe I could do that too?”. I think maybe the two people who genuinely inspire me to get out of the door and two who have an infectious love of running: a friend of mine, Julia, at my club, and Susie Chan - instagram/social star and also a friend of mine. They are both very real about it - some runs suck, you don’t always feel great etc - but at the same time they have an enthusiasm and a sense of fun about it that shines through.
What do you think is the top endurance performance of all time?
Emil Zatopek’s three gold medals at the 1952 Olympics. He’s my all time hero. Not just for the running but the kind of man he was.
I know you love running shoes. Can you give me a top 5 and how you use them
during the week?
Ooo this is seriously appealing to my running shoe geek side and I have a LOT of shoes. But at the moment:
- Nike 4% or Next% - for any races. The hype is, though we might wish it wasn’t, most definitely real. I love the way they feel. They suit my gait too.
- Nike Pegasus Turbos: Absolutely brilliant shoe. If I was forced to chose only one shoe forever, this would be it. It’s not a race shoe, but it’s light and low enough for tempos but comfy enough for long runs and it lasts absolutely ages. I got near-on a thousand miles out of my first pair.
- Saucoony Freedom ISOs: I have a pair that are about to give up the ghost. Love these for recovery runs, easy runs and just “oh god my feet are killing me they need comfort” runs. Not fast but so comfortable, and not heavy for a cushioned shoe either.
- On Cloudflow: I always love new Ons, they always feel good straight out of the box. These are great for slightly quicker runs - and the Cloudflash for interval training. My only complaint with On is the naming system is absolutely impossible to remember ;)
- Saucony Type As: Super light racing flat, which I love for shorter interval stuff. Actually, I used to race everything in these but putting them on now my calves wince at the thought that I wore them for my half marathon PB. Don’t think they could cope with that now! I did a 1500m in them the other day and it felt quite long enough!
Any favourite bits of kit?
Lululemon shorts are the best. Yes, super pricey but they have an amazing knack of putting multiple pockets in just where you need them. Really love Patagonia kit too, for its environmental concerns and also performance. Other essential for me is music on solo runs: so I love my Jaybird headphones. I only wish Apple still made the iPod shuffle. The best running gadget ever! Oh and Garmin of course.
Any athletes you’d consider ‘ones to watch’?
I feel like British distance running is doing pretty well at the moment - lots of new names coming through and in a better place than for years, I think.
You can find Kate at the Running Channel on YouTube - www.therunningchannel.com, @katehelencarter on Twitter and @katehelencarter on Instagram.