Recently, Max Bell sat down with Caitlin Fielder to chat about the secret behind her athletic success, and get some details about her many adventures. Caitlin is an accomplished trail and ultra runner, having competed and placed highly in races globally and around New Zealand. She’s based out of Nelson and has remained largely under the radar thus far. Here we investigate by asking about her training and nutrition, her experience at the Old Ghost Ultra and recent experiences overseas at Xterra and Mission X3.
Max: You’re currently in France for the Tour De France where your partner, cyclist George Bennett, will be competing wearing shoes (in select stages) you did the custom artwork for. Has this gotten some media attention?
Caitlin: I got to see the shoes at the start of one of his stages which was awesome, and got a great glimpse during stage 12 when George attacked around 600m. I originally designed his shoes as a birthday present for him, and when he actually wore them during the Tour de France it was huge. I never expected for them to get as much media attention as they did; there has been a few articles and a lot of exposure for my business Caitlin Fielder Fine Art.
Max: After running the Old Ghost Ultra and finishing 3rd female, how does it compare to other ultra races in New Zealand?
Caitlin: I highly recommend the Old Ghost Ultra. It has only been going for a few years but it was certainly good enough for me to do again after I completed it the inaugural year. I think the Old Ghost Ultra will be the race to watch in New Zealand, it will get more and more popular. The event is capped to 250 competitors which makes it pretty special. The organisers are fantastic and have everything planned to a tee. A huge draw card of Old Ghost is also earning points which contribute towards being able to compete in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). I think once you start running Ultras, competing in UTMB is one of the major goals.
Max: What’s a typical week of training look like for you?
Caitlin: It varies a bit depending on what my aim is in my training. But usually it would involve 2 or 3 running days (running anywhere between 1-4 hours per day with efforts), biking 2 or 3 days (between 2-4 hours per day with efforts), one or two swimming/gym days (usually swimming around 3km) and a rest day!
Max: Ultrarunning is obviously something which takes a large time commitment both to do and to train for, and as such the ultrarunners I’ve met are very passionate about it. Do you think you were drawn to endurance sports naturally or was the endurance something you learned to love?
Caitlin: I have always had an appetite for a challenge which often leads me into more intense events. I would say that I have always participated in running, but it was only after I had my first boxing fight that I began having an interest in competitive running. The boxing training up until my fight was very intense, and after the fight I found running filled that gap. I remember reading Lisa Tamati’s book about her experience running ultra marathons and I think I was always intrigued by both the mental and physical challenges faced when training and racing ultras. I think the zone that you can find when during endurance sports is addictive, and although with it can come a lot of pain, it’s definitely something you learn to love.
Max: What kind of food do you eat during an ultra, and how long did it take you find the ideal food?
Caitlin: I’m pretty lucky in regards to the fact that I can stomach most foods while training and racing. During a race I focus on eating and drinking something every 40 minutes which is pretty crucial when you’re running for 10 hours. I make my own oat bars and also have a wicked Finnish pancake recipe a friend gave me that I love to eat. I don’t usually have gels until the last few hours or else I tend to get a few stomach complaints. I try to take a lot of variety with me so that I don’t get bored of what I’m eating but it’s more just getting something in your stomach which is important.
Max: I met you at the Wairua Warrior race in Nelson, where you finished 1st elite female two years in a row. Being somebody who runs a lot, how did you find a race like this which involves added challenges, such as a sandbag carry and obstacles which test upper-body strength?
Caitlin: I worry about how I’ll do with my upper-body, as my training is usually not upper-body orientated. Usually at the start of events like the Wairua Warrior my aim is basically to run it as fast as I can, just in case I have difficulty with some of the more upper-body focused challenges. Luckily so far I have been able to push myself through these. The sandbag carry this year was insane, but I just tell myself the quicker I do it the sooner I can drop the sand bag which seems to work for me.
Max: The Wairua Warrior was New Zealand’s first qualifying event for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship, for which you qualified. Will you be going to Canada this year to compete in the World Championship?
Caitlin: I’m travelling to Boulder and Spain to race, I’ll fit Canada in if I can.
Max: I’m not familiar with the races in Boulder and Spain, can you talk some more about these?
Caitlin: I did the 24km Xterra Trail run in Boulder which I came third overall women in. It was a pretty hard event on my body as it was at altitude and I had only flown into America a few days earlier. But I managed to drag myself through it which is a good feeling!
They always have a lot of trail running races over here in Spain which really suit me. I entered in a series of races here called Mission X3, which are three trail running races organised by Klassmark. They’re each around 24km, but have some serious ascents in them which get the legs hurting. I was only able to compete in one out of the three because I have a knee injury at the moment. I came third overall female in the one I competed in which was good though.
Max: Could you see a tool like WayWiser, in which you can plan outdoor trips and find others to do them with, helping you in your running and other training?
Caitlin: I haven’t used WayWiser yet but I have heard about it. I think its an awesome tool to use to plan trips and trainings. I spend a lot of time training alone which often means running in isolated places so I always run with a Personal Locator Beacon. But using WayWiser would be great way to link up with others, not just for running but also with the riding I do as well.
Max: What races are on your bucket list?
Caitlin: Next year my goal is to do OCC UTMB which is the shorter version of the UTMB. It’s a 56km race with around 3500m of climbing so it’s pretty serious. Eventually I would love to do the full UTMB but I think for now I would like to focus on achieving a quicker pace at shorter distances.
Max: Lastly, how fast does George run?
Caitlin: George and I have been planning on having a running race for a while now, but it still hasn’t happened. I think he would probably beat me on the shorter distances but I think anything over 5km I would have it in the bag!