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Interview with the Athlete - Ruth Croft

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In this “Interview with the Athlete”, ultra endurance athlete Ruth Croft discusses her background as well as training and nutrition strategies that have fueled her race day performance

About Ruth Croft

Figure 1 Ultra-endurance athlete Ruth Croft. Image used with permission

In this installment of Interview with the Athlete we have the privilege of talking with ultra endurance extraordinaire, Ruth Croft. Her accomplishments include representing New Zealand as a junior athlete in the World Track and Field Championships, World Cross Country Championships and World Mountain Running Championships. Following an injury plagued collegiate career, Ruth once again found her stride while running ultra endurance adventure races. Luckily for us, she joins us here today to share her experiences…

First off, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us here today. We are honored with your presence.

Curious, what first stoked your interest in endurance training? How did it progress to the point where it is today, competing in ultra-marathons?

I started competitively running at the age of 14 and then I represented New Zealand as a junior in track, cross country and mountain running. More specifically, I represented New Zealand at the World Junior Athletics Champs in the 3000m Steeplechase in Beijing, and the World Cross Country Champs in Scotland. My best performances though were in mountain running. I represented New Zealand at the World Mountain Running Champs three times when they were held in New Zealand, Turkey and Switzerland. My highest ranking was 5th in the Junior Women’s.

Can you share with us the "highs" and "lows" of representing New Zealand on the World Stage as a junior athlete?

The obvious high was getting the opportunity of representing New Zealand at this elite of a level. Additionally, it provided me an opportunity to travel to many different countries. Running it is not just about competing; its the countries I get to travel to, the people I meet… just the entire gamut of the experience. I think if it wasn't for representing New Zealand as a junior I wouldn't have the appreciation or passion for travel that I do today.

The lows were that it was always hard to train for the athletic season when you are in the middle of winter in New Zealand. I went to boarding school so I had to return home during the holidays and I couldn't train on our local grass track -it would be in flood this time of year. With the high costs of traveling overseas it also meant that we wouldn't have the opportunity to get in warm up meets before the main competition. We would often arrive at the meet just a couple of days prior and then have to get over jet lag and the weather, which often led to disappointing performances. Overall our preparation wasn't ideal. In New Zealand the number of athletes capable of competing at the given level wasn't as high. I remember our 3000m steeple chase had around 7 competitors which doesn't quite prepare you for the full field that competes at the World Juniors.

What was your university career like? Did you have similar success to what you had as a junior athlete?

After graduating from high school I received an athletic scholarship to run at the University of Portland in Oregon (USA). It turned out to be four years of bad performances and injuries. Throughout this time period, I knew I preferred running longer distances, being on the trails, and in the mountains. Following university, I decided to give up running and moved to Taiwan; I was burnt out and had lost the passion for running that I had back in New Zealand.

How long did you stay "retired" before lacing up the shoe laces and getting back out there? What changed with respect to your attitude towards running?

My time away from running lasted only a couple of months. I found that I missed the competition and having run for so many years, it was simply ingrained into my lifestyle. Additionally, in contrast to university, I was able to train and compete in races that I wanted to do. My first ultra was The North Face Taiwan 50km last year. I only signed up for it because the 15km was already full and I couldn’t get in so I decided to give the 50km a go. Since then I have mainly been doing 50km, and recently I did a 60km, but I still do a lot of shorter races within Taiwan.

As a runner, what achievement/experience are you most proud of to date?

Figure 2. Ruth competing in the Mt. Everest 60 km ultra marathon in Nepal. Image used with permission

Last year I won the Mt Kinabalu (Malaysia’s highest mountain 4,095m) Climbathon race in Borneo, Malaysia. More recently I did the Mt Everest 60km ultra marathon in Nepal. It is the world’s highest ultra marathon, in which you trek for 14 days acclimatizing along the way to Mt Everest Base Camp. We were supposed to start at base camp (5,364m) and finish at Namche Bazar (3,440m), but because of heavy snowfall we had to start at Gorakshep (5,164m). This was probably the toughest race I have done to date. Not only did you have to deal with the altitude but also the weather conditions especially with the first 17km running on a single track trail of snow that had iced over. Overall it was amazing to have this opportunity and experience to run in the stunning area of the Everest region, as to me that’s what running is about, being in the outdoors and on trails… motivation enough!

Are there any short and/or long term goals that you have with respect to endurance running?

Short term I am focusing on slowly getting into longer ultras. I am only 25 years old so I am hesitant to jump into the longer distances too quickly as they take a toll on your body and I still really enjoy doing the shorter distances too. I am hoping to do my first 100km next year, the Tarawera 100km, back home in New Zealand, and right now this is my main focus. It is in the World Series so it will be good to see how I can do against some top runners. I am also hoping to get over to Europe or America in 2015 or 2016 to do some of the sky running world series races as the trail running scene is a lot more developed and competitive there than here in Asia.

With respect to long term goals, after Everest I am definitely more interested in the extreme ultras, I would love to do the Antarctica Ice ultra, and the Amazon Jungle ultra, but financially speaking these are a bit down the road.

Zeroing in a little bit more specifically to your training and nutrition strategies…

What does training look like in anticipation of your ultra races?

Figure 3. Ruth in fine racing form! Image used with permission.

Leading up to a specific race I will adjust my training accordingly. For instance, if it is a mountain race I will make sure to get elevation training in. Normally a typical week I will sit around 130km. I noticed I was getting in the miles but my pace was slipping off, so recently I have had more focused on pace.

During the week I do one track speed workout with my training group, normally repetitions ranging from 400m-3000m. I will also try to get in one tempo run. (Editor’s Note – For those in the CasePerformance Community not familiar with the term “tempo run”, this involves running at a “comfortably hard” pace. The goal of the workout is to improve one’s lactate threshold). I actually don’t too well with too many speed workouts, so the most I will do in a week is two. Apart from that the rest of my runs will be longer in the hills or on the flat depending on my schedule.

I actually don’t focus too much on mileage and go more by how I feel. I used to really stick to a training program but I felt when I did this I wasn’t listening to my body and ended up running myself into the ground. I have a general idea on what I want to aim for each week, but if I’m tired I’ll back off, get in the pool, or the opposite if I’m feeling good push it a bit more.

What role does flexibility training play in your training program?

I incorporate both stretch and dynamic stretching

Does resistance training play any role in your overall training cycle?

Yes it does, I go to the gym at least twice a week, to do core strengthening and some upper and lower work. I think resistant training is really important in injury prevention. Some of the exercises that I feel have been most beneficial in my routine…

  • Hip extension using Swiss ball
  • Most exercises for posterior chain
  • Press-ups
  • Lat pull down
  • Prone holds
  • Lower body Russian twist
  • Jackknife using Swiss ball
  • Sit ups using a medicine ball etc. etc.
  • I will do lunges with dumbbells, Squats using a Swiss ball against the wall and squats just using dumbbells depending on training focus
  • Calf rises with dumbbells

With your training load, how do you go about fueling yourself for success?

Nutrition has been an area that I have made a lot of changes to since being in Taiwan and I have noticed a huge improvement in my recovery and energy levels. It used to be an area I neglected, but now realize that having good nutrition is just as pivotal as my training, they go hand-in-hand.

I am actually gluten intolerant and a vegetarian (not to be confused with vegan) so I do all my cooking at home. This may sound overwhelming to some individuals. However, if you are organized and plan ahead it’s really not that difficult.

What are your thoughts on supplements?

I steer away from taking supplements for the most part; I believe if you eat right and plan your meals you should be able to almost everything from your food. That said, there are a couple of supplements I do take now. I’ve always struggled with iron, so I supplement with that along with protein and spirulina powders (see smoothie in the next question below!). Also summers in Taiwan are brutal, so staying hydrated is something you have to be really meticulous about.

Outside of nutrition, is there anything else you do to help your body recover from the training you put in?

I try to get in the pool and swim at least once a week. I also get a traditional Chinese massage once a week, and do the typical foam rolling etc.

Any particular pre-, intra-, post workout nutrition/hydration strategies that you’ve found to be effective?

I have been on a big smoothie buzz lately; immediately following a workout I’ll have a smoothie with protein powder, flaxseed, spirilina powder, banana and ice. Intra-workout, especially during the summer in Taiwan, you have to carry water or an electrolyte drink with you on runs any longer than 30mins; otherwise you can get into some serious dehydration. I’ve found the GU soluble electrolyte tablets to be effective; I even use these during races, especially because they are not too sweet like most electrolyte drinks on the shelves.

Now that we have a better understanding of your approach to training and nutrition, I was wondering if you could discuss your approach to tapering for an event from a training perspective. Also, do you incorporate any dietary changes (ie – carb loading, etc) during a taper or is your diet kept relatively consistent?

The week leading into a big race I will taper. For instance if the race were on Saturday my week would look like this:

  • Monday: Easy 90mins
  • Tuesday: AM- easy 60mins, PM- easy 30mins
  • Wed: AM- 30mins easy, pm a shorter workout. This could be 3*2km or 5*1km. This workout isn’t about getting the mileage in but more just about getting the legs turning over. After having a couple of previous easy days I should be feeling good, which helps mentally.
  • Thursday: AM – pool, PM – 60mins easy
  • Friday: 45-60mins easy.

Dietary wise I don’t change anything. I have tried the carbo-loading approach but I don’t find it beneficial. I believe in keeping my diet the same, as it is what my body is used to, I am not going to go changing things the week before.

That's all the questions we have for you today. Thus, on behalf of the CasePerformance community, I would like to thank you for joining us here today. I realize it takes time to answer these questions and we appreciate your presence. Keep up the great work!

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Written on September 07, 2014 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: October 06, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.