We’ve been following the steady rise and impressive achievements of Damian Hall for some time and we recently had the pleasure of chatting with him in person at Scafell Skyrace. After spending a whole Saturday watching a live tracker to see him finish 12th (and first Briton) at this year’s UTMB we just had to get the lowdown on who Damian Hall really is and what he’s all about…
TF: When did you start trailrunning?
DH: It must have been 2012, I think – aside from cross country at school (which I was okay at, but I always preferred football). My first running event was the Bath Half in 2011, which I absolutely loved. I did my first marathon (dressed as a toilet) and ultramarathon the next year and my first trail race must have been somewhere around then, too, probably a local 10K. I knew instantly that I preferred trails and especially the longer stuff. There’s more mud involved. And cake.
TF: What do you run for?
DH: I’m tempted to say it’s to inspire my two children. But if I didn’t have any, I’d be running anyway, so that’d be a huge fib. I do it a bit for work (some races and challenges become magazine stories), but mostly for myself. To feel good about myself. Selfish really.
TF: What’s your proudest running (or running-related) achievement/moment?
DH: Representing my country at the age of 41 was pretty ace. The race was a disaster. But still, I got a lovely new suitcase out of it and a vest like Mo Farah’s. And I guess this year’s UTMB (though I’m haunted by not being able to hold 10th place).
TF: What’s been your darkest/bleakest moment/time running?
DH: The 2016 IAU Trail World Championships, as mentioned above. I got debilitating cramps. I couldn’t even walk at one point. I’ve never DNFed an ultra and I sure as hell wasn’t going to start while in a GB vest. But it was a morose kinda feeling knowing you were letting teammates and even your country down.
TF: What did you learn from this?
DH: Race less and avoid FKTs. Cramp isn’t well understood, but it’s likely I had tired legs after my biggest year of running, including running the South West Coast Path, which was a fantastic adventure but I think it fatigued me for the rest of the year.
TF: What do you think of when the trails get tough?
DH: That all the training, and especially any family-related sacrifices, need to count for something. But mostly my foolish pre-race Facebook post.
TF: Who (or what) is your running inspiration?
DH: Nicky Spinks, who I’ve been lucky to get to know a little bit through Inov-8, is enormously inspiring (even if she does get a little star-struck when we meet – arf). I’m lucky to be coached by Ian Sharman and he’s pretty inspiring. I find several fellow ultra runners really inspiring too, especially Nathan Montague, Dan Doherty, Jasmin Paris, Lizzie Wraith, Jo Meek, Holly Rush, Jim Mann, Marcus Scotney, Eoin Keith, Paul Giblin, Kim Collison, Beth Pascall, Dan Lawson and others. They’re all so generous with encouragement and advice. So dedicated. And just plain tough. But the person who’s inspired me most is my friend Allan Cox, who first started filling my head with dreams of running the Alps. He has a knee problem, so ultras take him much longer than us skinny sods, yet he’s done all the toughest races, never DNFed and is still in love with the sport after many years. And I love coming to watch the final finishers at UTMB. Those guys are incredible.
TF: This was your third UTMB. What keeps drawing you back?
DH: The spectacular course, the huge and generous crowds, and the world-class competition. It’s just the biggest race there is.
TF: In this year’s race you reached 10th at one stage before finishing 12th. You’ve expressed your disappointment at not holding onto 10th. Are you planning another go at the top ten?
DH: I think I’ll regret it if I don’t try again. Whether it’s 2018 or not is to be decided…
TF: What was your favourite moment from UTMB this year?
DH: The finish. It’s always the finish. For the second time, my two kids joined me (though they were less excited about it this time, having been made to wait in the cold and rain). They were a bit fast for me. But it’s just magical.
TF: What was your least favourite moment of UTMB this year?
DH: Spotting Jordi Gamito just behind me, near the top of La Giete and feeling powerless to move away. He took my 10th place.
TF: What did you listen to while running UTMB and how did it help?
DH: In races music is a treat and I save it for when things start to get hurty. When not running, I’m a classic ex-NME-reading Britpop boy. But the defeatist anthems of the The Smiths, Radiohead and The National are more likely to make me sit down and sob than tap into my competitive edge. So instead my iPod shuffle has some proper cheesy tat on it…. Eye Of The Tiger, Chariots of Fire, U2.. Wait, it gets worse: Coldplay, Phil Collins. There are a few crossovers between stuff I’d listen to normally that also makes good running music, especially Arcade Fire, New Order, Rolling Stones. But it’s mostly 80s tat.
TF: What’s next after UTMB?
DH: For the first time in about four years, I have no race plans. It feels liberating. Though it won’t last long.
TF: You have two children (the images of you crossing the line at UTMB with your children brought tears to our eyes). How do you juggle being a dad and being an elite runner?
DH: In a nutshell, I’m not afraid of a 4am alarm. I try not to let my selfish obsession take over too much family time. At the same time, it’s a healthy and inspiring thing for them to be around the sport. I take my daughter to Corsham Running Club’s One Mile Club every Wednesday night and we run a mile with lots of other children and parents. It’s a wonderful scheme that really works.
TF: What do your partner and children think about your running and what you’ve achieved?
DH: My daughter’s always commenting on how I was behind the first runner yet again. And in Chamonix my son wearily asked if I had to do UTMB every time we came to France. If I bring a trophy home from a race it’s usually dented and smeared in snot within seconds. They keep me grounded.
TF: What three words would you use to describe your relationship to running?
DH: Another sweaty T-shirt.
TF: What one piece of advice would you give to others?
DH: Always carry Vaseline.
TF: Jelly babies or TUC biscuits?
Damian Hall is an outdoor journalist and GB trail-ultra runner who’s placed on the podium at the Spine Race, Dragon’s Back Race (5th OA) and the 2016 British Athletics Ultra Trail Championships. He’s set an FKT for the 630-mile South West Coast Path and placed in the top 30 at UTMB three times. It’s just a midlife crisis, he insists, and you can find more of this sort of hogwash on Facebook, Twitter (@Damo_hall), Instagram (ultra_damo), Strava and www.damianhall.info. He’s supported by Inov-8 and Contours Trail Running Holidays.