TrailFest Asks… Gemma Welsh

TF: When did you start trailrunning?

GW: Just over a year ago when I came along to the first organised TrailFest run at Mugdock. I’d been doing some road running but hadn’t been brave enough to migrate on to the trails on my own!

TF: What do you run for?

GW: A few reasons but mostly my health. When I was about 19 I became quite unwell and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that left me bedridden at it’s worst. I lost a lot of fitness and was quite weak. I started walking at first and gradually worked up to running. It took about three years for me to regain my fitness so it’s been a long road. I like to run to get a bit of headspace too. I honestly believe that running has got me through some of the most difficult times in my life. A good alternative to running away from everything is running through the trails!

TF: What’s your proudest running (or running-related) achievement/moment?

GW: It’s actually nothing to do with racing and won’t seem like an achievement to some but it was on one of the TrailFest runs. We were running through a nice trail in the woods, going downhill and I felt like I was flying. When I first started trail running I used to carefully pick my way through the trails slowly and often struggling for breath. I was really bad at negative thinking so would always be worrying about not keeping up with the group or falling and hurting myself. But on that day my mind was in a totally different place, appreciating the amazing setting we were in and just really enjoying myself. The sense of freedom and exhilaration I felt was something amazing.

TF: What’s been your darkest/bleakest moment/time running?

GW: There was a period of about a year where I seemed to be making absolutely no progress with my running and fitness. My autoimmune condition had flared up and left me with achy joints and fatigue so I was struggling before I even made it out to run. It didn’t seem to be getting any easier and every run felt like a marathon, leaving me totally exhausted. I felt like my body was failing me and it was pretty demoralising. My mental health wasn’t great at the time either so I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I fell out of love with running for a little while.

TF: What did you learn from this?

GW: When I eventually got out of that funk I could look back at it and see that it was a pretty good way of grounding myself. I take absolutely nothing for granted with running. I’m getting faster and fitter all the time now but I know that it could change at any time. So I have learned to really appreciate when I can get out to enjoy the trails and running. Instead of hating my body for what it can’t do or struggles with, now I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to get out there and run.

TF: What do you think of when the trails get tough?

GW: I try to look around me, which works much better when you’re running nice trails! It might sound cheesy but it’s hard to feel bad when you can look up and appreciate your surroundings. Even if it’s in dense woods and I can see nothing but trees, I try to appreciate the fact that I’ve got myself out there.

TF: Does trailrunning help you in other areas of your life? If so, how?

GW: It’s a big part of looking after my mental health. I’ve had problems with depression and anxiety since my teens and running has helped immensely with that. Getting out on the trails is a great stress reliever. It’s also been a great way of finding good places to walk my dog!

TF: Who (or what) is your running inspiration?

GW: I found out a few years ago that my great great grandfather was a very talented professional runner. Obviously I never met him but reading about his achievements was really inspiring. I sometimes try to convince myself that I must have at least a tiny bit of his talent deep down somewhere!

TF: What’s the one big race you’d love to complete?

GW: It’s a totally unrealistic one but the Ben Nevis race. I love hill walking and I often find myself wishing I was in my running gear whenever I’m out there. There’s nothing more exciting/terrifying than running downhill – it’s the uphill that puts me off! I’m still working on my relationship with uphills. Maybe one day.

TF: Do you prefer morning or evening trailruns?

GW: Morning. I love being out on the colder, crisp mornings when there’s a bit of light fog and dew on the ground. There’s a great other-worldy feel to it.

TF: What season do you enjoy the most for trailrunning?

GW: Definitely Autumn. I don’t like the heat and humidity of summer so I enjoy the cooler weather of Autumn. Plus it’s when the leaves all start to change and the trees look interesting.

TF: Where’s your favourite trail/area to run?

GW: It’s got to be Mugdock. There might be more ‘interesting’ places and more challenging but it’s where my love for trailrunning started and I feel a strong connection to it. Despite how often I run and walk there, I am still finding bits of it I haven’t been in before all the time. I quite like going out with the dog and actually trying to get lost, it means I find new places to run!

TF: What are your favourite trail shoes/what are you running in just now?

GW: I haven’t done much experimenting, I’ve tried 3 different brands and so far I’ve liked inov8 the best so I’ve stuck with them. My current pair are Roclites and they’re probably due to be replaced but I still don’t want to part with them yet.

TF: What three words would you use to describe your relationship to running?

GW: Health, freedom and persistence

TF: What one piece of advice would you give to others?

GW: Be brave. I put off going along to groups and clubs for a long time because I was worried I’d be too slow to keep up. I put off trail running because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope with the terrain. Once I worked up the courage to do both of those I felt a bit silly for being so nervous. Be brave and do things that scare you a little bit. I’ve found the running community to be amazing – there will be people out there more than happy to help and support you.

TF: What’s your trail style:

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