TrailFest Asks… Fiona McG

We first came across Fiona McG a few years ago. Since then we’ve had some great trail times and shared many a tale of injury and losing that running mojo. But, she’s a renewed runner after a few years of busying herself with academic research and is back to enjoying the freedom of trailrunning.

(*For professional reasons, Fiona asked for her identity to be kept hidden, but you can chat with her on our RunSOCIALs.) 

TF: When did you start trailrunning?

FM: I started running in undergraduate university, with Glasgow University Hares and Hounds. Through the team I ran some classic uni hill races like Peel Hill Race on Isle of Man, Kaim Hill in the Trossachs, and Dumyat in Stirling. So that was hills, but I think it took me until marathon training in 2016 to start seeking trail sections on long runs after I realised the trails were a lot more motivating than miles of road. Then I joined TrailFest (who I think of as my new team!) and that gave me more trail inspiration in the form of routes and company.

TF: What do you run for?

FM: Well that’s a big question! I don’t really know how to capture why I run in plain English! I want to keep active in my life, for my health and well-being. Running is one of the few sports that has captured my interest and I believe it’s best to keep active doing what you love. I love the feeling of ground underfoot, and of my heart pounding when I’m pushing myself, and tumbling downhill with wind on my face. Running provides the ideal opportunity to get out into the world, especially its less-seen parts. Running has connected me to a great community of people. Being active in nature makes me feel more like myself. So sometimes I run to connect to nature and sometimes I run to connect with others and sometimes I run to connect to me (sometimes all three).

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

FM: My favourite race experience was probably the Vertical Kilometre in Kinlochleven or the Liverpool Marathon. I struggle with pride in my own achievements – in running that translates to always wishing I was faster, stronger. I feel happiest on the runs where it all clicks and feels easy (even if that only happens on the downhill after death by grinding uphill!). I’m proud to identify as a runner full stop, even if I feel I have to defend and qualify that by saying things like, “oh, I’m very slow though”.

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

FM: I’ve struggled with injury in the past, particularly ITBS, which can seem unending. I also really struggled with running at the end of and following my PhD. I felt just too emotionally tired and empty to try for anything at all. That was October 2016-April 2017 and only now do I feel really ready to start some push again.

TF: What did you learn from this?

FM: perhaps that ‘giving it your best’ doesn’t always mean giving it 100%. At times in your life 10% will truly be all you can give to running and that is okay. This can be tough to accept if running is a crucial part of your identity, but even acknowledging it helps.


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

FM: unless I feel I’m letting down a group I tend to ENJOY the hard graft… (weirdo, right?) but I think of the ground underfoot, the scenery and views around me, the crisp air at this time of year, the noises of trees and birds… that kind of poetic, pretentious stuff!

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

FM: trailrunning is a great de-stressing activity. Its a complete mental and physical break from city pressures. Running in general has also given me some of my closest friends, and has taught me that you can do more than you think if you just try.

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

FM: Graham Kelly (#vanlife dirtbag) to me really embodies a mountain running ethos and is the friendliest chap you’d meet on a trail. He and his girlfriend, Katie, are both positive, funny, genuine people with a love of getting out into raw and wild places on foot. TrailFest’s own Jo Cowper and Ryan Scott have an admirable enthusiasm about trails, distance, and hills. They are also crammed full of honesty, kindness and warmth; and manage to achieve amazing things whilst also working and parenting. Lucja Leonard, is a complete ultrarunning badass (she ran across the Netherlands in her pants) and another force of sunshine in the world. Then so many more that I don’t have space to mention.

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

FM: Pentland Skyline (16 miles of Edinburgh trail and hills). Jedburgh Ultra. Ring of Steall Skyrace. Glamaig hill race in Skye. I couldn’t name just one…

TF: Do you prefer morning or evening trailruns?

FM: Ooh, both… How could I say no to the crisp, dewy mornings or to the hazy evenings with their fading light? You can’t make me choose!

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

FM: Autumn, hands-down, which is why running is so exciting again. Leaves below your feet, the rich vibrant colours – russet, blood red, light gold, scorched heather-, the hillside is transforming in front of your eyes. The temperature is perfect… not cold but there is a crispness and an edge to the wind. You need to cosy up with a buff, but you aren’t cold to the bone. Perfect.

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

FM: again, a tough question. I think its the Kilpatrick hills, who wear autumn particularly well, but there is so much I haven’t explored even around my home. Further afield, the trails in Tenerife are glorious and otherworldly, like running on Mars.

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

FM: I could actually use a pair of trail shoes, so send recommendations my way! Right now I use Inov8 X-Talon for rock with mud on hills, and my old Brooks road shoes for anything else. I need to invest. I will probably gravitate to Inov8, although I fancy a try of some Salomons I can’t currently take financial risk on shoes that might not work for me.

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

FM: Freedom, Rollercoaster, WorthIt?

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

FM: do what you love. I hope you are out trailrunning because that’s what you love. In the end it’s good for your physical health, yes, but it will do you so much more good if it’s also good for your mental health. Seek out those experiences that fill your mental tank right up with lightness and joy, then that tank can be used as a buffer of resilience (and fitness) when it isn’t so easy. A second bonus bit of advice – for fitness to a standard where you can enjoy it, consistency in training trumps intensity in training.

TF: What’s your trail style:

  • Buff, headband or trucker cap? Buff any day baby, plus I’m always a bit suspicious I’m not carrying off the truckers…
  • Shorts, tights or compression? Shorts, ideally long tight shorts or capris.
  • Singlet, tech t-shirt or windshirt? Tech tee shirt, merino if you can spring for it.
  • Bumbag, rucksack or race vest? Rucksack – I have a cheap(er) Salomon number.
  • Headphones or the sounds of the trail? Always sounds of the trail or a nice chat. But if I’m on road, give me my podcasts!
  • Energy gels or homemade sandwiches? For trail: Clif bars, sandwiches (peanut butter), and salty pretzels.
  • Jelly babies or TUC biscuits? TUC biscuits
  • Instagramming or disconnected? Sometimes I feel like one or the other. I’m not a person who feels technology ruins all – connecting with other trail lovers on Instagram is still human connection. A great view usually inspires a quick photo, but I wouldn’t live post, I’d want to get back running.