TrailFest Asks… ‘The Secret Runner’

We met ‘The Secret Runner’ last year and were amazed to find that, for such a fast, well connected athlete, he’s virtually unknown – and that’s just how he likes it! After sharing a beer and a lake swim in the French Alps this summer, we wanted to find out more about the man on the inside of Europe’s elite running scene.

TF: When did you start trailrunning?

SR: To be honest I can’t really remember! I do remember the first time I hiked up Ben Nevis with some friends and I was completely destroyed and at the end of that day I was sure I could have made it a lot easier if i was fitter and since that day I started running on the roads around Largs every night to get some fitness. I’m talking 3-4k a night if I was lucky then slowly started to up it. From then on I started to run more in the mountains and progressed to climb in both summer and winter and now it’s all kind of morphed into the one sport for me.

TF: What do you run for?

SR: Must admit I am not one for getting all deep and meaningfull about this type of question…….I run because I enjoy it and it keeps me fit. Also means I can indulge in the odd Burger King once in a while and not feel guilty.

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

SR: I am proud just to finish all the races I enter but I guess one of my proudest has to be the first time I ran a 100 mile race. I travelled over to Colorado alone only 5 days before the Leadville 100 still with no idea if i could go that distance but I did. It wasnt very pretty over the last 30+ miles but I slogged my way to the finish line with the help of some great people who crewed and paced for me and I had only met them a few days before the race.  It was a pretty special moment for me finishing that race and I continue to go back there to help others or just to cheer folk on.

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

SR: 100% It has to be during the Angeles Crest 100 in 2017. The race started all so well for me until a long section on tarmac around the 30 mile mark started to give me some shin pain which got worse and worse over the next 10-20 miles causing my foot and knee to become incredibly painful to move , add also that the afternoon temps in the canyons was like a furnace the next 50 miles became an absolute battle with body and mind to actually finish the thing. It’s the closest a race has ever come to breaking me (the other being Transvulcania 2015 but that was nothing compared to ‘AC100’) and I really struggled for 15+ hours to get through the pain and also a little bit of embarrassment as the race started so well for me and I transformed from strong runner shooting for a 22hr finish to hobbling wreck hoping for under 30! In the end I fell over the line in 26.

TF: What did you learn from this?

SR: I have always said my legs would need to be hanging off for me to contemplate a DNF and I guess this race proved it. I can be pretty damn stubborn and put up with a lot of suffering just to finish. I guess I have learnt I can’t run on road and I am not particularly good at running in the heat although this was one of the reasons I entered the race for that challenge of something different. I also learnt that although the offer of a hotdog was too temping at mile 75 I paid the price for having two of them and the next few miles were not that pretty a sight for my pacer. Leave hotdogs for the post race meal!

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

SR: I suppose that even though it gets tough and sometimes unbearably tough there really isn’t any other place I would rather be at that moment. For sure on a long race I sometimes think about the end and a bed and a shower but can’t say I would prefer that than being out on the course or on a mountain.

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

SR: Hmmm tough one. I’ve never really thought about this until now however I do tend to worry a lot about things in my life and get a bit anxious , will I get a real job , how will I ever afford a house , will I ever settle down , lot’s of things but when I am out running a race or just for fun I really don’t think about normal life stuff and I can switch off. It rarely happens on training runs but on a long long race I love the sections where you completely switch off your brain and time goes so fast , you think it’s been 20 mins but it’s been a few hours and you’ve thought of nothing at all , it’s strange and hard to describe , It doesn’t happen often but I wish I could find a way to make it last for 20+ hrs!

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

SR: Now this is the most gringeworthy thing I could write! I really don’t have any person who has inspired me to run. Sure there are many great athletes (and not so great athletes) out there who I respect and admire hugely but can’t say anbody inspired me to run. My inspiration really is the outdoors! Everytime I pass a mountain or mountain range in a country or region I don’t know I immediately want to know how to get up them or where I can run around them or explore. As I said before it’s a real gringeworthy answer and my friends will give me plenty of stick for it but I guess my inspiration is the wilderness and outdoors.

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

SR: Simple – Hardrock 100. Will be 5th time lucky if I get picked in the lottery this year!

TF: Do you prefer morning or evening trailruns

SR: Evenings

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

SR: Well I ski over the winter and tend to not run but out of the other three it’s hard to decide the best. Autumn is amazing when it’s crisp , cold and clear skies. Spring is difficult because there is usually too much snow around for me to run on high trails. Summer is great for the long days but where I live it gets too busy and I tend to bail elsewhere.


TF: You run a lot in the Alps and in the USA – where’s your favourite trail/area to run?

SR: I’ve been fortunate enough to run in many many places so it’s way too difficult to pick just one. I could write a book on all the places! But heres a few………. Kvaloya is a region next to Tromso in Norway that is just ridiculously incredible for ridges and being alone. Obviously Scotland , Arran , Skye , Glen Coe , Glen Shiel the list goes on. Colorado is a place I have explored a lot and especially the southern area in the San Juans and Weminuche Wilderness along with the Sangre De Cristo Mtn range , if you want remote  then this is your place. The Grand Teton National Park has got to be up there on my list as a must go to place as well , just watch out for those Grizzlies. Finally I guess I should say Chamonix because I live there. It’s truly a spectacular place and for steep uphill and downhill training in summer and winter it just cannot be beaten but if you want remote or any kind of flat then it’s not your place.

TF: You’re friends with some of Europe’s top runners – when you go ‘for a run’ with them is it a fun affair, or does it get competitive?

SR: To be honest we don’t really go for runs , it would generally be more like a mountaineering day of some sort with some sort of running for sure. We all have our days for training that are often spent alone so whenever I go out with friends it’s generally not competitive at all.

TF: You’ve been a pacer for Kilian – what’s it like? Can you keep up with him? Does he chat, or is he 100% concentration?

SR: I guess I should correct this question , I can’t really admit to actually pacing him , he offered me to share some of Hardrock with him so I gladly accepted! We ran the last 20k of the course together from KT aid station to the finish. Obviously I was a litte concerned if i could keep up but even though it is Kilian he had still come 140k before I started to run. He had fallen early in the race and injured his shoulder but to witness the strength and focus from someone at the top of their game was pretty special , I can’t say we chatted much on the climb up out of the checkpoint as 2nd place was very close but certainly on the last descent when we kind of knew that the win was secure we managed to chat and enjoy the landscape around. I’ll never forget the speed he could descend at so late in the race and with only one arm for balance. It was pretty fun. I’ll add to this that I was always at the front!!!

TF: Have you any plans to get on a professional team and get into the limelight, or are you happy to stay just under the radar?

SR: Zero plans , completely happy and content flying solo. I am not one for the spotlight or having pressure to race  , frankly I’m also not fast enough to be a proper sponsored athlete however I would love it if someone would pay my travel and race entries , I wouldn’t argue with that at all!

Photo ©Kilian Jornet

TF: Who would you most like to beat to the finish line in a race and why?

SR: When I am 60 years old and if I can beat my nephew to any finish line then I will be happy.

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

SR: Love , Hate , Watermelon

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

SR: The easiest thing to do is give up. Don’t! If it was easy then everyone would be doing it.

TF: What’s your trail style

  • Buff, headband or trucker cap? There is a time and place for all 3
  • Shorts, tights or compression? Short Shorts!!
  • Singlet, tech t-shirt or windshirt? T-shirt or No T-shirt
  • Bumbag, rucksack or race vest? Race Vest or nothing
  • Headphones or the sounds of the trail? Rarely some tunes
  • Energy gels or homemade sandwiches? Gels , Honey Stinger or GU Toasted Marshmallow , Cheeseburgers help a lot on 100 milers!
  • Jelly babies or TUC biscuits? Jelly Babies.
  • Instagramming or disconnected? Little bit of Instagram doesn’t hurt