Jo Cowper


When did you start running?

After a couple of false starts that almost convinced me that I was physically incapable of running and that I was just ‘not built for it’, I started running the year I turned 30. I decided I needed a challenge to aim for, so I picked the Endurance Life Exmoor Half Marathon – part of their Coastal Trail Series – on the basis that the Guardian’s New Year supplement that year pronounced it the toughest half marathon in the UK. My rationale was that I’d never get round a full marathon, but the Guardian promised me this Half would be just as tough; just not quite so long. Whether that was true or not I don’t know – I ended up with a stress fracture by March, and limped my way round the 10k instead. Not the most promising of starts, but somehow along the way I was bitten by the trail running bug.

Why do you run?

Headspace. Adventure. Challenge. Community. I love running alone, because as a mum, a business owner and, now, an expat trying to map the way to a new life in France, trailtime is the time when I can just ‘be’. When I run alone, I run to think, to explore, to experience. I love running in company, because of the way that somehow, the shared experience is a great leveller. Time on the trails is time talking about this and that; hearing other people’s stories; getting to understand their ‘why’ and their ‘how’: I’ve never been one for small talk but somehow trail talk is never small. 

Where’s your favourite place to run?

Easy. The French Alps. I love the trails around Saint Gervais where I live: I feel an energy flowing from them that I just don’t feel anywhere else.  

Your favourite race?

Tough. Different races for different reasons. I talk all the time about Maxi Race (85 km tour of Lake Annecy) because it’s my most epic achievement and I’m proud of having completed it. But I’m just as proud, in a way, of having belted my way round La Comblorane – a local 20k – and finished as the first VF after totally running my heart out. 

Your best run moment?

Very tough question. I’m going to choose a moment earlier this year (2019) when I had finally recovered from a bout of pneumonia that I honestly thought would never end. For the first time in over four months, I felt strong enough to get out on the trails and – as always – my impulse was to head upwards and keep climbing. It was sunset; it was winter; the snow was melted only just enough for the trails to be passable, and as I came up through the top of the tree line into a clearing, I could see the sun setting on the other side of the valley and the light was golden. I felt so alive, and so grateful for the strength to get out on my two feet and be part of a beautiful evening. 

Worst run moment?

I’ve had some lows … but the one that still haunts me is my DNF at Maxi Race 2017. At the time I convinced myself I was right to stop, and I think I believed it – but the memory of that keeps coming back to me and somehow I struggle to rest easy with myself. I don’t like giving up. 


3 words that sum up your relationship to running:

Headspace. Adventure. Commitment.