WORDS BY LIKE THE WIND – PHOTOGRAPHY SUPPLIED BY NEW BALANCE
Track athletes looking to increase their distance often swap the Tartan for the roads. But Kate Avery has found a new challenge: she has hit the trails and has set her sights on this year’s OCC in Chamonix.
What can a track specialist with a 1,500m personal best time of 4m15.42s teach someone tackling the 55km Orsierès-Champex-Chamonix (OCC) trail race, featuring 3,425m elevation gain and a time limit of 14.5 hours? Not much, you might imagine. But what if those two athletes were in fact the same person?
Kate Avery is a professional British athlete who – after an impressive career mainly running around 400m tracks – has recently turned her sights to the trails. And while the commonalities between the different disciplines might not be immediately obvious, Kate is undaunted. Indeed, she relishes the challenge… and impressive results are already coming.
Kate enjoyed many years’ success as a high-profile track and cross-country athlete, and not everyone is aware of her change of focus. “It’s funny,” she says. “If I had a pound for every time – even this year – that people talking to me asked: ‘What track races are you doing this year?’ I’d be doing all right.”
Kate was a sporty kid at school, trying her hand “at every sport going”. But it was when her class took part in cross- country races that Kate realised she was much more capable than her peers. “I’d win those races. I’d beat all the boys,” she remembers.
From being the best in her school, Kate was encouraged to race as a junior in district, county and then inter-county cross-country races. She won them all. “I’ll never forget,” says Kate, “my dad and my grandad came to a cross-country race and they said: ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. No pressure.’ And then when I won, Dad thought it was the biggest thing ever.” It was her father who encouraged young Kate to join a local running club, Shildon AC, in north-east England.
THE START OF A CAREER
Setting out on a running career path was fairly simple. Because of her local success, Kate was invited to regional races, then national and eventually international events.
Although being part of a team didn’t always make things easy. “I remember the coach at the time pulling me to one side,” recalls Kate, “and he said: ‘This is massive. The best girls in the country are running. You’ve experienced nothing like it.’ And I walked over to my dad and cried.” Success at a junior level led to interest from coaches, clubs and team selectors at a senior level. Soon after, brands were interested in sponsoring Kate. But Kate says there was no clear, singular point at which she decided that running could be a career. It just developed over time.
Although Kate captained Team GB for the Eurocross championships, which the team won three years in a row from 2013, unfortunately, she struggled for years with a nerve issue that made racing on the track very painful. It became clear that Kate’s time on the track was coming to an end, and that the nerve issue would not improve if she transitioned to racing on the roads. For many track athletes, moving up in distance from the track to the roads is logical (although not always successful). This simply wasn’t an option for Kate.
TESTING OUT THE TRAILS
But all was not lost. Kate’s team manager at New Balance suggested she have a go at trail running, and Kate made a decision pretty much instantly. “He [the team manager] said: ‘Go away and think about it.’ And I simply said: ‘I don’t have to, because it’s already been something that I’ve been thinking about.’ That conversation was just the nudge to give it a go.”
Besides, the world of trail racing wasn’t totally unfamiliar to Kate. University friends were already taking part in trail and ultra trail races. “I remember thinking it just looked stunning,” says Kate. “Look at all these places that these people are getting to travel to! It looks like fun.” Kate threw herself into training for, and competing in, trail races. What was immediately obvious were the differences between her former career and the new path she was following.
“It’s a completely new challenge,” says Kate. “There is so much that goes into trail running and so much that you can work on. I feel like I’m just learning a new sport.” And the lessons she’s learning are hard-earned. At the recent 20km Mozart Light race, Kate really had to battle for second place – not so much with other athletes, but with her own body. Coming into the race having had a stomach bug a few days previously, Kate started to experience cramps towards the end of the race.
“It was a terrible race,” Kate shares.
“I felt better in the few days leading into the race, but I don’t think my stomach was quite right. Because I started cramping. In my hamstrings, my quads, my feet. I just think my body was not absorbing what I was taking in. So whilst I wanted to win, I was so pleased with second place because that last 5km was horrific.”
So what does the future hold for Kate in her new career on the trails? She is certainly keen to develop the technical skills required to be one of the best in the world. “The one thing is that I need to do is get more confident descending,” she explains. “I’m working on that. It’s a big focus for me,
because people throw themselves down these mountains.” Kate is also getting comfortable with the different footwear, apparel and kit that is required for the mountains. For much of her training, Kate uses New Balance’s Fresh Foam X Hierro shoes. And she is looking forward to racing the OCC in Chamonix in August wearing the new FuelCell SuperComp Trail.
Trail running presents unique challenges for runners: changing conditions underfoot, racing over significant distances – and moving fast whenever possible. The New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail’s features address all of these issues: the Energy Arc system maximises energy return; the outsole incorporates Vibram® Lightbase and Megagrip for impressive grip and durability on varied terrain; and the FuelCell midsole delivers a propulsive feel for speed, as well as cushioning for long-distance comfort. This is a shoe that will give Kate everything she needs to succeed.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
While Kate is aware that she has much to learn, a few elements of her track and cross-country career have followed her into the mountains. “I think my mindset is the same,” she says. “Even though track, cross-country and trail are very different sports, I think the experiences that I’ve had in sports at a high level are things that people can’t teach you. Competing against the best and having a confidence in yourself is important. I have a quiet confidence. I’m not a loud person who’d go around and say: ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ But there’s a self-belief I have as an athlete.”
There you have it. There might be many obvious differences between track and trail. But what often makes the difference is a competitor’s mindset. And Kate has proven that she has the right way of thinking… which is something the athletes lining up against Kate would do well to remember.
Find out more at www.newbalance.com