Talking trails with Lou Clifton

Lou Clifton has such a long and inspiring run resume, and especially for someone that has only been on the trail scene for such a short period of time.

2019

  • 2nd Ultra Trail Mount Fuji 100 miles (AC win)
  • 5th Six Foot (AC win)
  • 9th Ultra Trail Hong Kong 100

2018

  • 1st Alpine Challenge 100 miles (3rd overall)
  • 1st Hounslow classic double (1st and 10th)
  • 1st Five Peaks Ultra
  • 1st Mudgee marathon
  • 5th Tarawera Ultra Trail (AC win)
  • 8th Six Foot
  • 11th Lavaredo Ultra Trail (2nd 40-49)
  • 42nd World Trail Running Championship 85km (2nd 45-49)

2017

  • 1st Great North Walk 100km (3rd overall)
  • 1st Mount Solitary ultra
  • 3rd UTA100 (AC win)
  • 4th Six Foot (AC win)
  • 8th Eiger Ultra Trail

Lou was selected for the Salomon Ultra Academy Training camp in Utah in 2017 including Behind the Rocks 50 miles (5th female, AC win and AC CR)

So we could all but be in awe of Lou! On top of this, her most recent feat was her amazing run at Ultra Trail Mount Fuji. Such a prestigious event on the Ultra-Trail World Tour pro series. So while we have her, let’s find out a little bit more about Lou’s experience in Japan and a quick chat about all things trail.

Lou, you’ve just come back from an amazing run at UTMF. Congratulations.  What was the atmosphere like at this event and can you talk us through your amazing podium finish? “There was a great vibe at the event. It was tough for the organisers and volunteers and support crew because of the bad weather but spirits were high! I came across a couple playing instruments at the top of one of the climbs in the dark, cold and wet – that was pretty amazing and very motivating. I was third female until around 150km when I was caught by the Japanese runner Kaori Asahara. I was not surprised as my husband Steve, who was supporting, told me she was making up time but also that the French woman Sylvaine Cussot in second was slowing. When I was passed I was a bit sad but I just tried to keep motivated and focused and stay with her. We were descending and she ran really fast – my quads were too sore to keep up. But when the road started to undulate she slowed and amazingly I caught up and passed her a few kms from the final aid station. When I got there with 11km to go I saw Sylvaine sitting down. I just said to my husband Steve ‘I have to go!’ swapped flasks and left, then just tried to move through the next climb and descent as fast as I could! I had hiked up the last descent and recced the last few kms so when I finally reached the top of the climb I knew the course from there. I think that helped me to push with what I had left (not much!). Steve thought I was in 4th as that is what the app said and so when I got to the finish he just about crushed me. I was a bit shocked and exhausted so it was good he was there to help me realise what had happened! “

You haven’t been running for long and I can see that you have a love for rock climbing.  What started your ultra running journey Lou?We used to do Airbnb at our house and a Dutch ultra runner stayed – he was planning to run through the Grose Valley and we helped him plot his route. I thought it was amazing as I had hiked it but never run it! He told me the Glow Worm half marathon trail run was good and it was in five weeks so I did it. I think I came 13th and 3rd in my age group. After that I entered a few more races because I wanted to keep up a bit of running and I was doing OK in them so I thought ‘I wonder what I could do if I trained properly’. That was when I approached Brendan Davies who was my coach for the next two years. The next year (2015) I climbed for a month in Turkey and dislocated a finger. When I came back I did TNF 50 finishing 9th female and winning my age group! After that running took over and I gradually stopped climbing purely from a time and energy perspective. I miss it a lot but I can only commit to one sport right now!

So many can only dream of being fit enough to let alone determined enough to run such long and challenging ultra events. How do you keep yourself fit and motivated to do the training and distances that you do? I am motivated by being outside in nature, pushing myself and just by knowing I will feel good after a run (and hopefully during!). I love running with my friends too – social runs are really important to me because I mostly train on my own. My job is demanding and running really helps with dealing with stress. I have a great coach (Stefi Jiminez) and I am motivated to commit to what she has spent time programming for me and by being able to give her positive outcomes for the work, and trust, she has put in. She is a similar age to me and an Italian VK and sky runner so we have really bonded and we inspire each other with what we can do in our 40s!

Do you have a specific nutrition plan that you follow?I don’t follow a specific diet for running although I am now conscious of getting enough protein, and fuelling with carbohydrates and protein after training. I became vegan when I was 14, and then vegetarian and now pescatarian because I feel that provides more varied protein. I don’t like milk but I eat cheese and love Greek yogurt. I try to eat unprocessed foods and make as much as I can from scratch – but it is not always possible. I do the best I can. I love dark chocolate.”

What is your typical nutrition you take during your endurance races? “I aim for 50g of carbs an hour and use Tailwind and Endura drinks, Endura gels and Clif Bar shot bloks. I have been trying to eat more ‘solid/real’ food like bars and purees recently but I do struggle to eat in races sometimes.”

Do you have any specific training tips for runners to help them through their first race trail run? “Pace yourself, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing – run your own race for you. Have a few goals in mind that are not time or pace related. Enjoy it, smile, look around, focus on being in the moment and on your breath – and know that low points will pass. Each race you learn a little bit more for the next one – about running and about yourself.”

© Kurt Matthews / marceauphotography

How do you balance your work, personal life, training and racing schedule? “It is super hard and tiring because I am trying to fit a lot into each day – too much sometimes. You have to sacrifice other things in your life – I had to give up other interests I had like climbing, volunteer work and studying. I have to plan my week out carefully if I have travel for work to factor in not just running but going to the gym and I have been trying to do yoga again too. My house is a mess most of the time! I have a very supportive husband. I couldn’t do it without him.”

You’ve raced in so many beautiful places, what has been your favourite race? “I love the European mountains so would have to say Lavaredo and the Eiger for the scenery and the superb climbs. The Dolomites is one of my favourite places and I am sure I will do Lavaredo again as I had a few problems in this race. But I still loved it. I loved the Ultra Easy and Mount Difficulty in New Zealand and the Hounslow Ultra – all hard but stunning mountain courses. UTMF has to go on this list now, for the challenge of the distance, terrain, weather and battle at the end.”

What is on the horizon for the next 12 months? “I might do a road marathon for a bit of fun as I would like to see what I can do on a flat and fast course! I’d love to do Ultra Trail Cappadocia but not sure if it will be possible this year. I now have a qualifier for Hard Rock, which is a dream race. I’d like to do Bogon to Hotham and also the Northburn in NZ. But I haven’t really decided on the next 6-12 months yet!”

Please give a shout out to your sponsors. “Summit Gear in Katoomba has supported me almost since I started running so a big shout out and huge thanks to Rob. Thanks to Salomon, Suunto and Tailwind Australia for supporting me. I coach for Serotonin Running and Blue Mountains Fitness so massive thanks to Lyndal and Tony for making me part of the awesome running communities they have developed in the Blue Mountains.”

We thank Lou for her time in chatting to us. We are very much looking forward to having her up in Brisbane in July and running the BTU 30km – a much shorter event than we are used to seeing her in.

Happy Trails from your team at the Brisbane Trail Ultra- Shona, David & Cora

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