Q&A with inov-8 athletes Damian Hall, Meryl Cooper & Kirsty Hall
Written By: SportsShoes
On the eve of the world’s biggest trail race series, we chat to three athletes from Team inov-8 as they head to France and prepare to blaze the trails around Mont Blanc.
MEET DAMIAN HALL – UTMB® 2021
Boasting an incredible ultra-running palmarès, inov-8 athlete Damian Hall barely requires an introduction. In 2018, he finished in 5th place at UTMB® and clearly has unfinished business with the world’s biggest trail race. We caught up with the UK’s undisputed King of the FKT’s to talk about his season so far and discuss his training and preparation for this year’s highly anticipated event.
Pictured: Damian Hall in action. Photo credit: inov-8.com
Hey Damo! Congratulations on another very successful year, which has featured a recent race win on the Dorset coast and a little bimble on the Coast to Coast route to set a new FKT! You must be really pleased with how your season is going and full of confidence for the UTMB®?
Thanks man. What with the pandemic, I'm just cockahoop there will be a race on to be honest. Apart from the Jurassic Coast, which was very low key and pretty flat, I can't remember when my last ultra was, never mind 10,000m up and down the Alps. I don't feel confident as such, more just excited to get out there to enjoy the ride.
Let’s talk about the UTMB® – can you describe your preparation and training in the build up to the event?
Due to a family holiday, a funeral, quarantine rules and a reluctance to fly for environmental reasons, I haven't been out there to train. But I've had some good days out in the Lakes, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia recently. I'm niggle free, feeling healthy and strong.
What other training do you do to support your running?
I do a fair bit of strength work, often two hours-plus per week, which is important for the, ahem, slightly older athlete and has been proven to aid running economy. Plus, it should make me more injury resistant and put off muscle fatigue during long races. I eat mostly healthily, rarely drink booze and do like a snooze.
Your previous best finish at UTMB® is an outstanding 5th place overall in 2018, in a time of 22h35'13". What is your aim for this year? Dare I ask...Do you think you can break into the top 3?
This time it's win or bust! Nah. It's such an unpredictable race. In 2017, when I finished 12th, it was actually a faster time (albeit on a slightly shortened course). So, I'm just aiming to beat 22 hours, if I can, and that should earn me a good placing. I can't do much about what other runners will do (other than, you know, trip them up and stuff, which apparently isn't really cricket).
What shoes will you be wearing for the race and why have you chosen this particular model for UTMB®?
I plan to wear inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 270, which just suit me so well. The grip is dependable on a variety of surfaces (though UTMB is largely hard trails), they never give me foot issues (key for the longer stuff) and I love the fact they have a little bit of squidge to the cushioning but I can still sense the ground, too. Perfick.
What other kit and equipment will you wear and use for the race?
Likely the inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 5 Vest, into which I'll cram a bunch several items of dependable inov-8 clobber for my mandatory kit (the inov-8 Ultrashell jacket and trousers are incredibly light), attach my Leki Micro Trail Running Poles (cheat sticks), a couple of fistfuls of snacks, and I'll be ready for adventure.
Do you have any top tips for someone who wants to get into ultra-distance running?
Don't be intimidated by the distances. We go mostly pretty slowly, scoff a load of nosh, and bimble through some spectacular places. It's well skill.
You can follow Damian and all his adventures here
MEET MERYL COOPER – CCC® 2021
Meryl Cooper has enjoyed one of her most successful seasons so far as an ultra-runner, after recently winning the Lakeland Trails 100K race and gaining GB qualification for the World Trail Championship in Thailand. As she prepares to compete in the CCC®, we spoke to her about kit, training and future trail running plans.
Pictured: Meryl Cooper in action. Photo credit: Stuart Ross
Hi Meryl! Congratulations on your recent win at the Lakeland Trails 100km and gaining GB selection for the Ultra Trail World Championships in Thailand - you must be delighted with your season so far!? Have you managed to recover from your efforts?
Thank you! Yes, I was really pleased to return to the 100K distance in this way. It’s been almost 18 months since I last raced over this distance, so it was good to see I still had it in my legs! The recovery has been OK, but definitely not optimal. I have had some set-backs due to a few niggles, a stomach bug and a brief wipe-out after my second vaccination, but thankfully I seem to be coming good again now!
You're about to compete in the CCC® as part of the UTMB® race series. How have you been training and preparing for the race?
There have only really been a few weeks to get in some specific training after my slow recovery after Lakeland Trails, but I have been training on some of the Munros in Scotland and I came out to France in early August, so I have been able to get used to the higher altitude, warmer weather and long steep climbs and descents! I have been doing some long moderate hill reps, easy flat running and long hill days, mainly with lots of elevation gain. However, nothing too wild in between with only a few weeks before I start tapering again. The CCC® isn't a race that you want to be feeling tired for on the start line!
What shoes will you be wearing for the race and why have you chosen this particular model for the CCC®?
I’ve decided to use the inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 270 because they really suit the rocky paths of the course. I also love that they are light, well cushioned and very responsive on both trail and road.
Do you have any other top kit/equipment recommendations for ultra-distance running?
I basically love wearing any kit that doesn’t mean I have to take my pack off whilst running! I like arm sleeves and also a slightly larger inov-8 Ultrashell Half-Zip Waterproof Jacket to quickly pull over my head and pack if the weather turns, but can still have easy access to fuel and water because of the half-zip design.
What are your plans for the future? Will you aim for UTMB® next year?
Ooooh now that’s a big question! To be honest, I’m not sure. I have really enjoyed the 50K races that I did in the last year so, at the moment, I don’t think I want to go longer. Let’s see what I say after watching the UTMB® finishers the day after my race! I remember it being a very emotional day two years ago, which had me instantly signing back up to be part of the week in some way!
You can follow Meryl and all of her adventures here
MEET KIRSTY HALL – MCC® 2021
No stranger to racing, Kirsty Hall is a very experienced athlete, with a career spanning over 35 years at the top level. During this time, she has won numerous races, finished second in the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in 2017 and is a four-time winner of the BOFRA series.
We caught up with her to talk about her favourite races, top recommendations and what she’s looking forward to the most about competing in this year’s MCC® race.
Pictured: Kirsty Hall in fell racing action on Blencathra. Photo credit: Stephen Wilson
Hi Kirsty! You’ve enjoyed a very long and successful running career so far. What is your favourite race and why?
35 years - surely not! How time flies when you’re having fun. Two races immediately spring to mind and both of them happen to be over the border in Scotland. The first is the famous Ben Nevis Race. The 14km race with 1340m of climb & descent is an out-and-back starting and finishing at the rugby club in Fort William. At the start of the race, you all gather together and follow a piper around the field. From that moment you feel that this is a special event and I have always felt proud to compete. The race has everything, but for me the technical rough steep climb after red burn is my favourite part. My biggest claim to fame, so far in my running career, was in 2017 when I was the first female to the summit.
My other favourite is the Alva Games Hill Race, which forms part of the BOFRA calendar. This is a very short and incredibly steep 2.6km race with a rich history, so like Ben Nevis, it feels an honour to take part. There is also a plaque at the summit dedicated to local legend Kenny Cook. My second biggest claim to fame is breaking the course record in an incredibly close finish, in 2017.
You’ve competed all over Europe in trail, fell and mountain races. What do you love the most about off-road running?
I love climbing, so anything with a steep and/or rocky ascent is something that I really enjoy. Which is why I tend to enter, when I can, uphill only events. There are some amazing & insanely technical VK routes in Europe and I have been lucky to compete in quite a few. My favourite is the Trentapassi Vertical Race on the shore of Lake Iseo, in Northern Italy. It’s as near to vertical as you can get with 1050m of ascent in just 3.4 km! It also has some very, very exposed sections - but it’s great fun!
I also absolutely love the people and camaraderie that is uniquely associated with fell/mountain/trail running. You’re mingling with like-minded (mad) people and I am fortunate enough to have met life-long friends through this sport. I love the places that running takes you, I like nothing more than poring over a map and looking for new routes to explore - both here and abroad. There are so many places I wouldn’t have had the good fortune to visit if it wasn’t for my love of running.
You're about to compete in the MCC® as part of the UTMB® race series. As a short race specialist, this obviously is a step up in distance for you - what are your aims for the race and what are you most looking forward to?
Yes, I must say the distance is quite daunting and it will be quite difficult to gauge how to pace & fuel myself. However, I am very much looking forward to running in such a breathtakingly beautiful place. I am sincerely hoping for nice weather so I can soak up the views. If anything, it will be a grand day out!
What shoes and kit will you be wearing for the MCC®?
inov-8 clothing from top to toe, as the kit is comfy and fits me perfectly. My shoe choice will be the inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 270 because they fit like a glove and have super-comfy cushioning which will soak up the impact on the hard packed trails of the MCC®. These are my go-to shoe in Europe (and in most part the UK) as they are just so comfortable and have the ability to cope with a variety of terrain.
What advice do you have for anyone new to the sport of trail running?
Don’t be afraid to just have a go. Have fun plotting routes on a map and see your runs as mini adventures - trust me, you will be amazed what treasure troves of beauty can be found right from your front door.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
This year I would like to complete and be placed in the top 3 in the BOFRA championship. I am also competing in the World Masters Mountain Running Championship in Austria in September and I am really aiming to try and win another medal. Time permitting, I would like to spend a little bit more time in Europe competing in the mountains.
You can follow Kirsty and all of her adventures here
We would like to wish Damian, Meryl, Kirsty and all the athletes the very best of luck as they prepare to tackle their respective races at this year’s edition of the UTMB® trail series.
Find out more about off-road running by visiting our trail running hub and make sure you've got all the running kit you need for your next adventure.