Margaretha Fortmann – Running all over the world

Margaretha Fortmann or Gretel as she’s known to her friends in the trail running world is one of the rising stars of Australian ladies trail running. Recently joining the Salomon Australia team, she’s currently making her way around Europe and the racing circuit over there, living the dream! To whet your weekend appetite, we caught up with her recently to find out a little more about her and how she got into running and her advice to ladies looking to get into the trail scene.

Tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been running? Were you into sports at school? Where will people be able to meet you over 2012? 

While at school I actually hated cross-country running and even skipped a school carnival or two! I preferred athletics and also played representative basketball.

I started running again while at university, mostly to regain some fitness. Around the same time I also went on a 6-day trek through the Sahara in Morocco and discovered a real love for adventure and endurance activities. I slowly up the miles and the challenges, and as it goes with trail running, once you start it really does become a part of the way you live and engage with the world. This year I will be running a few races in Australia leading up to a summer of racing in Europe. Internationally I am focusing on The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy, the Rallarvegsloepet 2-day Mountain Run, Norway and the Dragons Back Race in Wales.

Gretel recently finished an awesome 4th place in the North Face Ultra Trail Lavaredo in Italy

What is the difference between Australian and International competitors ? 

I don’t think passion, talent or the sense of community differs from country to country. Trail runners are warm-hearted, fierce about exploring and the sense of wonder gained from going out running on a beautiful trail and love a good chat over a beer/chocolate milk post-run.

I think what is different is the level of support, interest and access to races that Aussie trail runners have. I think it is slowly changing though as companies like Salomon, Inov8, and The North Face are supporting more races and athletes, and magazines and online communities are spreading the trail word.

Where is Australia at an advantage and where is the overseas scene more mature ?

I think in Europe and North America generally the trail scene is more developed – greater athlete support with companies like La Sportiva and Montrail’s “mountain running teams” receiving at least a few pairs of shoes and discount race entry. There are also more races to choose from, with the racing season calendar stacked up each weekend with races varying from 21km to 100 mile. That said, I think as the community grows in Australia, and more road runners discover the trails, the demand will grow for more racing opportunities. I think the North Face 100km did a lot to promote the more “glamorous” side to trail running and what a well-supported adventure in the mountains could become given good event management (the rate at which entries sell out is a clear indicator that the sport is gaining momentum!).

Favourite gear?

Gretel finished 10th lady at UTMB a few years back

Salomon running shoes and gear*, my old trusty Garmin, Nathan hand-held water bottle, and food-wise I love Honey Stingers gel chews (sadly not able to buy them in Australia at the moment).

Toughest competitors?

Australia has some pretty tough, fast ladies! It has been challenging trying to shift focus from running in the mountains where strength is crucial to running back in Australia where speed is so important. I think Beth Cardelli is a pretty talented runner and just a nice girl in general.

Most inspiring trail/location/race and please tell us why?

I could not get sick of running in the Victorian High country! The Razorback (a trail running between Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop) has to be one of the most jaw-droppingly stunning trails. I think the Overland track in Tasmania is also pretty special – golden buttongrass plains, dolerite peaks, and ancient rainforests all on one trail.

Internationally, I love Canada’s West Coast, in particular the trails in the Garibaldi National Park through the alpine meadows and the trail up to Frosty Mountain in Manning Park National Park. I was also blown away but the Tour du Mont Blanc and the network of trails up and down the Alps!

 What races or adventures are on your bucket list ? 

I would love to one day race the Tor des Geants in Italy. My body and mind have to toughen up considerably for this one though! I would also love to do an adventure in Scandinavia/Northern Europe – something multi-day…

What does your training involve, how has it evolved and do you have a coach? 

I started off just running: wake-up and go for a run. I then started incorporating more strategy – a longer run one day, an interval session the next. With this I found I didn’t always have the discipline to put in the hours I should have and my training was inconsistent and not focused. For the last year now I have been working with Canadian Endurance coach Jen Segger, who became a good friend while living in Canada and has been supporting my dreams ever since! I guess in terms of training, I think of it as body preparation. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to “train” for a race!

What advice do you have for people keen to start trail running? Anything in particular for females looking to get started.

What I would say to anyone wanting to explore trail running is that it is not scary! A trail can be anything from a walking track through your neighbourhood reserve in the middle of the city, to a remote uncleared trail in the mountains. What connects them is the desire to escape the built environment. You also don’t need special shoes, or hiking boots to get started, regular runners will do! The last thing I would suggest is that on longer runs in a National Park  you are not familiar with, make sure you check out where you can grab water and that you have something to carry it in (hand-held water bottle/camelbak etc).

*To note that Gretel is part of team Salomon Australia

Andrew Vize
Sydney based Ultra marathon runner.

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