Athlete Interview: Elsa Jeandedieu

Elsa Jeandedieu is a Frenchwoman living in Hong Kong and over the last several years has made a huge splash on the local running scene. She is one of main female contenders going into the 9 Dragons 50-50 race, however she does not see it like that and as the following interview shows, Elsa is all about running happy and within herself. We met with Elsa in downtown Hong Kong to discuss her background, how she got into running, her profession and how she has changed her approach to training over the last few years.

Tell us a bit about yourself and background

I grew up in Nimes in Southern France and had a fairly active upbringing with lots of hiking but did not get into running until I moved to Hong Kong about ten years ago. I really love Hong Kong as it very dynamic and busy, but at the same time there is a huge outdoor lifestyle. It is very hard to find this balance in other parts of the world, a place where you can do almost anything in terms of your profession and still be incredibly close to the outdoors.

You are never very far from the trails in Hong Kong and it is quite common to go from your door and literally straight up a hill. Since hiking is also popular in Hong Kong this is where I started running because I started to find hiking too boring and wanted to go faster so started to run the trails.

I did my first trail race in Laos which was 60k on a complete whim with no idea about food, gear and shoes and managed to win. I did my first race in Hong Kong just over a month later at the Lantau Two Peaks and managed to finish on the podium. This was when I started to take my training more seriously and realised the importance of doing something everyday, especially for me as I am an artist it is important for me to have such experiences.

When I am out trail running, for me this very much represents life in many aspects as you have to navigate challenges, roots and up and down mountains, so it is not always easy and smooth – much like life in many ways. However my approach to training recently has become more structured and rather than simply logging a lot of kilometers I try to aim for quality and variety, such as swimming and intervals. I think this is very important in Hong Kong because there is so much going on and everyone is trying to do everything, including training hard for races, which makes it easy to get very tired as you are working long hours and then trying to put in many hours of training. There are many races in Hong Kong and the racing atmosphere can get very competitive.

Tell us more about your job in Hong Kong

Elsa Jeandedieu
Elsa Jeandedieu striding out in front of some of her art, courtesy of Lloyd Belcher Visuals.

I am a peintre decorateur so I do a variety of work for businesses and restaurants in Hong Kong using different textures such as paints and metals. I have my own business which you can see on Instagram and work with a team of four ladies. I am very artistic and love creating things and trail running also helps me to see different perspectives and gives me much inspiration about how I might approach projects. People in Hong Kong train hard and work hard which I think is something largely unique to Hong Kong and something has to give otherwise you will get too tired or injured from all the stresses. This is one of key differences between life in Hong Kong and France, your lifestyle in Hong Kong is much more compact and accessible. This is good in many ways as everything is close and easy, but at the same time can often be stressful but as an artist it is a very exciting place to be, and I think Hong Kong is one of those few places where you can largely do anything work wise and still not compromise on your outdoor lifestyle.

So you do not see yourself going back to France?

For the foreseeable future I would like to stay in Hong Kong even if just for the lifestyle but I also love the warm weather and dislike the cold winters of France, and even though places like Chamonix are beautiful (Elsa was 22nd at the 2017 CCC), I would not like to live there because of the cold weather and also more importantly from a work perspective there is not the same amount of variety and opportunities compared to Hong Kong.

You won the 9 Dragons 50k last year, why have you decided to come back and do the full 50-50 this year?

When I entered the race last year it was a spontaneous decision since I had a terrible race at the Vibram 100 (Elsa was 11th at the 2017 Vibram 100), yes I had a good time and ranking I suppose but I did not feel great all day and the experience was not as enjoyable for me so I was feeling down after the race. One of my teammates from my running team Team Uglow suggested that I enter this new race the 9 Dragons, so I decided to enter but take it easy and see how I felt during the race.

The 50k course is tough and the first 10-20k I was going very slowly but somehow was feeling much better towards the end and actually won the race. I really enjoyed the course and I guess my reasons for returning to do the full 50-50 this year is that I like a new experience and challenge, and I have no idea how my body will respond to the course.

I have no time goals or expectations other than to finish happy and injury free, I have found in the past that when I place too many race expectations on myself I feel overly stressed and am also more likely to not run within myself. I always try to make a conscious effort now to run my own race and not think about what the other people are doing. Although the 50-50 is not quite 100 miles, time wise and in terms of elevation it is pretty similar to other trail milers. There is a long way to go and the race will get quite slow given the terrain so no point killing yourself through trying to keep up with others. I am also very happy that Mat (a teammate from Uglow) is also running the 50-50 event.

Can you tell us more about Team Uglow?

We are a group of friends who train and race together but at the same time it is not just about running and we know that whether it is in a race or not that we always supporting each other. It is just a great community and especially for me since before I always felt that I was running in order to escape certain things in my life whereas now the emphasis is all about enjoyment and sharing these positive experiences with people, plus knowing that when things go bad in life or in a race that we have a group of friends that we can rely on. I think I am stronger for this and especially in team events such as trailwalker where you literally share so much with your teammates both in terms of suffering and joy. I think it has been good for me to not just have the focus on my own running but also that of my friends, when I was doing the CCC and I came into the checkpoints and my dad was there, the first thing I asked was how Mat was doing whereas my dad was probably worried about me and a bit surprised as to why I was not perhaps thinking more about my own race hahah. This close sense of community is important for me and a reason why Team Uglow has been so important to my development as a runner. Hong Kong itself however also generally has a close-knit, if large and ever-growing, trail running community and everyone sort of knows everyone even if just by name so I think this is also another reason I really like Hong Kong.

What are your other racing plans and goals for 2018?

This year I am hoping to have some new experiences and the main races I am focusing on at the moment are the Yading 50k in China and UTMB, I like to experience new environments and challenges. The Yading race especially will be something different and almost entirely at high altitude (the race has a minimum altitude of 2,800m and climbs up to 4,700m at its highest point).

What has been your best or proudest running achievements so far?

This is a hard question but I guess there are several races I am most proud of for different reasons, namely the 2017 9 Dragons 50k, 2017 Lantau 70 (Elsa was 1st), 2017 CCC and all my trailwalkers, I especially love oxfam trailwalker for the team element and challenges this brings. This is one race that I think I would always like to come back to and there is something special about going through the high and lows of the race with your teammates and reaching the finish and having that amazing sense of achievement.

Feature image credit: Lloyd Belcher Visuals

David Longo
David is a Canberra-based ultra runner who has also lived in Hong Kong. He races regularly both on the HK and Australian ultra scene.

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