A Year in Running – Lucy Bartholomew

Many of you will know that Lucy Bartholomew has contributed some great articles to Ultra168 this year, while seeing quite a meteoric rise in her own ability, mixing it with some of the best ladies in the world. Still only 20 years old, she’s got a fair few years of competitive running ahead of her and a few weeks back, I asked if she wouldn’t mind recapping her year to share with our readers.  Beginning the year with a record-breaking run at Bogong to Hotham, some amazing adventures through Europe and China, and then back on home soil to race the Hounslow Classic just the other week. I’m sure 2017 will bring even greater results as Lucy builds towards UTMB in August next year, a serious test of where she’s at on the global stage. Take it away Lucy…

2016 was my second year of living a pretty relaxed lifestyle. I followed the sun from Australia to Europe, affording me the luxury to race in the summer season of both continents.

Every time I go somewhere to train or race or just ‘be’ I try to learn something. Last year I learned that I had a lot of training to do to be even remotely competitive in the European trail running scene. When I came back to Australia I tried to focus on doing everything I could in running and away from it, that would help me close the gap with the world’s best runners (think nutrition, strength, stretch, reading, trialling new skills, failing and retrying).

I also learned that you couldn’t expect the body to race continuously. The competition is so strong and terrain so demanding that the recovery process is extended. I took a calendar and planned out a year that was a step down in race numbers, but a step up in race expectations. I had a very successful start to 2016 in Australia, which gave me confidence in my strength and myself. I began my summer European season with the Mont Blanc Marathon in June. Two years ago I ran this race (with some changes due to snow) as part of the ANZ skyrunning team for the Skyrunning World Championships, taking 1st in the juniors to become to the world junior skyrunning champion. This year I wasn’t interested in age groups, I wanted to be an overall competitor and my goal, in a strong women’s field was top 10. I finished 10th. I only arrived a few days before and wasn’t sleeping properly, nor enjoying the altitude so I saw this as a step in the right direction.

I then trained, and during this period I learned my next lesson; Surrounding yourself with people that are better then you is definitely beneficial to reaching your potential, however when you’re living with the likes of Ida Nilsson, Yngvild Kasperan, Tom Owens, Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, sometimes even the easy runs are an effort and this can lead to fatigue and mental tiredness. It was a great experience, but I was happy to skip the family run and go for a snail pace, selfie taking, flower smelling jog on the river rather than a double Mont Blanc 😉

Living the dream, high above the montanes of Verbier
Living the dream, high above the montanes of Verbier

My next race in late July was the world Skyrunning championships, this year held in the Pyrenees. I love the heat, I love the mountains and I love tapas food. I was really excited for this event. 2 days before the race I thought that 42km was a bit short for where my strengths lie and I asked to upgrade to the 105km (this is Classic Lucy thinking). Thankfully more mature and experienced athletes said that the 42km wasn’t fast and that it was a long race in hours, not in kilometres.

The race began fast and then very much turned into one big hike. Up, down, up down. It was insane, never have I actually pulled off a downhill trail and let a train of people go past because I couldn’t surf the scree like the other mountain goat competitors could. I got to the finish line and couldn’t have been happier to have ‘just’ done the 42km and I watched the 105km people finish well into the night… In awe and very relieved, but nursing a bruised pride.

I took some time off after this race, I was so disappointed, I wanted to rest but I thought I’d slip further behind the other girls. I wanted to train harder, I just wanted to keep training and be better. Eventually I heard the voice of reason; training for this race mentally and physically took its toll on me, let alone the actual slog of the race. I flew to Portugal in early August and spent my days in the sea with my Mum and Brother and focused on good food and a good tan.

I was really excited about my final long race in Europe, the Matterhorn Ultraks in late August. Held in Zermatt in an area I had yet to explore, but didn’t know what to expect with a fielf that was unknown to me. I ended up having the race of my life. I didn’t win, but I ran strong the whole day, my energy was high, my smile was big and at the end my legs were dead.

Lucy at the Matterhorn-Ultraks
Lucy at the Matterhorn-Ultraks

I learned a lot about myself in this race; I never knew what was coming, I listened to my body and realised that you can plan all you like for big races, but when it comes down to race day, your body indicates what it needs. I ran with no pack just a soft flask in my hands and a gel in my pocket. I felt free from plans, expectations, and numbers. I felt alive.

Three days following the Matterhorn I was entered to run the YCC one of the many sister races of UTMB. This race is for the ‘youth’ (17-23-year-old). Last year I was here following my Dad as he ran the 177km, 10,000+/- around the Mont Blanc massif for 42hours and here I was lining up for a 15km, 1200m sprint. With no option to upgrade to any other distance (everyone asked, and if I could i would have), with the Sunday ultra-effort still in the legs, I decided to enjoy this fast training and being part of this amazing weekend of Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. Again, I ran with the intention to listen to my body. I crossed the finish line in 1st place, playing with the boys the whole way, it felt like it was over before it even began! Next year I have a confirmed entry into the UTMB, 15km is just the warm up.

Plans to fly into China and stay for China Mountain Trails Devils Ridge 70km on my way home had been floating around in my mind for a while, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel. After seeing some amazing performances during the UTMB (Australia’s own Majell Backhausen placing 6th in the TDS 120km) I was inspired to take one last long run and see a new area.

It turned out the race was in the Gobi Desert and wasn’t even close to being on the way home, it took me 2 days of travel to arrive; 7hour flight, 5hour flight, 3-hour bus, 70km run, 3-hour bus, 5hour flight, 12 hours at the airport, 11-hour flight.

Next lesson; look at a map and understand where you are going and what that’s going to do to your body. The race itself was super unique, to go from sweating in sand canyons along a plateau and begin running towards snow-capped mountains was something I had never seen. I spent this race alone, apart from having a drone over my head and the occasional miscommunicated conversation with the aid station volunteers, but my mind was kept busy looking for red ribbons tied to shrubs and managing my hydration (I think I drank nearly 6 litres in 8.5hours of racing!!)

Lucy finished top 10 at the Mont Blanc Marathon in a stacked field of Europe's best ultra runners
Lucy finished top 10 at the Mont Blanc Marathon in a stacked field of Europe’s best ultra runners

Finally I landed back in Australia which is where I am today, home? I’m not sure where home is when I spend only half the year here, but it sure feels comfortable. A quick trip to Adelaide last week to run as an ambassador in the Yurrebilla ultra marathon, followed by a quick trip to Sydney for the Hounslow Classic in the Blue Mountains and then I will stay put for a little bit.

Every year I return grateful. I am 20 years old, I have seen places that people who have lived their full lives will never see, I have met people who inspire me, run the most beautiful trails and watched the most beautiful sunsets. Every year I returned satisfied… until about a week later where I book my next ticket 😉

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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