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Interview with Cat Simpson

Photo courtesy of Cat Simpson

Interview with Cat Simpson

11-May-21

By Kate Allen

If you’ve not heard of Cat Simpson, Cat is one of the top ultra runners in the UK. She broke the course record on the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles), was on the British Spartathlon team in 2018 (153 miles) and ran for Great Britain in the IAU World 24hr Championships, achieving a massive 137 miles in 24 hours at her debut.

But Cat is not only an elite ultra runner; she’s also an ICU nurse and we wanted to know how the past year has gone for her.

Q: The first big question is how you have managed to keep running (and training! I see those threshold and progressive runs on Strava….) throughout the pandemic whilst being a Covid Nurse.

A: Well, from a practical perspective, I’ve always run commuted, and doing this during the pandemic was a great way to keep running, plus a good head clearer after stressful shifts. I think you also have to make the most of what you’ve got - prior to the pandemic, I’d get the train out of London regularly for longer trail runs, but the requirement to stay local made me explore more on my doorstep and check out areas I haven’t tended to visit so much before.

There were (fairly fleeting) periods during lockdown where central London was a ghost town and running through a deserted Trafalger Square and the Southbank was quite cool.

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Q: Did Covid make you rethink your training in any way (thinking of putting yourself under further stress both from a work point of view and possibly making yourself more susceptible?).

A: Yes I think it would be accurate to say I experienced something not far from an existential crisis during the Covid peaks where we were inundated with sick patients at work, I wasn’t sleeping, and actually training seriously felt selfish and futile.

Running has always provided headspace and time to reflect on life and work for me, but outside of run commuting, putting in any specific sessions felt pointless and I was too knackered, so I just went with the flow and dialed things back for a month or so.

Q: Now that restrictions are easing, is this having the desired effect in hospital and are you now able to think about racing. If so, what goals do you have for this year or next?

A: Working in intensive care means you tend to see the worse affected and younger cohorts, so while it teaches you not to take things for granted, it also reminds you that everyone has a role to play if normal life is to resume.

At present the thought of being in big groups of people or flying internationally to race seems a bit premature, but I’ve done a few small events this year and last summer that were organised really well. At present I’m waiting to whether the World 24 hour championships will go ahead later this year, and other races will fall around this.

Q: Has running helped you through the past year?

A: Yes, massively, it’s a place both physically and mentally that I escape to that no-one questions. It probably unintentionally helped to balance out all the free food donations we were getting in the NHS too, so I haven’t had to go up a size in scrubs yet.

Q: Your successes have been mainly down south or on the track or road. Are you tempted by the mountain trails at all?

A: Yes, I love trails, but am quite enjoying more runnable courses at the moment, and it’s certainly easier to train for flatter races when you live in London and don’t have mountains on your doorstep.

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Q: What was it like to watch and crew your father to 100 miles?

A: It was an absolutely amazing, proud moment. It was at Centurion’s South Downs Way 100 and I had the privilege of running the final 30ish miles, witnessing the most amazing sunrise over the downs.

It was also unforgettable because he managed to trip headfirst going down the steep flint gully into Eastbourne and for about 10 minutes I wasn’t sure how to get him out and if he’d make it to the finish (I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning this, but if you can’t have a laugh when running and racing then what’s the point?).

Q: Are you still involved in WMN RUN? Did you see our recent data article which suggested the numbers of women competing in ultras are becoming much more equal with men. Have you seen any evidence of this in the elite ranks?

A: Yes - I think on the whole women bring a more pragmatic approach to pacing which probably accounts for their higher finish rate in longer ultras, although it’s a huge shame that in spite of this, races like Spartathlon are predominantly male. Maybe it’s just a case of playing catch up though, and I like to think in future the tables will be more even, as there are increasingly loads of really positive female role models of all abilities.

All images courtesy of Cat Simpson

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