© Martina Valmassoi
American trail runner Katie Schide spent her childhood and early adult years hiking in the mountains, so it’s perhaps not a surprise that she now negotiates them so quickly on foot. After swapping America for Zurich, the almost 27-year-old (it’s Katie’s birthday on Thursday) geologist now has the Swiss mountains as her training ground and a slew of mountain race wins to her name. A two-time Pierra Menta Ete race winner, Katie’s also won the 85km Maxi Race, and last year she added a cherry on top with an incredible second place at the CCC, the 100km mountain race from the UTMB.
Here, Katie spills the beans on hiking, hut life, her CCC podium and ONE&1 – Run to Camp, the new two-day partner race she and her race winning other half, Germain Grangier, have developed for April this year.
You worked in mountain huts during college. Did this cement your love of the mountains?
I think my love of the mountains really started when I was much younger, growing up hiking with my dad. Through my dad and these weekend trips, I discovered the hut system and envied the college students who were able to live in the mountains all summer. Working in the huts for four summers gave me an incredible community of people who shared this same passion but also a new sense of self-confidence and independence. I learned that if you had to carry 60lbs of onions to your hut before dinnertime, then you put the pack frame on your back and started hiking. If you’re out on a big day hike alone and it starts raining, then you put on a jacket and keep moving. My dad introduced me to the trails but my summers working in the huts taught me how to feel comfortable and confident getting out on the trails alone.
Your first ever trail race was a 28-miler – talk about throwing yourself in deep! What was your background in the lead up to this?
I grew up playing every sport available to me and was always on the move. My family even had a mini-trampoline that I remember jumping on while watching cartoons when the weather was bad. Most notably, I played field hockey at a pretty high level until my second year of college, so I’ve always been very active.
Yes, this was my first official race, but it wasn’t my first long run. While I was working in the huts there was a challenge among crew members to traverse all 8 huts in the system in less than 24 hours: 50 miles and 15,000 ft+ of extremely technical, rocky terrain. I’m a sucker for challenges, so as soon as I learned about it I knew I had to do it. We spent all summer fast hiking (looking back, it was trail running) and packing heavy loads on these trails so I thought I was in pretty good shape. I did it 3 times starting at age 19, improving my time with every attempt. When I moved to Utah, it was my first summer away from the huts and I was looking for another challenge and an excuse to explore my new trail system. I tried some races in the 50km range and have been hooked on the sport ever since.
You now live in Zurich. Do you get to hit Switzerland’s amazing mountains and trails pretty regularly?
Yes, definitely! As soon as I arrived in Zurich I got the country-wide train pass and started exploring. I don’t have a car here so I’m really lucky that there is so much mountain access from public transportation in Switzerland: you can set up some really cool point-to-point runs, bike rides, and ski tours using the trains. Also not so long after arriving, I met my now boyfriend, coach, adventure partner, Germain (thanks to rockstar [skyrunner] Hillary Gerardi!) who lives in the Maritime Alps of France. As consequence, I spend a lot of time there with him. This area includes the Parc national du Mercantour, which is much more remote than most of the Swiss Alps, and we typically cross more mountain goats than other humans. I’m convinced it’s one of the best kept secrets of the Alps, though I guess I just gave it away.
In 2018 you came second in the renowned CCC ultra covering 100km – your furthest distance at the time. How did you find it?
I have so many wonderful memories from CCC. Germain and I had spent a week in Chamonix earlier in the summer, running most of the course and enjoying great weather and nice views. I felt like I really knew the course and during the race, had a good sense of where I was and what was coming next. The weather was absolutely perfect for me – cold, foggy drizzle. The mountains where I used to spend my summers are notorious for terrible weather, so this definitely helped me feel at home.
I was able to share the beginning of the race with French speedster Anne-lise Rousset, who kept me from dragging too much on the runnable sections, but otherwise I only leapfrogged with a few men the rest of the day. I made a point of staying positive all day and remembering how cool it is to run through 3 countries, around the Mont Blanc Massif, all on trails. So the smiles you see in my race photos are totally legit, I was honestly having a really great time! Easily the lowest point was when we (Germain finished 5th!) went in search of a post-race pizza and the waiter told us that they had just turned off the pizza oven minutes before we arrived. I actually cried a little bit… guess I’ll have to run faster next time.
How do you usually fuel your ultra-distance events like CCC?
I think that one of my greatest strengths in ultrarunning is that I’m a great eater. My race nutrition plan is pretty loose and I usually just try to eat as much as possible without feeling overly full. What worked well for me last summer was carrying date/nut bars and then grazing on crackers, cookies, chips, and bananas at aid stations, and picking up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from my crew. Then towards the end of a race I’ll switch to faster sugars like chews, candy, Coke. I still don’t have a ton of ultra experience so we’ll see if my stomach continues to hold up! When I go out for weekend mountain adventures I typically just bring some bars and cookies and supplement with cake, coffee, and soup from mountain huts.
Prior to CCC your longest race distance was 85km at the Maxi Race. Did you feel the additional length/elevation at CCC?
No, if anything the Maxi Race actually felt longer. At CCC I knew the entire course and was lucky to have some cooler weather. But at the Maxi Race, I wasn’t familiar with the trails and also suffered in the hot sun. I remember actually counting down kilometres to the next aid stations and feeling so wrecked at the finish line of Maxi Race. Later that night I couldn’t even finish my pizza – I was that tired!
During race season do you have a typical weekly schedule as such?
During the race season, it’s pretty difficult to maintain any sort of repetitive schedule since I travel quite a bit for racing, work and visiting Germain. If I’m in Zurich, then a typical Monday-Friday (not immediately before or after a race) I’ll run 3-4 days, with one of those runs being some type of focussed work depending on what I’m working on at the moment (speed, climbing, downhills). Then one or two bike rides and some core work and stretching sprinkled on top. The weekend is usually one long run/mountain adventure and one long bike ride.
Is your training based around a particular focus, such as time on feet, elevation, mileage?
In general, I think about my training in terms of time. When you run/bike/ski in the mountains, exact distance and elevation gain can be irrelevant as the terrain and weather change. A 10km run on the pavement in Zurich is completely different to a 10km run on a technical trail in a rain storm.
Do you include any cross-training or strength and conditioning in your training?
Yes! In the summer I do a lot of cycling and in the winter a lot of ski touring (skimo). Biking is a great way to add more training time to a week without the risk of running injuries. On the weekends I’ll often do a long run one day and a long ride the next. I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally in love with cycling, but having variety in training keeps me from overdoing the running. It’s pretty rare that I’m not motivated to get out for a run and I want to keep it that way! I also do a core workout 1-3 times a week. It’s nothing crazy, just enough to maintain some stability for running.
All of your races tend to include serious elevation. Is vertical ascent something you particularly enjoy, and do you employ any tactics for the uphill?
Hiking is what originally brought me to the sport so that’s definitely where I’m strongest in a long race. Other than one vertical kilometre, I’ve never raced with poles. Maybe that will change one day, but for now I prefer the hands-on-thighs technique and not having to deal with an extra piece of equipment. I really enjoy the feeling power hiking up a long climb and running (dancing) down technical descents, so these types of races tend to attract me. But I don’t want to limit myself to only one style of race so I’m continuing to work on my flatter running speed and want to challenge myself with some more runnable races in the future.
Which race have you found to be the most challenging so far?
The Maxi Race, as mentioned earlier. Growing up in the northern latitudes of Maine, I don’t do so well in the sun. About halfway through the race I got hot, dehydrated, and fell victim to a pity party. Even though the last few hours were pretty gruelling, I can now use that experience to remind myself what’s possible if you just keep moving. But on the other hand, I still have a really vivid memory of the last kilometre when I learned that Germain had also won after running in 3rdand 4th place all day. I was just so excited to sit down and celebrate with him.
Do you have any mental strategies for getting through tough or dark moments in ultras?
When I was struggling at the Maxi Race, I broke the course down into small sections between aid stations. Instead of thinking, “Wow I have 40km left!”, I thought “OK, if I keep moving for another hour I’ll see my crew at the next aid station”. But most of the time I just keep in mind how lucky I am to spend a whole day outside on the trails. It’s what I love most, so as soon as I start to feel negative thoughts I remind myself why I’m there in the first place. This is what makes me happy, so there’s no reason that should change during a race.
Now that it’s winter, are you able to continue running or do you switch to skimo or other endurance snow sports?
Yes, I love skiing! I love winter and I love spending long days outside in the mountains, so ski touring/skimo is the perfect way to get out and have some fun when everything is covered in snow. Last year I did my first “real” skimo race, the 3-day Tour du Rutor, with a girlfriend and had the chance to fully experience the skimo scene. In summary: lots of men in colourful spandex onesies. This winter, Germain and I hope to race the Pierra Menta together and also have a big skimo traverse project in the works. While I do really enjoy the sport, the amount of specialized gear needed to properly race can be overwhelming and expensive, so I still prefer the simplicity of running.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
The Weather Shirt from On Running is my new favourite item. It’s a half zip top for cooler weather running, but when you need to unzip there’s a button to keep the open shirt flaps from hitting your face. I know, this seems really trivial, but flailing shirt flaps used to be a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Germain and I also never travel without our BlackRoll foam rollers, travel yoga mat, and aeropress coffee maker.
What are your plans and goals for 2019?
The most exciting thing happening in 2019 is the first edition of a new race I’m helping organise: the ONE&1 – Run to Camp. It’s a 2-day partner race in the prealps next to Nice, France where runners will camp out in between stages and enjoy views of the Mediterranean Sea and high peaks of the Mercantour. The race is April 6-7 and I’ll be racing with Audrey Tanguy (winner of TDS 2018).
Germain and I first came up with the idea after racing the Transrockies Run in the US two years ago and it’s been really inspiring to watch him and the rest of the organising team take it from idea to reality so quickly. It’s filling up fast but there are still a few slots left – I’d love to meet some of your badass readers there! (Head to www.one-and-1.com/en for more details!)
Are you sponsored by anyone at the moment?
Our main sponsors are On Running and Garmin, but Germain’s parents are another important “sponsor” as they travel to many of our races to help with crewing and logistics.
You can follow Katie’s running and training via www.instagram.com/katieschide.