Focus on Athlete: Paul Campbell

As the Grassland Marathon is run almost entirely offroad, renowned ultrarunners have also been increasingly turning up in Xiwuqi over the past two years. One of those is Scotland’s Paul Campbell, who lives and works in Beijing, and for whom no race is too long or tough. Let’s find out how he experienced his grassland run in 2013.

How was your first overall experience of the Grassland Marathon?
Really an excellent experience. The race was perfect with practically 100% on Grasslands and the number of runner small enough that you can get some solitude in some later sections of the race. What do you like most about the Genghis Khan Festival weekend?
The general atmosphere was excellent due to the large numbers of participants for the various events in such a beautiful setting.
Before the 2013 event you stated ‘the goal of the trip is the Saturday night bonfire party’, and the Grassland Marathon was just the add-on. Now afterwards, would you stand by that soon-to-become-classic statement?
The dinner was excellent fun although the thunder storms impacted the bonfire. The view of the rainbows on the grasslands after the storm were very memorable.
You had a good run, what would you do different next time to go even faster?
Actually I had a so-so run, about 45 mins slower than I should have taken and slowed to a near walking pace in the last 10km. I had done too many races in the year by that point with something like 600kms of racing for the 6 months prior to Grasslands. Next time I would properly peak for the race and start fresher.
Do you train often? How many kilometers do you run per week? And, living in Beijing, where do you run?!
Training in Beijing is a challenge as pollution has been our enemy this year. If pollution index is below 250 then we run alternate weekend days at Fragrant Hills / Olympic Park gardens. If the index tops 250 then its indoors on the treadmill and step machines. Generally in training for a race, I try to do 8 hours of training during the week and then 30-40km in the hills and same distance at faster pace at flat surface on Saturday and Sunday.
Which brand of trail running shoes do you use and why? Are you into the minimalist craze?
Hoka One One – perhaps the direct opposite from the minimalist craze! I went through a phase of starting to run with Newton’s [a starter shoe for minimalist running] but as I moved focus to the longer distance, I found that running form went to hell on the longer distance [100kms etc.]. The Hoka’s are like running in huge sponges and really help absorb the impact in the longer races and are very forgiving when your form goes to bits. Do you have a pre-race ritual ? Music? Stretching? Things you feel you must do before a race?
Not really but I like to be at the race early and enjoy the pre-race nerves. The Heyrobics warm up is a great way not only to warm up but get you in a happy mood for the race. You have participated in many big and tough events all over the world.
Looking at difficulty level and event atmosphere, how does the Grassland Marathon compare with other events you have done in your career?From a difficulty perspective, Grasslands is a pretty tough race for a marathon distance with a lot more elevation than a normal road race but it another way it was easier as the mind is distracted by running through rolling hills than round a polluted city.
After Xiwuqi you travelled to France to complete UTMB, sort of the world championship in ultra running, for which you had successfully qualified. Now just how tough is that really?
It was the toughest challenge of my life which was as much a mental challenge as a physical one. I was not well enough trained for the race and went in and out of phases of defeat, hallucinations, pure high and complete exhaustion. This race was like a lifetime ambition and I was just delighted to experience the race and actually complete the course.
What makes the ultra runner tick? In other words, why is a marathon distance not enough?
Running a marathon used to be a dream for me but having completed in many, I realized that I was unlikely to get much faster and stopped enjoying running around cities where most marathons take place. I started a couple of 50km’s trail runs and was converted. I then looked for tougher and tougher races to test myself on. So now a selected run needs to be on trail, needs to have a special challenge or be somewhere interesting.
How do you see the recent development of ultra running in Asia?
It is developing at a fast pace with a significant increase in the number of runners tackling the longer 100km / 100mile distances. Also there is a increase in the number of races but at a slower pace than the runners increase which makes it a challenge to get a starting slot in some events. In recent years, the main Asia Ultra’s are filling up within hours of opening registration and I expect that a lottery system will soon need to be deployed.
What is your main goal for 2014?
I would like to complete a major event in the US and have entered the lottery for Hardrock 100 and Western States 100, both nearly impossible to get into. If I fail in these then I hope to do the Swiss Irontrail trail 200km and or West Highland Way race. I will also do any Asia race that I come across and hope to be lining up for Genghis Khan Grassland 100km [hint hint].
In what aspects do you think the Organising Committee of the Grassland Marathon could make further improvement?
Well organized event and pre-event communication is about the best I have experienced, but feels like a cycling a event with a marathon bolted on. Would be great to expand the running options to include a 100km or 100 miler or have multi-day running events [a 50km, a marathon and then a half marathon]
Which advice would you give to people who want to take part in the Genghis Khan Festival?
Just do it, excellent race, almost all on grasslands and in a quaint little town that gets completely overrun by the event. Oh and stay the Saturday and enjoy the bonfire….

Paul Campbell in the 2013 Grassland Marathon

Yes! Finishing the UTMB