Features Holly Rush

Published on June 9, 2015

Holly Rush Interview

Not only is Holly Rush one of GB’s most preeminent marathon runners, having first dipped her toes into ultra-running a mere two years ago it turns out she’s pretty damn good at that too. On June 21, for the second consecutive year, Holly will be part of Asics’ epic Beat the Sun challenge which sees five global teams of runners covering 150 km and climbing 8,370m around Mont Blanc before the sun sets in 15hours and 41minutes. RunningMonkey spoke to Holly about what has so far been an injury-prone year and, of course, about the challenge ahead.

RunningMonkey: You’ve been suffering with a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury, how’s that doing?

Holly Rush: It’s not too bad actually. This year has been rubbish though; I had a virus just before Christmas and from there I just started to get the all clear and it was one niggle after another. The recent one was both my MCLs, which is weird, but after about ten days it more or less cleared up so I can’t have done anything too bad, but it was very painful. I just took time off; I literally couldn’t walk to start with so it must have been really inflamed. I’ve been back running now for ten days or two weeks – usually when the sun comes out is when I get injured, so I’m happy to be running pain free at the moment.

Holly RushRunningMonkey: Professionally you’re a Sports Massage Therapist; does that give you an advantage in spotting injuries early or is there a danger of ‘hyper-vigilance’?

Holly Rush: It definitely helps. I work alongside a really good physio, Claire Wheller, who is very hands-on and, although I’m not a physio, if I have an injury I can quite often come in and diagnose what it is and even slightly manipulate joints on myself. Claire’s brilliant and very forward thinking and we’ll try out a lot of things. I see her every week religiously whether there’s something wrong or not, it just helps keep me all together. I’m not saying everyone should get a sports massage all the time, some people just don’t like it, but just having someone checking your alignment is really good and certainly invaluable for me.

RunningMonkey: Generally what kind of ‘work’ does she do on you to keep that alignment in check?

Holly Rush: Claire is just one of those physios who doesn’t just prod you and send you away to do exercises and then see you again next week; she doesn’t use any machines so it’s all very physical – lots of soft tissue work, which a lot of physios don’t do, and lots of acupuncture and dry needling. The last thing she will say to you is ‘don’t run’, which is great for a runner – she’ll try and keep you running as much as she can.

RunningMonkey: You had to withdraw from the IAU World Trail Championships earlier this year. Always a tough decision…

Holly Rush: I guess it wasn’t too tough difficult this time. I’ve been lucky enough to compete at the European Championships and win a medal there, the highlight of my career and then Commonwealth Games too. But If I’m going to put on a GB vest, whatever it’s for, I want to do it to the best of my ability and this wasn’t going to be to the best of my ability. I wanted to do the best I could, the top five or at least top ten, and I knew I couldn’t get that in the condition I was in.

Also if you have any sort of niggle it’s only going to make it worse and I had to think about other things planned for the rest of the year. I knew it was the right thing to do; I would never want to go to a race and drop out.

Holly RushRunningMonkey: A little more ‘recreationally’ you did run the Jurassic Coast Challenge this year. How was it?

Holly Rush: That was probably what gave me all these niggles! I thought it would be good training and it was the first time I had really run after being sick with that virus. Plus I thought that it sounded like fun. I love that part of the coast and haven’t been back there in years – I have a geography degree and did a lot of field work around Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, it’s such a great place.

It’s three days of running and I thought if I’m knackered after day one I wouldn’t do days two and three. I just rocked up on my own and got this old B&B right next to the prison and on day one I got completely lost as usual because my navigation skills are appalling.

I did feel a bit crap on day one and my legs hurt but I thought I’d just give day two a go and I finished fine in Lulworth and loved it but then day three, I don’t know if we went a bit wrong again, but it ended up being 30miles – I think I had bitten off a bit more than I should have done. I tripped and stubbed my big toe and from there I was running weird because of the toe and got tibial pain the week after and then I was icing it and got ice-burn and then the ice-burn got infected – honestly hilarious since that race! Then, where my leg got infected, I was running weirdly and pulled my calve and then got my MCL injury because I was running funny from my calve… It’s all been because of that bloody race! But I did love it and it’s a great event, and so well organised.

RunningMonkey: Your switch from marathon to ultra was Comrades…

Holly Rush: Yep, that was my first ultra, it was two years ago now, an ‘up’ run. It was ridiculous conditions and one of the hottest years for the race. A shock to the system when it’s supposed to be South African winter, but it was great and I loved it.

RunningMonkey: Anything really high on your wish list for ultras? Badwater perhaps?

Holly Rush: Badwater is my idea of hell! I went out last year to watch the UTMB and that helped me decide I don’t want to do that in a rush either. I had lots of friends doing it and seeing them be out there for two days and two nights I thought that’s just mad… If I were going to do it I would want to guarantee I was going to be right up there at the front so it wouldn’t take me so much time – but I can’t guarantee that would happen. Maybe one day. Never say never, right?

The one I would love to do is Western States; that appeals because it looks quite runnable and that’s what I look for.

RunningMonkey: How’s your general diet and nutrition?

Holly Rush: I’m good at eating! Everyone knows me as ‘Porkpie Holly’. I just follow a normal diet now having previously tried lots of ‘special’ diets. I like to eat and if I stopped running I would end up being one of those people who have to have the roof taken off to get them out. I dread to think what I’d be like.

When I’m leading into ultras I do try to be more fat-adapted, I guess my diet is a little low on the carb-end – refined carbs anyway – but I try and eat a varied diet. I don’t have anything super-flash, I don’t take supplements and I don’t really use nutrition products although I have Chia Charge on some races.

I guess really it depends on the race. I did UltraVasan last year, which was a 90k trail race in Sweden. I cut up all my porkpies and my chia bars and gels, but because I was running faster than expected I had to switch to just the gels. If I’m doing a mountain-type race, where I have walk breaks or I’m going slowly, I can eat more solids, but on UltraVasan I was averaging 7.5minute-miles so I couldn’t digest ‘real food’ on that pace.

I’ve just been selected for the 100k World Champs so I’m going to have to start thinking about what I’ll be fuelling on with that and again it will probably have to be more liquid based.

ascics beat the sunRunningMonkey: Let’s talk about the main event; Beat the Sun is a relay effort, do you know what section you’re running?

Holly Rush: We don’t actually know until we get there because of the different format this year. As we have amateurs doing it it’s split up into more legs – the amateurs will do two legs and we’ll do two or three, I think I’m doing three. Logistically it will be mad. Last year was mad – you’re driving around through three different countries and it’s not easy to get from one side of Mont Blanc to the other. So I’m not sure if I’m going to be doing part of the same leg as last year, but it was pretty epic and a real baptism of fire.

The amateurs know what leg they will be doing so they can train for it, but we get the tough job of not knowing until we get there. We’ll recce the bits we have to do the week before so we’ll know a little bit about of what we’re in for.

RunningMonkey: You missed out by the narrowest of margins last year…

Holly Rush: 33 seconds! Incredible and you couldn’t have made that up… But actually I think it was brilliant that we missed it by that margin because it makes for such a great story and a great drama. If we had beaten it conclusively the challenge would have been over, but this year’s we’re back to try again.

Do you know the goat story? Well, Genis (Zapater) is the mad Spanish guy in our team, who will be there again this year. I handed the baton over to him last year and on his section he ran passed a goat that was stuck in a fence and he stopped to free it and that took him quite a while. When he told us at the finish we said, ‘Oh my god Genis, if you hadn’t stopped to save the bloody goat we could have beaten the sun!’ So anyway, he was named ‘Goat Man’ and he’s under strict instructions to leave the wildlife alone this year… But it’s a great story and by the end of the night, when we had all had way too much to drink, it was much embellished too.

RunningMonkey: So this year you have three amateurs in the mix too. What do you think the biggest challenges are going to be?

Holly RushHolly Rush: For the organisation team it’s the logistics of getting everyone there on time and getting them to the finish – that’s not for us to worry about, but it’s a big challenge. For the competitors it’s going to be several different challenges: for the elite guys some of them haven’t even raced in Europe and it’s a whole other difference in technical terrain – the Alps are completely different to anything else. You also have altitude and the amateurs they will probably never have run on this kind of technical terrain either, so a whole new thing for them.

Weather is a factor too. Last year the sun was giving us trouble big time. It was so hot and yet three days before when I recced my section it was snowing. I had to have a guide over the top because of a whiteout and they were worried I might just drop off the side. But on the day it was bright blue skies, although still a lot of snow on the top.

Lots of variable on this race…

RunningMonkey: How much contact have you had with Charlotte Love the British amateur in your team and what advice have you been able to give her?

Holly Rush: We’ve had lots of Skype calls. I’ve talked to her about training and just giving her pep talks and telling her not to worry about it, just telling her to enjoy it and it’s a great opportunity. Because I know now which sections she’s running I can just give her a little advice – I know she’s not done much technical descending. The main advice though is just to enjoy it – Asics put on such a good trip and she’ll love it!

RunningMonkey: Beyond Beat the Sun what are your goals for the rest of 2015?

Holly Rush: So yes, the World 100k Championships in the Netherlands obviously and before that I hope to do UltraVasan again, because that race is amazing. After that I might try and squeeze out a road marathon before the end of the year to see how that is. I’d like to see if I could get a bit of speed back in the legs and see what I can still do time-wise, we’ll see… Before I was selected for the 100k I was hoping to go and run in Berlin, as that’s super-fast and I’d like to see if I could run under 2:40 – there’s not many ultra runners that can do that. I’d love to run a 2:35 again. So Berlin’s too close to the 100k now so it will probably be Florence or Pisa….

Full details of Asics Beat the Sun at beatthesun.asics.com

Find out more about Holly on her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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