Phenomenal Kiwi trail runner Ruth Croft reveals the tips for surviving her first 100 mile run in scorching conditions and being the second woman home.
As Ruth Croft moved through the scorching heat of the canyon depths of California’s Gold Country, she tinkled like a reindeer.
The famed ultralight Kiwi knew she was going to have some bizarre new experiences in her very first 100 mile race – the historic Western States Endurance Run. But no one had warned her of it.
At each of the 20 refreshment stations along the 161 km course, each runner could carry 5 lbs (2.2 kg) of ice.
So Croft, who had done extensive research on how to deal with the heat – which she said reached 41 degrees Celsius – put the ice cubes wherever she could.
“I had a backpack for the first 100 kilometers and at each aid station I had ice thrown in the back of my pack, ice on my sports bra, ice in the sleeves and bandanas of ice… tied around my neck, ”she told the Dirt Church Radio Podcast.
“So you’re like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, running with those bells ringing as you run.”
The athlete from the west coast town of Stillwater also took advice on board to jump into the rivers deep in the canyons and “swim to try and lower his core temperature before you get out of the canyon.”
“You jump into the river and you don’t want to get out. In two of the canyons, we met people who had not taken the time to cool off.
Croft kept her cool for 17.5 hours, climbing across the field to be the second woman in the house – amazing on her first attempt to cover the formidable distance. She was also ninth in the general classification of the race, run two weeks ago.
Croft, 32, is used to finishing ahead of the men in races on shorter ultras. She won the 102km Tarawera Ultra overall – best male or female – in Rotorua in February, and did the same in the Old Ghost Ultra on the West Coast a year before.
But she felt part of something special about a new wave of women racing to the pace of some of the world’s best male competitors over 160 km.
Three women made it to the top 10 of the 208 runners who finished Western States this year. And 15 women in the top 30.
The woman who finished ahead of Croft, British runner Beth Pascall, clocked the second fastest women’s time (16h 47m 19s) in the history of the oldest 100 mile race in the world. Croft’s time of 17h 33m 48s was the fifth fastest ever.
“It was awesome. The level for women is really on the rise,” says Croft, on vacation in Costa Rica.
“It’s so cool to see so many strong women and to see everyone working together as well. Yes, we’re all here to compete against each other, but it was really great to be a part of it.
For much of the distance, Croft ran alongside veteran American runner Brittany Peterson, who was the second woman at home in the 2019 version of the race.
“I just thought, ‘She knows how to do this run, I’m going to stick with her,’” Croft says.
A group of runners took off in front of Croft from the start line in Olympic Valley just at sunrise, but the Kiwi stayed true to her race plan to be “super patient” at the start and sit down.
“You know, if you go too fast at the start, you’re really going to pay it off later. So Brittany kept me under control in that sense, ”she said.
“A lot of America isn’t just about your running ability. It’s your power supply from afar; the heat is massive. It’s a downhill course with 7000m of descent and 5000m of ascent, so you need to make sure you don’t blow up your quads early on.
It was when Croft broke the 90 km mark at Michigan Bluff that she decided to roll the others.
“I noticed that some of the girls who came out hot were pulling back. I took a 100 km pacer and started eliminating women, ”she says.
For years, Croft had avoided long distance trail races.
But two years ago, when she was back home on the West Coast training at Lake Daniell, she decided she finally wanted to take on the Western States.
“At the end of last year I felt really stale and not super motivated. I have been doing the same races – like Golden Trail for three years. And I run a lot of the same women. I was just ready for something different, ”she says.
“I didn’t have that feeling of being on the line, just super excited but intimidated by what lay ahead. That’s what I thought the Western States, or 100 miles, could deliver.
And he did. Although before the race Croft feared it was “a huge party of suffering,” she says she had a fun day.
“When I started, I felt good. I expected to have really dark sleeping bags during the race, but I didn’t, ”she says. “I was really enjoying the atmosphere.”
Her three-man crew, including her partner, Swiss runner Martin Gaffuri, ran the last mile with her.
“It was a really fun day. I kept reminding myself ‘This is all self inflicted’ and we are privileged enough to do it, to have this experience,” she said.
“Martin played such an important role in all of this. I’ve been building since January… he researched cooling techniques; he was so involved. Being second meant a lot to both of us.
Now Croft is in Costa Rica for three weeks, spending time at a meditation retreat, sailing and diving. But certainly not running, she laughs.
She will see how long it takes to recover before embarking on another race plan.
She entered the CCC, a renowned 100 km race near Mont Blanc in France at the end of August, and Transvulcania in the Canaries. The trail running world championships in Thailand in November could also be there (Croft finished second woman at the 2019 world championships).
But she won’t be lining up for too much extra 100 miles, she says. “I would like to do another Western States. Knowing what this is going to look like would make things a lot easier.
* Dirt Church Radio is a Kiwi running podcast hosted by Eugene Bingham and Matt Rayment. Learn more about Dirtchurchradio.com